Pele would have surpassed the achievements of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had he played in the modern era.
That is according to Jocky Scott, who faced the Brazil great in the final competitive game of his career in 1977.
Pele, who died last week aged 82, ended his remarkable playing career with a two-year stint at the North American Soccer League’s New York Cosmos, helping them triumph in 1977’s Soccer Bowl against the Seattle Sounders before hanging up his boots.
The three-time World Cup winner’s abilities are often compared to those of modern greats Messi and Ronaldo, as well as the legendary Diego Maradona, but former Scotland forward Scott believes he should be recognised as the greatest to play the game.
“I think you’ve got to recognise different eras in football, and over the last 10 or 15 years with Ronaldo and Messi, they deserve the accolades they get for being the best players,” Scott told Stats Perform.
“But I think they’re the best players of this era, or have been the best players of this era.
“They are now coming to the end of their careers. Someone else will take on that mantle over the next 15 or 20 years but in my opinion, I will always say Pele is definitely the best player.”
The New York Cosmos Mourn the Loss of Legendary Peléhttps://t.co/l9OSG4aZx7
— New York Cosmos (@NYCosmos) December 29, 2022
Scott added Pele would have achieved even more had he enjoyed the advantages of modern football.
“I think he would be better,” Scott said.
“To be honest, I think any player like Pele, [Diego] Maradona, George Best, [Johan] Cruyff – attacking players who are great individuals and can all score goals – nowadays, with the way the game is played where you’re virtually not allowed to tackle anybody, I think they would be much, much better players.
“Physically, he was a strong man and when you look back at pictures, way back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when he played both in Santos and for Brazil, he got some abuse on the pitch.
“He used to take a hell of a lot of abuse, but he would still be there after 90 minutes and he would still shrug them aside and score the goals he scored.
“When I came up against them [the Cosmos] in America, that was in 1977. Pele at that time would have been 36, his physique was unbelievable. He could still play. In my era, he was the best player in the world.”
While Scott was unable to prevent Pele from ending his stint in New York with a 2-1 win, he did manage to nutmeg the Cosmos man during their meeting – a moment he continues to cherish.
“It’s not something you think about during the game. It’s just a case of there’s an opponent, get the ball and get past them, and he pulled me back and fouled me,” he said.
“Anybody at home that sees this picture and has a word with me about it, I just laugh and tell them I nutmegged him and that was him getting his own back, pulling me back and he didn’t like it.
“It doesn’t matter who it was it but at the end of the day, it was a great picture for me.”