With another world cup looming on the horizon the debate as to who is the greatest soccer player of all time has heated up again.
Each generation has had its ‘great”, so we had Puskas (Hungary) in the 1950’s, Pele (Brasil) in the1960’s, Maradona (Argentina) in the 1980’s and now we have Messi (Argentina).
In my opinion, the debate so far has failed to focus on one important factor which is that in deciding who is the greatest it is not sufficient to look at who could play the game well but you also have to look at what they achieved. The measure of greatness is not only how you play but largely what you achieve. Lots of players were excellent but never achieved anything or set any records.
Comparing players with each other is largely a matter of opinion which is always open to argument and counter-argument. Also, opinions are always laced with speculation and value-judgments and each generation claims ownership of the greatest.
On the other hand, the question of achievements and records are a matter of fact and is not open to argument or contradiction. You are entitled to your opinion but not your own facts. It is from these facts that one can decide who is the greatest.
When you look at the record of achievements of one player, he will never be equaled and all great soccer players are measured against the Brazilian who once made the world stop to watch his mesmerizing play. Which other player could cause the Nigerian Civil War in 1967 to be put on a 48 hour ceasefire so that they could watch him play an exhibition game in Lagos?(Pele Biography-Soccer Maniak).
After the 1958 World Cup he was declared by the Brasilian government an “official national treasure” to ward off offers from European clubs and prevent him from being transferred out of the country.
His name is Edison Arantes do Nascimento (Pele). He was born in 1940 in Tres Coracoes, Minas Gerais, Brasil. He grew up in poverty and could not afford a soccer ball so he would use a sock stuffed with newspaper and tied with a string or grapefruit to practice his skills (Pele Biography etc.).
A look at Pele’s remarkable record of achievements will not end the debate about the greatest but should leave no doubt that Pele’s status as the King of soccer is unchallenged.
In (Pele Biography etc.), his records are first highlighted and then his domestic and international achievements listed as follows:-
- 1. Pele scored his first international goal in his first match against Argentina at the Maracana stadium on July 7, 1957 at the age of 16 to become the youngest player to score in international soccer.
- 2. In his first World Cup game against the USSR in 1958 he became the youngest player to play in the World Cup at 17 and with his goal against Wales the youngest player to score a goal during a World Cup.
- 3. In the semi-final against France in 1958 he became the youngest player to score a hat-trick (3 goals in one match) and the youngest player to play in the World Cup final match.
- 4. In the final he scored 2 goals, one of which was selected as one of the best goals in the history of the World Cup. He lobbed the ball over the defender and then followed up with a volley shot and the ball ended up in the back of the net.
- 5. He finished the tournament tied for second place in most goals scored (6) in 4 matches and was named young player of the tournament. He won the Silver Ball as the second best player behind Didi (another Brasilian).
- 6. In the 1970 World Cup he was named Player of the tournament.
- 7. Pele is considered by FIFA as the most prolific scorer in history with 1281 goals in 1363 matches in all competitions.
- 8. He won more World Cups than any other player (3)-1958, 1962 and 1970.
- 9. He scored in two different World Cup finals sharing the record with Vava (Brasil), Breitner (Germany) and Zidane (France) (Attacking Soccer- world cup-general knowledge).
- 10. He scored the most hat-tricks (129), scored the most goals in international play (93) in 97 games (Pele-Biography Central) and won the most career trophies (32) (Sports Apex- Pele).
1) Achievements with Santos
- Copa Libertadores: 1962, 1963
- Campeonato Paulista: 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1973
- Taça Brasil: 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965
- Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa: 1968
- Torneio Rio-São Paulo: 1959, 1963, 1964, 1966
- Intercontinental Cup: 1962, 1963
- Recopa Intercontinental: 1968
2) Achievements with New York Cosmos
- North American Soccer League, Soccer Bowl: 1977
INTERNATIONAL ACHIEVEMENTS WITH BRAZIL
- Roca Cup: 1957, 1963
- FIFA World Cup: 1958, 1962, 1970
- Copa Libertadores top scorer: 1965
- Campeonato Paulista top scorer: 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1969, 1973
Brazil National Team
- Copa América top scorer: 1959
- BBC Sports Personality of the Year Overseas Personality Winner: 1970
- FIFA World Cup (Best Young Player) Winner: 1958
- FIFA World Cup Silver Boot: 1958
- FIFA World Cup Silver Ball: 1958
- FIFA World Cup Golden Ball (Best Player) Winner: 1970
- Athlete of the Century, elected by world wide journalists, poll by French daily L’Equipe: 1981
- South American Footballer of the Year: 1973
- Inducted into the American National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1993.
- Knight Commander of the British Empire: 1997
- In 1989 DPR Korea issued a postage stamp depicting Pelé.
- Athlete of the Century, by Reuters News Agency: 1999
- Athlete of the Century, elected by International Olympic Committee: 1999
- UNICEF Football Player of the Century: 1999
- TIME One of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century: 1999
- FIFA Player of the Century : 2000 (shared with Maradona).
- Football Player of the Century, elected by France Football’s Golden Ball Winners : 1999
- Football Player of the Century, by IFFHS International Federation of Football History and Statistics: 1999
- South America Football Player of the Century, by IFFHS International Federation of Football History and Statistics: 1999
- Laureus World Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement Award from South African President Nelson Mandela: 2000
It was not always plain sailing for Pele. He missed most of the 1962 World Cup through injury. And being the best player in the world was not without its risks.
In the1966 World Cup in England, with Brasil poised to win their third consecutive World Cup including their second on European soil, Pele’s pre-eminence in world soccer did not go unnoticed. To his opponents he had to be stopped even by foul means and so he was at the end of some of the most brutal tackles ever seen in the World Cup by Bulgaria and Portugal. He got no protection from the referees and no one was red-carded for hacking him down. But the objective was achieved as Pele missed most of Brasil’s matches and Brasil got eliminated early. After the tournament Pele said that he would never play in the World Cup again.
He did play again and eventually retired in 1977 and since then he has been a worldwide ambassador for soccer and a leading contributor to charity all over the world.
OTHER SPORTING GREATS
Pele is a legend but other sports have also had their legends, such as, in track and field Usain Bolt (Jamaica); in cricket Sir Garfield Sobers (West Indies) and in golf Tiger Woods (US). Today there are two other soccer legends in the making, namely, Messi and Neymar (Brasil). Their exceptionalism usually shines through at an early age and by the time they get half way through their careers they have become legends. In casting praise on Neymar recently Brasilian international Dani Alves said ” Neymar was touched by God at birth” (Scary Football, September 13, 2013). What all of these legends have in common is that they must have been touched by God at birth.
COMPARING GREATS FROM DIFFERENT GENERATIONS
Some sportswriters like Will Tidey, argue that you cannot compare players across generation lines because different generations come upon different footballing landscapes. Each generation has to be assessed in isolation in relation to the footballing conditions in which they were born. So the sporting debates of greatness are flawed (Bleacher Report-Lionel Messi is not the Messiah: Why the ‘ Greatest of all time ‘ Debate is Flawed; March 13, 2012).
The argument against this is that in terms of the “Who is the Greatest” debate it is necessary to look at the players from different generations and match their achievements against each other and compare them. Soccer has evolved from generation to generation as circumstances and conditions have improved. Therefore today’s players should be expected to be better than their predecessors. But that is not what has happened in the case of Pele. No other player has even come near equaling his record let alone surpassing it. Pele deserves even more credit for his achievements because if he accomplished all that he did in a past era, imagine what he would do now with all the progress and better conditions available(Sporting Opinions – Comparing Athletes across Generations, by Oytun Basaran, 2009).
I agree with the latter opinion and it is for that reason that I think Pele is the greatest of all time.
Victor A. Dixon
September 25, 2013