How many goals did Pele actually score?

It’s a question that’s boggled statisticians and governing bodies for a while. Is it in the hundreds? Is it in the thousands? It seems as though there is a multitude of answers but, in reality, there’s only one truth – or explanation, at least.

So, if it’s a topic that’s been driving you mad, here’s the truth behind that disputed goal tally of Pele’s.

According to the legend himself, Pele is the sport’s all-time leading goal-scorer having netted a total of 1,283 times – but he’s the only one that’s claimed that figure. Already sounds at least a little dodgy, right?

The Guinness Book of World Records puts him on 1,279 strikes over the course of his career (still the game’s most prolific marksman by a distance), while the Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation have tallied up just 778 goals – which puts him down to 11th on the list of football’s all-time top scorers.

So, what on Earth is all that about?

Basically, it all comes down to what you recognise as official competition – that’s to say, FIFA-recognised football.

So, to be conclusive, if we’re calculating Pele’s goal-scoring tally like we would any other player, a figure of 778 would be what comes out.

The aforementioned inflated figures are a result of the inclusion of goals scored in events such as friendly matches and exhibition-style tours that Santos would regularly embark upon.

Meanwhile, Pele himself also counts strikes (four, to be exact) in games he played for the Sixth Coast Guard in a military competition against non-professionals – so, while he is objectively one of football’s true icons, don’t take his self-proclaimed tally of 1,283 as gospel (even with unofficial matches taken into account, the RSSSF put Pele on 1,256 goals).

Even so, the icon’s ‘correct’ tally of 778 firmly puts him among some of the sport’s greats in front of goal, while his renowned divinity with the ball at his feet distinguishes him from most of them.

According to the RSSSF, football’s all-time leading marksman is Erwin Helmchen, a German who is thought to have scored around a whopping 987 goals in just 577 matches over the course of his 27-year career from 1924 to 1951 – how that is possible, we do not know.

Second-placed Josef Bican also boasts a ridiculous record of around 950 goals in 624 appearances, with Englishman Ronald Rooke, scorer of around 931 goals, and Cristiano Ronaldo, who recently breached the 830-goal mark, being joined by Northern Irishman Jimmy Jones, who boasts around 833 strikes, making up the top five.

Lionel Messi will have his sights on the top five and more immediately sixth-placed Ferenc Puskas, currently sitting around the 800-goal mark.


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