OPINION: The GOAT Debate | Krishna Nagarajan
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are not representative of Pulse Magazine, CCA, or SDUHSD, as a whole.
Messi lifted the World Cup trophy, and the world celebrated as he cemented his status as one of the world’s greatest to ever play football. Here he was: a man who has won 10 La Liga titles, seven Copa del Rey tournaments, four Champions League titles, one Copa América, and finally, a World Cup. Social media was ecstatic as people around the world posted on their Instagram stories to talk about his World Cup performance and how this was the defining moment that made him the GOAT. But is this really true?
In my opinion, the greatest player of all time is undoubtedly Pelé, who scored an astounding 1,279 goals in 1,363 games. People argue that many of these goals came in friendlies – and this much is true. However, he scored 757 goals in 812 official matches which is still a hugely impressive feat of around 0.93 goals per game which is the same rate as his total goal-to-game tally. Additionally, 411 of the goals he scored in friendlies (78.1%) were against top-tier competition. He won the world’s most prestigious trophy, the World Cup, three times out of his four appearances. On the world’s biggest stage, Pelé proved his greatness against the best competition – not only through his prolific goal-scoring but as a strong playmaker and his ability to drop back in a Sergio Busquets–esque fashion, proving his overall ability to show his incredible skill in multiple areas of the game.
Pelé scored 643 goals in 659 games for the Brazilian club Santos in what was, at the time, one of the best leagues in the world. At the time, the Brazilian Serie A used to be at the same level, if not better, than most European leagues and was one of the greatest countries to be in for football in Pelé’s era. Some argue that this era was a less competitive era of football – this is, to say the least, a laughable claim because that era was incredibly difficult (and the league was one of the most rigorous in football at the time). Another argument raised is that the offside rule was entirely different, and was only changed in the 1990s. This is true, but not in the way that many people believe. The offside rule used to be far more complex, and, in fact, multiple analyses have been done which show that a number of goals in today’s era would have been ruled offside back then. Additionally, if the game in the 60s was truly easier, then many people should have been at Pelé’s level, but he still managed to show that he was head and shoulders above the rest.
One may argue that Messi’s feats at a club level are more impressive due to the sheer number of trophies he has won. While this may be true, looking at the GOAT debate through a purely European lens is unfair, and doesn’t give enough credit to the greats of previous football eras. Therefore, a lot of my argument is centered around the international stage where the best of the best play. This spotlight is the peak of world football and is one of the critical elements of defining the greatest footballer of all time. The World Cup is the grand prize of football – this is inarguable. Pelé has won three out of four World Cups. Messi has only won once.
However, I, like many of you, never got the chance to watch Pelé live. Grainy black-and-white clips on YouTube are the most that many of us get to see to witness his greatness. But many of the greatest, such as Johann Cruyff, Sir Bobby Charlton, and Franz Beckenbauer have claimed that there is no player like him. Eric Cantona, often referred to as one of the greatest of his generation, claimed that Pelé was “an artist” who could “light up a dark room”. He was and still is, unmatched.
Once again, this is just my opinion. Both Pelé and Messi have forever changed football for the better, and will always be two of the greatest players to ever play the game. Appreciating their greatness is something that all football fans can, and will always be able to do.
Who is your GOAT?