With Lionel Messi’s last performances, there should now be no doubt that he belongs in soccer’s holy trinity with Pelé and Diego Maradona. Although there have been many outstanding players, those three are the most enduring stars in the world’s most popular sport. The three of them have been considered by different observers as the best player in soccer’s history, but a more nuanced analysis shows that, despite some differences, it is practically impossible to choose one over the two others.

During his career, Pelé (born Oct. 21, 1940) scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 games, including among them unofficial friendly and tour games. He is listed in the Guinness World Records as the football player who scored the most goals during his career. A man with a strong social conscience, Pelé was very vocal in his support of policies to improve the social conditions of the poor in Brazil. Because of his achievements as a player, in 1961 he was declared a national treasure by Brazilian President Janio Quadros.

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