The debate over the best football/soccer player ever may rage on forever without end.
Pele or Maradona?
Or, 10 years from now, Pele or Maradona or Messi or Ronaldo?
But, at least until now, there is no debate as to who is the most successful player of all time. That honor lies solely with O Rei.
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, the man who would come to be known as Pele, burst onto the world soccer scene at age 16, excelling both for club team Santos and the Brazilian national side.
By the end of his career, Pele would go on to win three FIFA World Cups with Brazil, the most wins of the World Cup by any player.
Pele's first World Cup win came at Sweden 1958, in which the phenom played an instrumental role. He assisted on a goal in his only first-round match appearance, before scoring the only goal in a quarterfinal victory over Wales. He scored a hat trick in the semifinal victory against France, before netting a brace in the 5-2 final over the hosts.
He would earn his second trophy in the very next tournament, at Chile 1962, although his contributions would be much more limited. After scoring and assisting in Brazil's 2-0 opening win against Mexico, Pele would injure himself in the very next match and miss the remainder of the tournament. But Brazil would continue down the path upon which they'd been set by their talisman in claiming a second straight cup, the last nation to do so and one of only two ever.
Pele's third and final triumph came in 1970, returning to World Cup play after vowing to never play in the competition again in the wake of the brutal targeted tackling he suffered throughout the 1966 tournament. He made the right decision - not only did Pele play well in Mexico, he won the Golden Ball, scoring four goals and highlighted by the opener in the 4-1 finals victory over Italy.
Besides Pele, only 20 other men have ever won multiple World Cups, but none stayed good enough and relevant enough for long enough to capture a third and match the legend. Of those 20, eight of them won a trophy at a World Cup in which they never saw the pitch. And of those same 20, 13 of them won their double on the same Pele-featuring teams in 1958 and 1962.
Since Pele's final win, only one country has won three World Cups, and it took Germany until this summer's tournament to accomplish even that.
So while his career goals record may be called into question, or his flair for the dramatic not as vaunted as his historical rivals', his career success means one thing: there's no denying Pele as the most vaunted national team player of all time.