Pele With Brazilian PresidentPele With Brazilian President Lula Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr, CC BY 3.0 BR, via Wikimedia Commons

Brazil recently visited Wembley for a friendly international between two teams currently ranked among the best five in the world. That’s right, England are currently top five, if you can believe it. The visitors will be without the injured Neymar but will, as ever, have several stars in their squad.

None of them have ever shone as brightly as Brazil’s greatest ever footballer though and indeed many would class Pele as the greatest of all time. Certainly there are few football experts who would not put Edson Arantes do Nascimento, to use his full name, in the top three, or certainly top five. The Brazilian died in 2022 at the age of 82 but will be remembered forever in his home country and indeed by football lovers around the world. Here we take a look back on his glittering, goal-packed career.

Pele’s International Career and Stats

Pele and Brazil teammates
Pele and the rest of the Brazilian team at the 1970 World Cup

In his home country his club football was what initially made him famous but globally Pele is synonymous with his achievements in the famous yellow shirt of his country. In all he played 92 times for Brazil and banged in 77 goals. Whilst many have surpassed his appearance total – indeed, he doesn’t even feature in the top 10, with joint-ninth place requiring 98 caps – in terms of goals, the great man is second.

Neymar is the only player to have scored more Brazil goals than Pele and the younger man’s 79 have come from far more games, 128 (as of March 2024). To date Pele’s goals-per-game rate of 0.84 is far superior to any of Brazil’s top scorers, with only Ademir (32 from 39 at a rate of 0.82) getting anywhere close.

The former Santos legend remains his country’s youngest ever goalscorer too, his strike against great rivals Argentina in 1957 coming when he was just 16 years and nine months old. He scored two goals in two games that year for Brazil and for much of the early part of his international career he was annually scoring at a rate of a goal a game or better. Indeed, in 1958 he scored nine times in just seven matches, registering 11 in nine the following year.

World Cup Magic

Pele saved his best football for the World Cup and at a time when television was just making the game more global he was the game’s first true international superstar. He helped his side to glory in 1958, 1962 and 1970, only England’s home win in 1966 preventing the magical number 10 from winning every World Cup he played in.

In 1958, Pele rattled in six goals, finishing joint second behind only the sensational Just Fontaine, who somehow notched 13 goals! Pele’s six strikes all came when it mattered too, with one in the quarter final, a hat-trick in the 5-2 semi-final win against France and another two in another stunning 5-2 victory over hosts Sweden in the final.

Pele had become the youngest player to appear in a World Cup, the youngest to score at one, the youngest to make the final and the youngest to score a hat-trick at the tournament and also to get a goal in the final. He still holds most of those records and also has the most assists in World Cups (10) and the most wins at the tournament, being the only player to have lifted the trophy three times.

He was injured for much of the 1962 win, though scored in Brazil’s opener against Mexico but was back to his best in 1970 as part of the incredible Brazil side that is, perhaps, the greatest the game has ever seen. He scored four times in the tournament in Mexico, including another in the final against Italy, helping his nation to a perfect record of six wins from six matches – they also won every game in qualification too. Pele’s brilliance won him the Golden Ball award for the tournament’s best player and also led to him winning the somewhat less prestigious BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year!

Pele and Santos

Pele and the Santos FC team
Pele and the Santos FC team

Pele’s record and career with Sao Paulo giants Santos is perhaps even more astonishing. He made his debut for the club at the age of just 15 and, of course, scored. It would be the first of 643 goals for the club, that incredible tally coming from 659 games. Although Pele enjoyed a long career with both club and country, it may well be the case that he produced the best football of his career, certainly from a goalscoring perspective, in 1958.

We have already mentioned his 11 goals in nine games for Brazil, but for Santos he added a further 66 in just 46 matches. That was one of three times he hit 60+ goals in a season for Santos in all competitions and unsurprisingly this weight of goals led to Santos dominating Brazilian football.

Their talisman helped them land back-to-back Copa Libertadores titles in 1962 and 1963, as well as various national and regional domestic Brazilian honours, including the national league title five years in a row from 1961 and then again in 1968. He was also the top scorer in the national league three times, plus the regional Campeonato Paulista on a whopping 11 occasions, including nine years running from 1957.

Style of Play

Pele was clearly a brilliant goalscorer but he really had a little bit of everything as an attacker. Basically two-footed, he had a powerful shot with either foot and was also exceptional in the air, with a great leap. He was primarily used as an out-and-out striker but really could play anywhere across the front line and also in a deeper, attacking-midfield role.

He was a leader too, both vocally and by example, and also extremely hardworking, in many ways combining all the best elements of so many other greats. He had the physical attributes of Cristiano Ronaldo but also the skill and vision of Lionel Messi and was able to beat a man with pace, or with a feint or turn. This brilliant compilation shows all the skills, tricks and magic the legendary Brazilian possessed.


By cf378