I wrote the vast majority of this out on the Messi/CR7 thread, but I think it got lost amongst a sea of posts on that thread and it is a point worthy of its own thread. I think Pelé's stats are overblown. When one delves into the context of Pelé's scoring it becomes less and less impressive. 1. Santos was a hilariously stacked team compared to the league they were in. Santos was playing in a regional league within Brazil. This meant that every player in the league was Brazilian, but the league did not contain all of the talent within Brazil. Rather, it only contained a fraction of it. Brazil was in a golden age, so this by itself doesn't necessarily show that it was a weak league, and that's not what I'm trying to prove. But consider this: Look at Brazil's squad in the various World Cups of that era. Compare how many of Brazil's players played on Santos to how many played on every other Paulista team combined. By my count, there were 7 Santos players on the 1962 squad, and the ENTIRE rest of the Paulista contributed only 6 players. There were 6 Santos players in 1966, and the entire rest of the Paulista had 7 players. In 1970, Santos had 5 players on the squad, while the rest of the Paulista had 6. Even in 1958, when many of Santos' best players had not yet established themselves in the NT (and many of them soon would), they still tied for most players in the Paulista on the team. And many of the Santos players who weren't getting called up to the NT for the World Cup were still capped in their career. For instance, take a look at the 1962 Copa Libertadores Finals lineup for Santos. At least 9 of their 11 players were capped on multiple occasions by Brazil. When you are talking about a league only made up of Brazilians, players who are getting called up for Brazil's World Cup squad are, by definition, the top 1 or 2 players in the league at their position. If they weren't they wouldn't be one of the couple players called up for Brazil at their position. This is especially true in a regional league that only includes about half of Brazil's top talent (meaning there's a good chance someone's the only Paulista player called up at his position). So basically, we're talking about a team that essentially had the best player in the league at most positions, along with having a bunch of players close to that level (i.e. players who got a bunch of Brazil caps but weren't on the WC squad are still surely one of the top few players at their position in an all Brazilian regional league). Simply put, Santos was outrageously talented compared to their league. This obviously makes scoring tons of goals easier. 2. Not surprisingly, Santos did in fact score tons of goals As I have detailed in the Gerd Müller thread, from 1957 to 1969, Santos scored 3.14 goals per league match. This is a fair margin higher than even the scoring of present-day Barcelona and Real Madrid. It's significantly higher than the scoring of the team of pretty much any other top scorer in history. And this gets more pronounced when you look at Pelé's best scoring era: specifically, 1957 to 1965. In that era, Santos averaged 3.4 goals a match. That is a ridiculous goal haul for a team, but it shouldn't be surprising given how stacked Santos was compared to its opponents. It all indicates Pelé's scoring should be taken with a bit of a grain of salt. 3. A random player scored just like Pelé when Pelé was out To add more evidence to the fact that Pelé's goalscoring was perhaps a good deal the product of Santos' overall greatness, we have the case of Toninho Guerreiro. In 1966, Pelé spent a lot of the season injured. At that point, the primary goal scorer for Santos became a guy named Toninho Guerreiro. This is a guy who managed to get 1 cap for Brazil in his entire career. So he wasn't completely terrible, but we're not talking about a particularly great player. In that 1966 season, Toninho scored 60 goals (including goals in friendlies) according to Santos. This included 27 goals in the 28-game Paulista season (and he likely didn't play all 28 games), as well as 10 goals in Santos' 5 Taça Brasil matches. He was top scorer in both those competitions (which were Santos' two primary competitions at the time). Those 60 goals were pretty well in line with most of Pelé's scoring in the years surrounding that. Aside from a spike in 1965, Pelé scored between 55 and 67 goals every other season between 1963 and 1969. So basically, with Pelé dealing with injuries and out for a lot of the season, the goalscoring focus shifted to a player who only received one career NT cap, and that player basically replicated Pelé's scoring. Moreover, Toninho actually outscored Pelé in 1968, bagging 76 goals for Santos. That was a higher goal haul than Pelé ever got from 1964 through the end of his career (i.e. higher than Pelé managed in the era in which Toninho did it), and it was higher than all but 4 of Pelé's seasons overall (which all came during Santos' peak period of goalscoring, as detailed above). 4. Pelé did not score that much in Brazil-wide competition One knock on Pelé's scoring that I have alluded to is that it happened in a regional league. Pelé supporters claim that the regional league was very strong and his goals there should be taken quite seriously. One problem for Pelé, though, is that he did actually play in Brazil outside the regional league. In fact, he played in the early Brasileiro as well the various Brazil-wide precursors to it. In those Brazil-wide competitions (specifically, the Taca Brasil, the Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa, and the Brasileiro), Pelé only scored 100 goals in 173 matches (0.58 goals a match). Not a bad goal haul, especially since a Brazil-wide competition in that era was surely quite strong. But it's extremely far away from his overall scoring and certainly indicates his massive scoring was partially a product of being on a dominant team in a regional league. I should note that we could also include the Torneio Rio-Sao Paolo. It wasn't a Brazil-wide tournament, but it was contested between probably the two most major regions. If you add that, as well as his scoring in the Copa Libertadores and the Intercontinental Cup, he got 173 goals in 244 matches (0.71 goals a match). Again, this is a good scoring rate, but it is far away from placing him as the most prolific scorer ever. 5. Pelé's scoring rapidly declined when Santos became less elite If you look at Pelé's scoring, it had a rapid decline after the 1969 season. Specifically, he went from getting 38 goals in 37 competitive matches in 1969 to getting 11 goals in 28 matches the next season and 9 goals in 40 matches the season after that. Though he did manage to put together a good 1973 season, the fact is that Pelé had an extremely large precipitous drop off in scoring starting in 1970 that he never came back from. Why did this happen? Well, up until 1969, Santos was absolutely filled with Brazilian internationals. While Pelé was at Santos, they had 13 players who made Brazil's World Cup squad in that era, as well as at least 4 other players who were otherwise capped by Brazil. As I argued above, this basically made them an all-star team in a league that only had Brazilians. But after the 1969 season, SIX of those Brazil internationals left or retired. So, in 1970, Santos suddenly only had 3 other Brazil internationals on the team. They were no longer an all star team, but rather just a very good team. And Pelé's production suddenly became pretty mediocre. I don't think this is a coincidence. It should also be noted that Santos also abruptly stopped winning virtually anything after that 1969 season. In Pelé's last 5 seasons with Santos, they only won 1 title: a Paulista title in 1973 after the Brasileiro had already become the biggest competition. Once he no longer had a team that was wildly more talented than everyone else (still had 4 Brazil internationals on the team, though, so they were still quite talented), Pelé stopped scoring much and his team stopped being particularly successful. 6. Pelé's NT scoring is not THAT impressive The obvious retort to everything I've said thus far is that Pelé demonstrated his great scoring on the Brazilian NT. To a large degree that is true. 77 goals in 92 caps (0.84 goals a match) is a very nice scoring haul. However, a few things are worth noting about this. First of all, while that is still a high scoring haul, it is quite significantly below his scoring rate for Santos in the years he was capped. He was capped from 1957 to 1971. In those same years, he scored 1.08 goals per competitive match for Santos. So, even at face value, his NT scoring lags significantly behind his club scoring. Second of all, he played during Brazil's golden age. We are talking about a team that scored 12 goals in 4 matches without Pelé in the 1962 World Cup. They won every KO stage match by 2 goals! It's gotta be a whole lot easier than normal to score while on a team that is capable of easily waltzing through the World Cup KO stages without you even playing. Moreover, the 1970 Brazil team is generally seen as the greatest NT ever, and possibly the greatest team ever in general. We are talking about a team that scored 19 goals in 6 matches, with only 4 of them from Pelé. Again, if your team can score that much, it's surely far easier than normal for you to score goals. The 1958 team scored tons of goals too (16 goals in 6 matches), though a decent portion of those were from Pelé himself. The general point is that we are talking about a team that absolutely dominated the world stage in that era in a way we haven't really seen otherwise. They scored tons with Pelé but they also scored tons and won easily without him. That is clearly an easier context in which to score lots of goals. Third, not only was Brazil incredibly good in this era, but it was an incredibly high scoring NT era. From the 1974 World Cup onwards, scoring in the World Cup has ranged from 2.21 total goals a match to 2.81 total goals a match. The average in those past 11 World Cups was 2.54 goals a match. NT scoring was higher in Pelé's era. The 1958 World Cup had 3.6 goals a match. It was 2.78 in 1962 and 1966, and 2.97 in 1970. That is an average of 3.03 goals a match in the overall era in which Pelé played for Brazil. This is a pretty significant difference. Pelé's era had about 20% more goals scored than NT football has averaged since then. If you adjusted Pelé's goalscoring for Brazil down, just to be in line with general scoring norms in the post-1970 era, he'd only average about 0.70 goals a match for Brazil. Fourth, and unsurprisingly given the above two points, there are other much less heralded players for Brazil who scored lots of goals in that era. A very good example of this is Vavá. When Pelé went down in the 1962 World Cup, Vava became the main goalscoring threat. He proceeded to score 4 goals in 4 matches. Vava also scored 5 goals in 4 matches in the 1958 World Cup. Overall, Vava got 9 goals in 10 World Cup matches for Brazil (0.9 goals a match). That compares well with Pelé's 12 goals in 14 World Cup matches for Brazil (0.86 goals a match). Overall, Vava managed 15 goals in 20 caps for Brazil (0.75 goals a match), which is not that far off from Pelé's goals a match rate, despite playing plenty of his matches as a second fiddle to Pelé himself. Vava was a good player, but he was no scoring legend outside of his play for the Brazilian NT. For instance, in those prime years where he was playing for the Brazilian NT, he played three seasons for Atletico Madrid. As far as I can find, he managed just 39 goals in 81 total matches for Atletico. His scoring for his club and for Brazil are not even in the same stratosphere as each other. This is a good indication that a player's scoring could be highly inflated in that era's Brazil team. Overall, of course, an era-adjusted 0.70 goals a match for your NT is still very good. But it is not at all unheard of. Furthermore, when we consider that, regardless of adjustments for era, Pelé was still playing on an absolutely dominant NT that scored tons even for that era with or without him, and that a much less heralded player was able to largely replicate Pelé's scoring for Brazil, it becomes even less impressive. _____________________________________________ Basically, I think Pelé was not the absolutely legendary scorer he is made out to be. At club level, he played on a ludicrously stacked team in a regional league that unsurprisingly scored insane amounts of goals. A random striker was able to largely replicate Pelé's scoring on that same stacked team. Pelé's stats outside of that regional league were nothing special. And when his team no longer was overwhelmingly stacked, he suffered a massive decline in scoring. At NT level, he once again played on an incredibly dominant team that scored insane amounts of goals. Once again, a relatively unheralded player was able to largely replicate Pelé's scoring. Moreover, the NT era itself was significantly higher scoring than any subsequent era has been. And Pelé already scored less for Brazil than he did for his club anyways. Adjusting for all that, I don't think Pelé has a particularly impressive NT scoring record (it is still impressive of course, but not absolutely legendary).