Pele died today at the age of 82 after a long battle with colon cancer. He can’t wait to wipe the victories of his ancestors and advance his contemporaries for generations, but he was a universal constant among football fans. Before him were great footballers such as Stanley Matthews, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stéfano and even Garrincha, Socrates and Riverino, but his preeminence was best, Beckenbauer and Cruyff. , was declared sacred even through Müller’s time. Baresi and Zidane. The only real rival for his reputation was Diego he was Maradona, but it was national pride (Pele is Brazilian, Maradona is Argentinian).
Simply put, he was the best because everyone agreed it was. This is how these discussions are usually conducted. If everyone agrees, there is no debate. And no one who ever followed the game could disrespect Pele by saying, “He was overrated.” He was and still is the first person that comes to mind.
It is therefore oddly timed that his death comes shortly after the debate over Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo has come to a close. Due to the declining number of people who have seen Pelé live, he was also given the title of best player when Messi held Jules Rimet high on Earth, his last on the pitch. Although the act was that of a champion, Ronaldo’s mostly exemplary career ended in great disgrace.
This leaves Messi and Pele’s GOAT-bate lukewarm, which doesn’t translate well as they were six and a half years apart in time. Pele still has his three World Cup titles. To be fair, his Brazilian side is a poor point of comparison given that he was very rich in other talent, but he also has the advantage of being a trailblazer both on the world stage and in America. I have. He sparked the first football revolution as the centerpiece of the New York Cosmos. Teams weren’t as important as the fact that Pele became not only synonymous with the sport, but almost synonymous with it. He was an exemplar of quality, so he became the face of quality. His endorsement spanned multiple languages, and after his retirement he became the sport’s de facto ambassador. You thought soccer, you thought Pele, but there really weren’t any alternative choices.
Messi cannot claim a similar effect. Because the road paved by Pele became a highway for Messi to travel easily. Whether or not he’s a good player is entirely a beholder’s-eye level debate, but he’s a milder version of what Pele once was. Messi stands on Pele’s shoulders as Ronaldo did. And the view from that vantage point is breathtaking. But football as a completely global phenomenon, including North America, is what Pele is doing: he helped Americans covet his 1994 World Cup, so much so that in 2026 he will watch it. I had to. His enduring incandescence as a defining figure in the world’s most popular sport is so enduring that he can be forgiven for the blemish. escape to victory.
In that sense, he’s bigger and better than Lionel Messi and all of his ancestors, and almost certainly all to come. Even when he passed away, he stood the test of time. I can really say that we know Messi in the right context because Pele made it possible for us.