Nobody disputes Pelé's greatness – but his goal count is up for debate

Nobody disputes Pelé’s greatness and his penchant for scoring. The exact number of goals in his career will forever be a topic for debate.

Pelé often said one of the reasons he should be considered the greatest player of all time was because of his feat of scoring more than 1,000 goals. But many dispute his count because Pelé included goals scored in friendlies or matches against semi-professional or even amateur teams.

Many of his goals came at a time when it wasn’t as easy to register match statistics, and not all of them were caught on tape. There is also a discrepancy in the total number of matches he played.

According to Pelé, he was the all-time leading scorer in the history of the sport with 1,283 goals in 1,366 matches. That would be an extraordinary 0.93 goals per game.

Official matches

If only goals in official matches are tallied, Pelé’s mark was considerably lower no matter the source, standing at fewer than 800 goals. That would leave him behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Romário and Josef Bican, who played before Pelé’s time.

Pelé scored a total of 95 goals with Brazil’s national team, but 18 of those goals came against clubs or combined squads in games which usually are not included in official statistics.

Another 34 goals were scored in friendlies against other national teams.

Controversial games

Pelé played in nearly 550 unofficial matches, in part because his Brazilian club Santos made a fortune by playing exhibition matches and touring with the soccer great around the world.

Argentina great Diego Maradona was among those taking shots at Pelé for his controversial goal count.


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