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Pele's 5 Greatest Moments That Made Him a GOAT Ahead of Messi or Ronaldo

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By Augustine Mbam - - 5 Mins Read

Pele, a legend of Brazil and Santos, died on Thursday. People recall the highlights of his extraordinary career. Pele contributed more to popularizing football's reputation as the "beautiful game" than any other player.

The first player in history to win three World Cups, the free-scoring forward also led one of the best club sides in history. His passing has left a vacuum in the global sport, and we recall some of the highlights of a once-in-a-lifetime career.

young pele
Getty image

1. 1958 World Cup Final

Pele was the star of the show for Brazil in the 1958 World Cup final, scoring the spectacular goal above at the age of 17.

The Selecao won its first World Cup with two goals in a 5-2 triumph, the first of three for the king himself. He is still the only player to have won three World Cups in a row.

His first goal in that game demonstrated his talent. He played the ball over muscular Swedish defender Bengt Gustavsson after picking down a deep cross in the area before watching it drop down from a tremendous height and finding the bottom corner on the shot.

2. Continental champion

While Pele's tireless touring schedule prevented him from winning the Copa America with Brazil (he only played in one tournament (1959) and won the Golden Boot), the forward did enjoy continental triumph at the club level. 

In 1962, with the scores tied after two legs of the Copa Libertadores final against Penarol, Pele led Santos to victory in a Playoff held on neutral territory at Estadio Monumental. He scored twice, including a game-changing strike just after halftime, as Santos won their first South American title.

A year later, the Alvinegro defended their title, with Pele scoring in the final against Boca Juniors. 

Santos qualified for the Intercontinental Cup by winning these two games. Both years, they cruised over their opponents, first defeating Benfica (Pele scored five goals in two legs) and then defeating AC Milan in another playoff.

3. Stopping a civil war

Pele Santasticos
Getty image

As Pele's reputation soared, Santos began to prioritize expensive international tours over silverware, a strange concept to grasp from a current perspective.

The Santasticos were in Nigeria during a horrific civil war with the breakaway state Biafra on one of these trips abroad.

When Pele and his colleagues arrived in Lagos, legend has it that the guns were silenced for 48 hours so that all sides of the war could watch the Super Eagles draw 2-2 with the visiting side. Pele, unsurprisingly, scored both goals.

The accuracy of this event is still debated nearly 60 years later, with some stating that the battle had been halted a fortnight earlier. Others claim to have heard gunshots close outside the stadium.

The football godfather himself couldn't remember what happened, which is unsurprising given that he played over 100 club games each year during his touring prime.

4. 1,000+ goals!

Due to the dynamic nature of his traveling schedule and disagreements over what constitutes a "competitive game," the actual number of goals Pele scored is disputed.

On November 19, 1969, fans from Santos and Vasco da Gama gave Pele a standing ovation after scoring his 1000th professional goal. Pele was only 30 years old when he achieved this feat, which puts his supernatural ability to find the back of the net into context.

Estimates of how many Pele career goals were officially recorded before hanging up his boots vary greatly, with the man claiming he scored 1,283 goals in 2015.

5. Two Greats Collide

Pele and Bobby Moore
Credit: Associated press

This is an image that is still exhibited today as an example of sportsmanship, with Pele and Bobby Moore embracing and swapping shirts after a tremendous match between England and Brazil in 1970.

"Bobby Moore is the best defender I have ever played against and a gentleman of dignity," Pele later said of his opponent, from whom he escaped only once on the day to contribute to Brazil's lone goal.

It is still recognized as one of football's greatest meetings of legends.