Pele has “won” more Ballon d’Ors than Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, the Brazilian legend claiming seven of the annual awards that mark the world’s best player.
You might think that Messi holds the all-time record with six, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo‘s five. But according to France Football, who organise the Ballon d’Or, Pele is on seven awards and leading the pack. Let us explain!
Until 1995, only European footballers were eligible to win the Ballon d’Or. Pretty unfair, so France Football changed that rule and opened up the award to truly honour the world’s best.
Then in 2016, they went back and did an “international re-evaluation” to calculate who should have won the Ballon d’Or had it always been global – and retrospectively gave Pele seven: for 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964 and 1970.
They only did this in years when a non-European player deserved to win overall. As a result, Diego Maradona (twice), Romario, Mario Kempes and Garrincha joined Pele on the honorary winners list.
France Football even printed a magazine cover of Pele with his golden trophies and the headline: “Pele 7 Ballon d’Ors” – which seems pretty clear-cut.
Among current football fans, there’s a tendency to suggest Pele has been overrated with some questioning the (admittedly dubious) maths behind his 1,000+ career goals.
Yet some facts are indisputable: that he’s the only player to win three World Cups, that he scored 77 goals for Brazil in just 92 games, that he was widely regarded as the biggest and best footballer of his era across South America, Europe and the USA.
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Some modern onlookers also question the fact that he spent his entire club career in Brazil and the US, never playing in a European league. But this criticism does not stand up at all.
Today we are used to a talent drain with the best players from every continent playing in Europe’s top leagues. But that was not the case in the 1960s and 70s when South America’s club sides were as good – if not better – than those in Europe.
Pele’s Santos took on Europe’s elite and beat them regularly. In the Intercontinental Cups of 1962 and 1963 – which pitted the European champions against the Copa Libertadores winners – Santos beat Benfica then AC Milan. Overall, Pele scored nine goals across five games.
Two of Pele’s “internationalised” Ballon d’Ors fall in World Cup-winning years: 1958 and 1970. It’s the same with Maradona for 1986, when he was undoubtedly the world’s best player, and 1990 (although El Diego’s heroics for Napoli also contributed).
So, in other words, if Maradona’s countryman Messi wants to equal Pele’s internationalised record, he still has to win another Ballon d’Or – while two more will take him clear. Ronaldo would need a hat-trick of Ballon d’Or wins to overtake Pele.
Does this prove that Pele really is football’s GOAT after all? Let us know in the comments.
Imagery: PA Images/France Football