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Pele's supposed world-record 1,279 goals has long been ridiculed, as it includes exhibition games and "famously involves goals scored while he was daydreaming in the bath" (as The Guardian joked in 2017).
But if we remove friendlies and tour matches, Pele's real record remains outstanding. He boasts 757 official goals for club and country, at an incredible rate of 0.93 goals per game.
Some will still find a reason to call the Brazilian icon a "fraud", based on the quality of opposition teams. They could not be more wrong.
Pele's international record of 77 goals in 92 games speaks for itself. But it's his 643 official goals for Santos - a world record for a single club - that provokes angry debate.
Europe's major leagues are now so dominant, a football fan today might think scoring goals for Santos was "easier" than setting records for Barcelona or Real Madrid, as Messi and Ronaldo have. But when Pele was playing, there wasn't the talent drain of top South American talent to Europe.
None of Pele's teammates during Brazil's three World Cup wins in 1958, 1962 and 1970 played in Europe. So basically imagine a modern-era Brazilian league if Ronaldinho, Neymar, Rivaldo, Dani Alves, Kaka, Cafu, Ronaldo Nazario, etc had never left - that's what Pele was up against.
That makes Pele's scoring feats even more impressive, as does his record against Europe's elite. When Santos faced the European Cup winners in 1962 and 1963 to decide the world's best club side, they beat Benfica 8-5 over two legs and AC Milan 7-6 over three legs. Pele scored nine goals across five games.
Messi and Ronaldo are testing themselves against the world's best too, of course, and boast extraordinary scoring feats. Ronaldo only needs another 18 goals to overtake Pele's combined club and country total, while Messi is closing in on Pele's one-club record at Barcelona.
But even if Pele's goal records are surpassed by either player, neither will boast as impressive a goals-per-game ratio, unless they really produce something spectacular.
Also, some have argued that Pele's goals in tour matches should count to his total, as these games were taken seriously at the time, with Santos travelling to Europe as superstars and playing to packed stadiums. But that's a debate for another day.
The truth is Pele's questionable 1,000+ goals claim has actually harmed his legacy as modern, stat-conscious fans use it as a reason to deny all of his records and accomplishments. Perhaps if the 1,279 goals isn't altogether true, is he making up his three World Cup wins as well?
It's a fact that Pele did not score over a thousand goals in official, competitive matches. But his real scoring records - and his achievements - are phenomenal all the same. Worth remembering as 'O Rei' clocks up another historic stat by reaching his 80th birthday.
All imagery: PA Images/YouTube
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