Brazilians split about Neymar breaking Pele's goal-scoring record

AP , Saturday 9 Sep 2023

Brazil great Neymar received a plaque for becoming the team’s all-time leading goal-scorer in official matches in the early hours of Saturday.

Brazil's Neymar celebrates scoring his side's 5th goal against Bolivia during a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup 2026 at Mangueirao stadium in Belem, Brazil, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Photo: AP


However, the language used to describe his achievement perhaps shows many in the South American nation still consider three-time World Cup winner Pele top of that chart.

“To Neymar Jr., the all-time top goal-scorer for the Selecao in matches against national teams,” reads the plaque delivered by the president of the Brazilian soccer confederation, Ednaldo Rodrigues, a hardcore Pele fan. “With your goals you have brought joy to millions of Brazilians and fans all over the world.”

The first goal Neymar scored in Brazil’s 5-1 victory over Bolivia in the opening round of South American World Cup qualifying put him one above Pele, who died on Dec. 29 aged 82 after a long fight against cancer. The 31-year-old picked up his second goal in injury time, lifting his tally to 79 in 125 appearances.

Neymar’s record-breaking goal came in the 61st minute following a low cross into the penalty box. He celebrated by punching the air, as Pele usually did.

“I am very happy, no words for this,” Neymar said after he was handed the plaque by Rodrigues. “I never thought I would reach this record.”

Despite celebrations by Neymar and his teammates, the Brazilian soccer confederation was less effusive, as the plaque hinted.

Unlike FIFA, the confederation considers Pele’s tally to be 95 goals in 114 matches, including those he scored in friendlies against club sides and team selections from Brazilian states.

Santos, the club where Pele and Neymar started, also doesn’t accept that the Al-Hilal striker broke the record of the man the club and Brazilians call their king.

“The kingdom of soccer,” the club said on its social media channels, posted with an undated picture of Neymar and Pele.

Brazilian media rejected the idea Neymar had replaced Pele as the Selecao’s all-time top goal-scorer.

“FIFA despises part of history by not counting all goals by Pele,” said journalist Mauro Cezar Pereira. Another columnist, Renato Mauricio Prado, described the change at the top of the charts as “an aberration.”

Some of the 18 goals that FIFA does not count for Pele came against tough club rivals.

Pele scored twice in Brazil’s 2-2 draw with Inter Milan in 1960. Six years later, he grabbed a hat-trick in a 5-3 victory over Atletico Madrid. Also in 1966, the Brazil icon netted another treble in a 3-1 win over Sweden’s Malmo.

Other goals scored by Pele for Brazil came against rivals that do not exist today. In 1960, he claimed a hat-trick in a 3-1 triumph over a combination of Egyptian and Syrian national team players. Nine years later, he netted another for Brazil in a 6-1 win against a selection from the Northeastern state of Pernambuco.

During Pele's career, countries often played against clubs. Brazil also used to tour Europe for friendlies and play against clubs when other national teams were not available.

FIFA’s model to count goals ignores eight goals by Neymar during the Olympics of 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. Neither tournament is considered a senior competition.

According to official numbers, Pele has a superior goal average to Neymar’s for Brazil — and it is higher than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who are the all-time top scorers for Argentina and Portugal respectively. Pele, with 77 goals in 91 official matches, averages 0.84 goal per game. Neymar has an average of 0.62.

Neymar, who is yet to win a Copa America or a World Cup, took a humbling approach amid all the tributes.

“I want to say this (record) doesn’t mean I am better than him (Pele) or any national team player,” he said in a short statement. “I always wanted to write my story in the national team and today I did that.”

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