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Pele vs Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – how many goals did the Brazilian actually score?

The great Brazilian Pele’s four-decades-old record has been overtaken in recent weeks.

One of football’s finest to ever grace the beautiful game, the iconic Brazilian won the World Cup three times besides scoring hundreds of goals with his one club, Santos.

But, like they say, records are meant to be broken. Similarly in the case of the Brazilian football great, after decades at the summit of some of football’s most revered feats, Pele has finally been dislodged from his perch in the history books by the iconic duo of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, in that order.

Messi wrested Pele’s title of the greatest goalscorer in football history for a single club when he notched his 644th goal for Barcelona, eclipsing the 643 that Pele amassed in his grand Santos days of old.

Then Ronaldo, never one to be left out of the picture, moved into second place in the all-time goalscoring charts behind Josef Bican when he scored the 758th goal of his career on Juventus duties, again overtaking Pele’s tally.

Pele responded by graciously showing great courtesy and appreciation for both Messi and Ronaldo’s achievements in having overtaken his record of having scored hundreds of goals for Santos in his impressive career, which might come as a surprise given his often self-centered comments in the past.

Interjection and flashback – did I again say ‘hundreds’? This is where the dichotomy and bone of contention protrude awkwardly in the recent official release that emerged from the Brazilian great’s club Santos that the maestro actually scored not hundreds, but more than a thousand goals during his long tenure with the club – 1,238 to be precise, and not a single goal less.

The controversy surrounding the total number of goals that Pele amassed in his career with Santos rings even louder as the man himself seemingly claims to have scored 1,238 times, or at least, that’s what his Instagram bio proclaims him to be the ‘Leading Goal Scorer of All Time’, even if the legend himself had to deny that the caption was altered after Ronaldo’s new total was released.

Santos quickly scampered into the picture to fully support their greatest-ever icon by declaring that he scored over 1,000 goals.

So did Pele really score 1,238 goals? And if not, why then the gaping discrepancy of more than 480 goals?

A quick nip into the record books immediately bridged the chasm to clear up the greater GOAT debate.

Some would already not be surprised to find out that the legitimacy of the 1,238 goals that Pele lays claim to is definitely not cast in concrete and does not bear official endorsement.

While there’s no denying that Pele’s feet and head landed many a ball into the back of nets more than 1,000 times in matches of any and all kinds, however only a little more than 60% of them were scored in actual competitive ties with more than 500 of Pele’s goals listed in the Guinness Book of Records having been scored in unofficial friendlies and tour games, according to Sky Sports. In fact, even goals scored for the Sixth Coast Guard in military competitions had been included in the total.

Taking this further to clear up the confusion and the figures, the claim that Pele once scored eight goals against Botafogo is indeed true, only that they were scored against the much lesser-known Botafogo Ribeirão Preto in the second tier of the Brazilian footballing pyramid.

And what about the five goals he scored against Nacional? Sorry again to disappoint but that’s not the Uruguayan ‘Nacional’ juggernauts, but a stateside team of Sao Paolo. Similarly, again the same can be said of the ‘Juventus’ team he also hit for five goals.

Then there is also the great excitement and hype about the Brazilian maestro’s stunning record at World Cups – but in reality only 12 of his strikes were recorded at this global tournament for which he is arguably best known.

On that note, he was actually outscored by Just Fontaine at the 1958 tournament and didn’t even have the satisfaction of being Brazil’s top goalscorer on the way to victory in 1970.

So, does this then infer that Pele is an absolute fraud? Absolutely not.

For the record, Pele is certainly nothing less than one of the greatest footballers ever to have graced the sport at the highest international and club levels. The legend has also resonated with true class as Messi and Ronaldo have taken their seats at the round table of the football immortals, which is why he absolutely deserves all the respect that his scintillating career deserves.

At the end of the day, for the benefit of posterity as far as the record books are concerned, it’s all about sorting out the slightly besmudged facts to sort out the actual context of the 1,238, something akin to th e task of splitting hairs.

Finally, for what it may be worth, scoring more than a thousand goals, regardless of the context, is something highly laudable.