Legendary Brazilian striker Pelé created unthinkable history when he broke the 1 000 goal-barrier on this day, November 19, half a century (50 years) ago.
His strike in a match between his then-club Santos against Vasco de Gama at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium saw the striker become a folk hero in front of a tumultuous crowd of tens of thousands of football-crazed fans and supporters.
The number 10 had earned the plaudits after he beautifully tucked in a penalty which escaped through the grasp of the Vasco keeper. Afterwards, a pitch invasion by the press the likes of which had never been seen took hold, and Pelé hoisted and paraded across the ground by his teammates.
Pelé, however, had long before become a national hero after he helped Brazil to two World Cups in 1958 and 1962. But the penalty decision on that day in 1969 at Maracanã was a doubtful one. The former marksman joked recently that it would likely have been refused if today’s VAR system had been in place at the time.
Even more so today, there is on-going debate over the exact number of the goals he scored that should count in an official tally. The now 79-year-old, who has through the many decades continued to rank high in the public’s imagination, shrugs off the ill-will of detractors as he briskly did back then.
“I don’t need a party to celebrate this. For me, it is much more important to help poor children and those in need. I’m thinking, above all, of the kind of Christmas those people are going to spend.”Pelé said after the goal.
Years later, he would tell an anecdote about street children in Santos and how the message of his 1 000th goal meant for them. “A few days before [that historic] goal, I was in Santos and I saw some kids trying to steal cars, and I said: ‘Hey boys, what are you doing there?!’
They tried to justify it by saying they would only target cars from São Paulo. So, I told them they shouldn’t rob anyone at all. That was the message from my 1 000th goal,” said the Brazilian legend.
Research opinion ranks Pelé feat as third best
International football research organisation the Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation put Pele’s total at 767 goals in 831 official matches. If one goes by this, it only puts the legendary marksman third on the all-time list. The Czech-Austrian striker, Josef Bican, stands top with 805 goals in 530 games in a career interrupted by World War II.
Romário, who helped Brazil to the 1994 World Cup, is placed second on 772 goals from the 994 official matches he played. Breathing down Pelé and co.’s necks now are current stars Cristiano Ronaldo with 724 goals from 1 018 games with Portugal, and Argentina’s Lionel Messi, who currently sits on 708 goals from 890 matches.