Pelé: Most wins of the FIFA World Cup by a player

The debate over the best football/soccer player ever may rage on forever without end.

Pelé or Maradona?

Or, 10 years from now, Pelé 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 honour lies solely with O Rei.

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, the man who would come to be known as Pelé, 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, Pelé had won three FIFA World Cups with Brazil, the most wins of the World Cup by any player.

Pelé’s first World Cup win came in Sweden in 1958, a tournament in which the phenom played an instrumental role. He provided an assist for 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 semi-final 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, in Chile in 1962, although his contributions would be much more limited. After scoring and assisting in Brazil's 2-0 opening win against Mexico, Pelé 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.

Pelé'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 Pelé play well in Mexico, he won the Golden Ball, scoring four goals, the pick of which was the opener in the 4-1 final victory over Italy.

Besides Pelé, 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 players, 13 won their double as part of the same teams in which Pelé played in 1958 and 1962.

Since Pelé's final win, only one country has won three World Cups, and it took Germany until the 2014 tournament to accomplish even that.

So while his career goals record may be called into question, and his flair for the dramatic may not be as vaunted as that of his historical rivals', his career success means one thing: Pelé is without doubt the most celebrated national team player of all time.