However many goals the great Pele scored throughout his astounding career, we can all agree that it was a lot. So many, in fact, that it’s evidently near impossible to count them properly – and even more difficult to narrow down to a shortlist of his greatest ever strikes for club and country (especially when considering that so much of his career wasn’t captured on camera).
A player who defied footballing expectations and people’s understanding of what was really possible in the game, Pele quite simply dominated the sport for around two decades, invariably inspiring audiences and dazzling defences in the process.
While there are just too many to count and not much footage at all to exemplify his genius, 90min attempts to select the iconic Brazilian’s best goals below.
When you think of heading ability, you may turn your attention to the athletic giant that is Cristiano Ronaldo rather than the diminutive Pele.
But, if you haven’t seen the Brazilian’s iconic leap, hang and rocket of a header to put the Selecao 1-0 up against Italy in the 1970 World Cup final, it might surprise you somewhat.
Pele’s athleticism is not often looked at too closely with all of the other divine qualities he boasted, but this famous goal – Brazil’s first in their 4-1 World Cup final win over the Azzurri – showcased just another world-class facet to his game (view the opening seconds of the above video to witness it).
1958 was Pele’s year – the year in which a small, 17-year-old starred and dominated at the World Cup.
The legend played every minute of his country’s knockout-stage triumphs on the way to global glory, scoring six goals in those three matches – three of which arrived in a barnstorming 5-2 victory over France.
And one of those simply epitomised what was to come over the next two decades – a show of positional awareness, perfect timing, clinical nous and devastating quality, it’s incredible that his goal, in which he latched onto a through ball, kneed the ball up and volleyed into the bottom corner from outside of the area (watch goal number four in the video above to see the beauty), is simply the type of goal we now know Pele by.
1970 was another triumphant year for Pele, earning his record third World Cup winner’s medal.
During that campaign, the Brazilian netted just the three times, including in his country’s opener against Czechoslovakia – scoring a goal (number three in the video above) that would remain in World Cup folklore.
Reflecting his stature and prestige in the beautiful game, it was as if Pele made time stop for a couple of seconds as he brought down a lofted ball on his chest while evading the attention of the defending full-back, took his time to set himself (all the while it seems the opposition respect the process) and blasted his strike across the goalkeeper into the far corner.
Few captured moments demonstrate Pele’s sheer brilliance and other-worldly understanding of the game like his quite unbelievable strike to lead his nation to a 1-0 quarter-final victory over Wales on their way to winning the 1958 World Cup.
Simply too good for his opposition, Pele, with his back to goal, takes a headed ball down on his chest; using a team-mate’s run to baffle the defender, he then knocks the ball behind him and swivels to face goal in one fluid motion before poking a relaxed effort into the bottom corner.
Skip to 1:04 in the video above to see a flash of Pele’s footballing virtuosity.
Deep down, Pele was simply an artist with the ball at his feet – a medium through which people were left in awe and fell in love with the sport.
One of his most dazzling, jaw-dropping and sensational moments came in the final of the 1958 World Cup, where 17-year-old Pele netted a brace and, in the process, one of the competition’s most incredible strikes.
The highlight of Brazil’s famous 5-2 win over Sweden that day came as Pele slithered in front of his man, managing to take a cross onto his chest before humiliating an onrushing defender with a cheeky lob. After avoiding that opposing player’s suspiciously aggressive kick out, the Brazilian makes his subsequent finish past a helpless goalkeeper look as easy as anything.
Skip to goal number one in the above video to view one of the World Cup’s most iconic goals and, in our opinion, Pele’s most magical moment.