Shortly after Pelé’s death, Dominic Hougham wrote a piece for These Football Times about Pelé at the 1970 World Cup and how he did so much more than just score goals:
Just how great a striker was Pelé? Well, let’s start with 501 goals in 493 appearances for Santos between 1956 and 1974 – so yes, averaging a goal a game for 18 years. Ah, but I hear you say, ‘that is in the Brazilian league, which surely is not the same standard as European leagues?’ That is open to debate, particularly given the number of world-class footballers within the competition at the time.
Let’s then consider Pelé’s international record of 77 goals in 92 games. That includes playing in four World Cups against the top teams of those times. Faced with statistics such as those, it is hard not to argue that Pelé was extremely good at putting the ball into the net.
But that leads to an interesting observation. There is no doubt that the 1970 World Cup and Pelé are intertwined in people’s memories. One of the greatest goalscorers of all-time helped his side lift the trophy with four goals across the tournament, but oddly enough if you again ask people the first five things that come into their head when you say Pelé and 1970, I think you would be surprised to find that not a single one of them would be a goal scored by him.
Unlike the other strikers mentioned earlier, Pelé’s fame in 1970 actually came more from misses than goals. Yes, one of the greatest goalscorers is actually remembered better for misses and saves.