“Very few sportsmen have been able to create a legacy in their respective nations and Pele is one of those. The fans and critics forget time and again, at the end of the day, they compare their favourite players with Pele”

There is no need to explain who Pele is! Even a layman in football knows, Pele is the greatest footballer of all-time while the so-called fans of particular football players of modern-day, know the King through disliking him and dishing out useless comparisons.

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Since Pele retired from international football, the emergence of great players never stopped in football. Apart from Brazil, the other nations produced some outstanding attacking players with goal-scoring abilities, and immediately they were compared with the greatness of Pele.

For the last five decades, the comparison has been between Pele and others.

Pele vs Johan Cruyff

Pele vs George Best

Pele vs Diego Maradona

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Pele vs Zico

Pele vs Ronaldo O Fenomeno

Pele vs Cristiano Ronaldo

And, obviously, Pele vs Lionel Messi

Of course, there have been others who were compared with the king.

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And in doing so, the achievements of the King have been undermined consistently.

But the truth cannot be hidden via the motive to hate or dislike a great player.

Pele played in a weak league?

Whenever someone says such, it seems, the person is either out of his mind or lacks complete knowledge about football and its history. He or she is a typical worshipper of a particular team and player, who blatantly denies the facts like an autocrat.

Now, remember, Brazil were a stronger force during the Pele era than they are now. That meant the domestic game in Brazil was far from being poor, but were extremely competitive and some of the greatest in the games featured in that League.

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His opponents were the likes of Djalma Santos, Nilton Santos, Didi, Gerson, Rivellino, Tostao, Jairzinho, Mauro Ramos, Bellini, Amarildo, Vava, Zagallo, Paulo Cesar, Piezza, Brito, Everaldo, Carlos Alberto Torres, and Garrincha. In fact, there were Brazilians, who hardly could make into the national side, but when it came about sheer talent and skill – any teams in Europe back then would have loved to have them under their wings.

Not only the Leagues in Brazil but in the other parts of South America, the Leagues were rated highly – In the first 10 years of the Intercontinental Cup (known as the Club World Cup today) South American sides won 6, compared to Europe’s 4.

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Thus, why would Pele leave such a highly competitive and tough League and fly to Europe?

Again, he was barred from playing in Europe as he was declared as a national treasure.

Pele played against weaker opponents and players?

Was it so?

Really?

Would you dare to rate Argentina, Uruguay, Germany, Italy, England, the former Soviet Union, Poland, Austria, former Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Peru, Chile, Portugal, Spain, Hungary, France, etc. as the weak opponents?   

When Pele made his international debut against Argentina back on July 7, 1956, at the Marcana, he was just 16. Now, there is no need to describe how good the Argentine team was back then and it was Uruguay and Argentina who were two of the bests in South America in those days. They beat Brazil at Maracana by 2-1, but 16-year old scored his first-ever international goal against a ragged Argentine defence.

Pele, at the age of 17, arrived in Sweden for the World Cup 1958, sidelined by a knee injury but on his return from the treatment room, his colleagues stood together and insisted upon his selection.

His first match was against the favourites USSR and Lev Yashin where he gave the assist to Vava’s second goal.

He was the youngest player of that tournament and at the time the youngest ever to play in the World Cup.

In the nerve-wracking contest against stubborn Wales in the quarterfinals, it was his well-composed goal secured Brazil’s place in the semifinals.

Against France of Raymond Kopa and Just Fontaine, in the semifinal, Brazil were leading 2–1 at halftime, and then Pele scored a hat-trick, becoming the youngest in World Cup history to do so.

On June 29, 1958, Pele became the youngest player to play in a World Cup final match at 17 years and 249 days.

He scored two goals in that final as Brazil beat Sweden, the hosts, Olympic Champions, and favourties to win the title, 5–2 in Stockholm.

The boy for nowhere became a story.

Pele also played in the South American Championship.

In the 1959 competition, he was named the best player of the tournament and was the top scorer with 8 goals, as Brazil came second despite being unbeaten in the tournament.

He scored in five of Brazil’s six games, including two goals against Chile and a hat-trick against Paraguay.

Defensively, how tough Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay could be, one can just guess.

To be fair, the defenders during the era of Pele were a hard nut to crack. The defenders never stepped back to dish out rough tackles to gun down the best players on the pitch and in those days, man-marking was just like experiencing a jail-sentence. If there were four or five defenders at the back, then at the center of the park, either one or two defensive midfielders, who wandered around to script dirty-play on the pitch and hamper the rhythm of the opposition.

Things were not easy for Pele or others back in those days.

Rules have changed a lot in the course of time to favour the attackers.

At the international level his opponents in defence were Franz Beckenbauer, Bobby Moore, Velibor Vasovic, Silvio Marzolini, Albert Shestenev, Jose Santamaria, Hector Chumpitaz, Elias Figueroa, Kadlec, Novak, Zebec, Coluna, Voronin, Cesare Maldini,Tarcisio Burghnich, Giacinto Facchetti and co.

To hit the net he had to beat Lev Yashin, Viktor Ponedelnik, Ivor Viktor, Gordon Banks, Sepp Maier, Ladislao Mazurkiewicz,  Milutin Soskic, Vladimir Beara and some of the toughest keepers in South America and Europe.

Whenever Pele played at the international level, the hype would always be about Pele vs Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano, Kocsis, Czibor, Kubala, Suarez, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst, Eusebio, Valentin Ivanov, Luigi Riva, Sandor Mazzola, Rivera, Slava Metreveli, Eduard Streltsov, Kopa, Josef Masopust, Pluskal, Francisco Gento, Dragoslav Sekularac, etc.

So what does his opponent players say about him?

“He is the most complete player I ever saw.”

Franz Beckenbauer

“Pele was the most complete player I’ve ever seen. Two good feet. Magic in the air. Quick. Powerful. Could beat people with skill. Could outrun people. Only 5 ft 8 in tall, yet he seemed a giant of an athlete on the pitch. Perfect balance and impossible vision.”

Bobby Moore

“There’s Pele the man, and then Pele the player. And to play like Pele is to play like God!”

Eusebio

“The greatest player in the history was Di Stefano. I refuse to classify Pele as a player. He was above that”

Ferenc Puskas

“I sometimes feel as though football was invented for this magical player”

Sir Bobby Charlton

“The best player ever? Pele. [Lionel] Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are both great players with specific qualities, but Pele was better.”

Alfredo Di Stefano

“We went up together to head a ball. I was taller, had a better impulse. When I came back down, I looked up in astonishment. Pele was still there, in the air, heading that ball. It was like he could stay suspended for as long as he wanted to.”

Giacinto Facchetti

“I told myself before the game, he’s made of skin and bones just like everyone else — but I was wrong”

Tarcisio Burgnich, who marked Pele in the final of World Cup 1970

Pele would not have fared well in European Leagues?

It has already been explained why Pele did not have to play in Europe, but when this question arises, one needs to see how Pele fared against the European Clubs.

In the 1962 and 63 Intercontinental Cups, Santos beat Benfica 8-5 on aggregate over 2 legs & AC Milan 7-6 on aggregate over 3 legs. Both were the best teams in Europe during that time.

Pele scored 9 goals in 5 games against them. His record during Santos’ tours of Europe was similarly emphatic. Factor in his displays in the World Cup and the claim, his success was down to playing against poor players quickly begins to unravel.

Twitter Page AllThingsSelecao tweeted, “Between 1956-1965, aged 15 to 24 in official games for Santos (not including his European Tours), Pelé averaged at least one goal per game in 10 consecutive seasons. Totaling 463 goals in 351 club games.”

“1959 – In 1959 Pelé toured Europe playing a game every 3 days. In 103 games Pelé scored 127 goals aged just 18. On the 17th June 1959, Santos would play European Champions Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, they would lose 5-3 but Pele would score.”

“It was later revealed that Real Madrid had been resting players for over a week before the game, whereas Santos were in the middle of playing 19 games in 39 days. Real Madrid would refuse to accept Santos offer of a rematch in the years that followed.”

“Just 11 days later Santos would travel to the Camp Nou to face a Barcelona side with Kocsis, Kubala, Suarez & Czibor. But it wouldn’t matter. Santos hammered them 5-1, with Pele scoring twice.”

“Just 2 days earlier & Santos had played Inter Milan at the San Siro.

The outcome again, similar.

Santos hammered the Italian Giants 7-1. This time, Pele scored 4.”

“At his peak in the early ’60s, Pelé did things that no-one has done before or since. From 1961-63 Pelé competed in 11 tournaments, winning 10.”

Pele had a great team – so what?

Which Brazilian legend after the Second World War did not enjoy having a great side? But could each and every one of them lift the World Cup or make their respective teams the greatest in history?

Certainly not!

Then there are other great players with teams who failed to create a legacy and win it big when it was required.

Of course, Pele had a great team, but he was the nucleus of the team and without him, the team was a ship without radar most often. This was evident in the competitions at the top level, as for example, World Cup 1966 – Pele was injured and Brazil faced a sad outcome.

4 years later he would lead from the front of a side, which is still regarded as the greatest football in history.

In Mexico 70, Brazil played with 5 number 10s up front and each one of them was marvelous in their respective positions. But the ultimate greatest was Pele, who had been crowned the best player of the tournament.

It is never easy to be the best among the bests.

Pele was the best among the great Brazil players during his era.

When Pele played there was no offside rule – Are you sure?

The offside rule was introduced in 1925 and in fact, this rule was an antagonist to the attackers until Italia 90 when FIFA changed the rule to mean that attacker level with the 2nd last defender was onside, previously they were judged to be offside.

Now, imagine, Pele, who was born in 1940 and started his international career in 1957, playing with the current offside rule – he would have devastated everything and also don’t forget to imagine how Pele managed to score so many goals with the previous offside rule and the ragged defenders he faced.

He made his Santos debut aged 15!

– Aged 16 he scored 41 goals in 38 games for Santos & 2 in 2 for Flag of Brazil

– Aged 17 he scored 66 goals in 46 games for Santos & 9 in 7 for Flag of Brazil

– Winning the World Cup, scoring 6 goals from the quarterfinals and onwards.

He was not even 18 and think about the offside rule back then.

Does Pele count goals score in the army?

AllThingsSelecao says, “Only 13 of Pele’s career total of 1283 goals where scored while in the army. An extremely minute number which can be easily dismissed without any great statistical damage. Something that is not at all really relevant.

Cup Final record

Twitter page Selecaotalk says, “Pelé’s Cup Final Record stands head and shoulders above everyone else in the G.O.A.T discussion.  In his career he played in 23 Cup final matches scoring 29 goals. He scored at least once in 69.56% of games & 42.02% of all Santos & Brazil’s Goals!

Percentage of team goals scored

As the AllThingsSelecao tweeted, “Analysis of Pele’s goal % contribution concludes that over an 18-year career he scored a greater % of his club’s goals that both Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi. And During his peak, he was far more statically valuable from a goal-scoring perspective.”

“Throughout his whole Santos career, Pele scored 37.8% of all Santos goals. Compared to Messi: 34.8%. Cristiano Ronaldo: 33.3% His peak in 63 he scored an astonishing 51.9% of all Santos goals.”

Conclusion

Personally, I don’t like comparing players from different because it becomes a never-ending argument that never ends and ultimately becomes ugly. But still, one can just remain quiet all the time when wrong information dominates and given more importance to tarnish the image of someone like Pele.

Very few sportsmen have been able to create a legacy in their respective nations and Pele is one of those.

The fans and critics forget time and again, at the end of the day, they compare their favourite players with Pele.