While the world mourns Pelé's death, there is a question that people are constantly asking: How many goals did Pelé score throughout his career?
The answer is not easy and will depend on who is answering it.
Since his irruption in the game in the 1958 World Cup, Pelé promptly showed the globe he was a goal-scoring machine and the image of him jumping with a fist into the air became iconic. The problem? Stats at the time were not as developed as today, so the counting was not as precise as today.
Pèle’s first World Cup goal for @CBF_Futebol against @Cymru in 1958 #Pele #bra #wal pic.twitter.com/suQpjxv87k— JoshSalmoni (@SalmoniJosh) December 30, 2022
And then there was the issue of what goals we were counting. Club level and official international games, for sure. But what about friendlies? Which friendlies were worth being counted and which ones were not?
Can you see the mess?
How many goals did Pelé score?
According to Pelé himself, the number is 1.283 goals, which is a lot.
I have scored 1283 goals in my life,— Pelé (@Pele) September 25, 2015
In that number, he includes official matches and friendlies of all kind. People usually joke he was also counting the goals he bagged in pick-up games with his friends.
The tally differs by a long shot from the 757 goals that FIFA recognizes as official.
How so? Again, it all depends on what goals we are counting. But if you go to The Rec. Sport. Soccer Statistics Foundation (RSSSF), you'll notice that both numbers are partially true. More or less.
If you consider all matches – official and not official – Pelé played in his career, the total is 1.303 goals, with 1.256 of those scored in games considered at a top level.
But if you are only counting official matches, the number drops to 778, with 769 bagged in top-level games.
In other words, Pelé and FIFA are both more or less correct, depending on what story they were telling.