5 of the Best Moments of Pelé’s Career

Pelé is Number 2 in 90min’s Top 50 Footballers of All Time Series

Pelé. A name which needs no introduction. But we’ll give him a quick one anyway. 

Voted as the joint-winner of the FIFA Player of the Century award, Pelé is often celebrated as the greatest footballer to have graced the planet. The insanely-talented forward epitomised everything that Brazilian football stands for: flair, technique, and flamboyant samba skills. 

The Brazilian superstar’s career spanned from his debut at the age of 15 in 1956, to his final appearance in 1977. A mammoth spell at the top of the game. 

And somehow, we at 90min have challenged ourselves to cherrypick five key moments in Pelé’s career, to give you all a flavour of just how brilliant he truly was – and mainly, to do the man some justice.

Well, in honour of football’s second greatest player of all time in our top 50 list- here’s to you, Pelé. 

​5) 1,000th Career Goal 

If I told you that Pelé amassed over 1,000 goals in his career, and upon achieving this monumental feat, sparked a pitch invasion and the game had to be stopped for 20 minutes – would you believe me? 

​Well, that’s exactly what happened. The year is 1969, and Pelé is stuck on 999 goals. After failing to hit the magic 1,000 in two matches, the triumph came at the Maracana against Vasco de Gama, when Santos earned a spot-kick. Having previously claimed that ‘a penalty is a cowardly way to score’, Pelé put those extreme emotions behind him to slot the ball home and notch number 1,000. 

Cue pandemonium. Pelé just has time to kiss the ball, before teammates, opposition and fans swarm towards him and carry him on a lap of honour around the stadium. A touching moment. 

4) The 1959 South American Championships

The 1959 South American Championships – or the Copa America to you and I – was the one that got away for Pelé during his illustrious career. But he doesn’t beat himself up about it. The Copa America was not the prestigious event it is nowadays, and the tournament was so poorly organised that it was hard to take it seriously. 

But Pelé lit up the competition in 1959, fresh off the back of being crowned a champion of the world. Brazil somehow failed to win the South American Championships, finishing a point behind Argentina, but the teenaged superstar lit up the campaign, scoring eight goals and being named player of the tournament.

3) Copa Libertadores Success with Santos

Having won the Brazilian league title in 1961, Santos qualified for the 1962 Copa Libertadores – a competition they had never won before. That was all about to change. Santos cruised through the opening round, and edged past Universidad Católica in the semis. 

Awaiting the Brazilians in the final was Uruguayan outfit Peñarol, and they competed in a dramatic three-game playoff. Santos came out on top, thanks a to brace from Pelé in the final match. The striker scored four in the entire competition, and helped his club win their maiden Copa Libertadores trophy. They wouldn’t have to wait long for their second success either, which arrived only a year later. 

​The Pelé effect. 

2) 17-Year-Old World Beater 

Imagine rocking up to a World Cup with a secret weapon in the form of a 17-year-old. The 1958 edition saw Pelé take to the world stage as a mere teenager, but he left an everlasting mark on the sport in Sweden. 

Although he missed the opening two matches through injury, Pelé made up for lost time soon after, scoring the winning goal against Wales in the quarter-finals, and completing a stunning hat-trick to defeat France in the semis.

This all built up to the big final. Could a 17-year-old starlet perform on the biggest stage in the world? Simply put – yes. Pelé produced one of the greatest goals that the World Cup has ever seen, bringing down a high cross on his chest, flicking the ball over the head of an onrushing defender, and then slamming home a clinical volley. Seventeen years old. He later doubled his tally, as Brazil won 5-2 to lift the nation’s first ever World Cup trophy. 

Pelé remains the youngest player to ever participate and score in a World Cup final. 


1) An Incredible 1970 World Cup 

The truth is, you could pick five standout moments from Pelé’s career solely from the 1970 World Cup. Having initially refused to play for the Brazil national side in 1969, the superstar caved and helped the Seleção qualify for the 1970 World Cup. The tournament was nothing short of iconic. 

Pelé came close on a few occasions to scoring the most outrageous goal of his career, particularly against Uruguay and Czechoslovakia. In the prior, he ran onto an incisive pass, but opted to dummy the ball, rounding the baffled and stranded goalkeeper. Unbelievably, Pelé miscued his finish, firing wide with the whole goal to aim at. 

Similarly against Czechoslovakia, our star went for the spectacular, shooting from just inside his own half. The crowd held its breath in anticipation, but his effort dropped narrowly wide. But he did find the net too, of course. Pelé smashed in a lovely outside of the boot free-kick against Romania, and he starred in the 4-1 final victory over Italy, laying on the final pass for Carlos Alberto’s famous team goal, and burying a brilliant header of his own. 

He also provoked the greatest save of all time from Gordon Banks, and forced Bobby Moore into putting in one of the finest defensive displays in history. We can give him credit for both of those. 

Pelé is the only man to ever win three World Cup medals. A real badge of honour.

90min’s ‘Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time’ can be found here.

Number 50: Luka Modric

Number 49: John Charles

Number 48: Hugo Sanchez

Number 47: Jairzinho

Number 46: Omar Sivori

Number 45: Paolo Rossi

Number 44: Paul Breitner

Number 43: George Weah

Number 42: Kaka

Number 41: Lev Yashin

Number 40: Gunnar Nordahl

Number 39: Kevin Keegan

Number 38: Hristo Stoichkov

Number 37: Gianluigi Buffon

Number 36: Johan Neeskens

Number 35: Xavi Hernandez

Number 34: Luis Suarez

Number 33: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

Number 32: Andres Iniesta

Number 31: Rivelino

Number 30: Bobby Moore

Number 29: Socrates

Number 28: Sandor Kocsis

Number 27: Lothar Matthaus

Number 26: Ronaldinho

Number 25: Ruud Gullit

Number 24: Bobby Charlton

Number 23: Giuseppe Meazza

Number 22: Raymond Kopa

Number 21: Romario

Number 20: Eusebio

Number 19: Marco van Basten

Number 18: George Best

Number 17: Zico

Number 16: Franco Baresi

Number 15: Cristiano Ronaldo

Number 14: Ferenc Puskas

Number 13: Paolo Maldini

Number 12: Gerd Müller

Number 11: Mané Garrincha

Number 10: Alfredo Di Stefano

Number 9: Roberto Baggio

Number 8: Michel Platini

Number 7: Ronaldo

Number 6: Zinedine Zidane

Number 5: Johan Cruyff

Number 4: Franz Beckenbauer

Number 3: Lionel Messi