It will come as a surprise to some that Pelé, considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, soccer player of all-time, never won the Ballon d’Or (although there’s a perfectly logical explanation for it). It might also shock you to learn that O Rei never once got his hands on the Copa América trophy, South America’s most prestigious international tournament that Brazil have won nine times in their history.
But rather than focus on what the Santos legend didn’t do in the game, let’s take a look at what he did achieve. And if you’re of the opinion that Pelé is, in fact, the best player ever to have played the game, there are plenty of arguments that you can use in your favour.
Pelé is the youngest player to ever win the World Cup, he was named World Player of the 20th Century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, joint-FIFA Player of the 20th Century, alongside Diego Maradona and, rather confusingly, “the greatest” by FIFA themselves a little later.
The Brazilian scored 1279 goals in 1363 matches, which has been officially recognised as a Guinness World Record (that includes friendlies, which does make it slightly questionable), and is the all-time top goalscorer for both the Brazil national team and Santos, for whom he played club football for 18 years.
But perhaps what Pelé is best known for is being the only player in history to have lifted the World Cup trophy on three separate occasions.
When did Pelé win the FIFA World Cup with Brazil?
Pelé made his international debut aged just 16 in 1957 and was named in the Brazil World Cup squad the following year. He missed the first two games of the tournament in Sweden through injury but had forced his way into the starting line-up for the knockout stages, in which he scored the winning goal against Wales in the quarter-final, netted a hat-trick versus France in the semis and a double to see off Sweden in the final. In that one tournament, Pelé became the youngest player to play in the World Cup, the youngest to score in a World Cup and, of course, the youngest to score a hat-trick, a record which remains to this day.
Brazil defended their title in 1962 but had to do it without the services of the man thought by many to be the best in the world. Pelé scored and assisted in the opening game against Mexico but then got injured in the second match against Czechoslovakia and missed the rest of the tournament.
After being on the end of some rough treatment in the 1966 tournament in England, Pelé vowed never to play in the World Cup ever again. Thank Goodness he changed his mind. Four goals, a third World Cup triumph and involvement in some of soccer’s most iconic ever moments; providing the final pass for Carlos Alberto to score the team’s fourth goal in the final, often described as the ‘best team goal’ of all-time, having a header saved by Gordon Banks in what was referred to as ‘the save of the century’ and deceiving Uruguay goalkeeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz with a magical feint which had never been seen on a soccer field before.
What other titles did Pelé win with Brazil?
Those three big ones are what everyone remembers, of course, but Pelé also got his hands on some other silverware while wearing the famous yellow jersey, although there’s a chance you might not have heard of them before.
Taça Oswaldo Cruz – 1958, 1962, 1968
A tournament played on eight occasions between Brazil and Paraguay between 1950 and 1976, seemingly whenever they fancied it. Could this be the most one-sided competition in international soccer history? Brazil won all eight two-legged ties, with Pelé involved on three occasions.
Roca Cup – 1957, 1963
The first trophy Pelé ever won in his professional career. Similar to the Taça Oswlado Cruz, this tournament was contested by only two teams, this time Brazil and Argentina. Thankfully, this one was a little more competitive, with A Seleção winning eight times and La Albiceleste four between 1914 and 1976. Pelé was on the winning side twice but missed Brazil’s 1960 win.
Copa Bernardo O’Higgins – 1959
Another two-team competition between Brazil and Chile, which took place between 1955 and 1966. On Pelé’s only appearance in the competition in 1959, he scored a hat-trick in a 7-0 first-leg win for Brazil.
Taça do Atlântico – 1960
The Taça do Atlântico was only competed for on three occasions and just once when Pelé was playing for Brazil, who faced off against Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. O Rei famously scored twice in a 5-1 win over the Argentines, Brazil’s bitter rivals, as they won the tournament on goal different at the end of a three-match group stage.
Why didn’t Pelé win the Copa América?
As for the Copa América, what happened there? The tournament was founded in 1916 – and known as the South American Soccer Championship until 1975 – so how did Pelé fail to win it with Brazil, who have won it nine times? The tournament took place on six occasions in the 1950s – Pelé was voted player of the tournament as Brazil lost in the final in 1959 – but only twice between 1959 and 1975, won by Bolivia and then Uruguay, which is when he was at his peak.
How many goals did Pelé scored for Brazil?
As previously mentioned, Pelé holds a Guinness World Record after scoring 1279 goals in 1363 matches. 77 of those goals came in 92 appearances for Brazil, which makes him the nation’s all-time leading goalscoring. However, current Seleçao star Neymar, who is 30, is just two goals behind him and poised to break that record (having played considerably more games).