March 06, 2019 5 min read

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele, as most of us know him, was born on October 23rd 1940 in Três Corações, Minas Gerais, was brought up in Bauru, Sao Paulo, and has enjoyed the reputation, for most of his life, as the greatest player of all time, with individual recognition including World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics, one of the two joint winners of the FIFA Player of the Century award and Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee. He scored 1281 league goals in 1363 matches.

Pelé represented Santos at age fifteen and made his debut for Brazil a year later against Argentina in a 2–1 defeat on 7 July 1957. Pele remains the youngest goalscorer for his country. He is the only player to have won the World Cup three times, in 1958, 1962 and 1970, and scored more goals for his country -  seventy seven in ninety two games - than any other Brazilian. He attributes part of his success as an adult to playing as a fourteen year-old in the men’s Futebol de Salao (indoor football) competitions in Sao Paulo. Pele has been as active in promoting football since he retired in 1977 as he was as a player, including bringing to the attention of political leaders the conditions of the poor.

After the 1958 and 1962 World Cups, Real Madrid, Juventus, Manchester United and Inter Milan tried to persuade Pele to settle in Europe, without success, with the government of Brazil preventing any further such attempts by declaring him an ‘official national treasure’ in 1961. Pelé’s fifty eight goals in the Campeonato Paulista of 1958 remains a record, the club’s first Torneio Rio-São Paulo followed a year later and participation in the Copa Libertadores the year after that. Santos won the competition for the first time in 1962-63, with Pele scoring four goals, and successfully defended both the Campeonato Brasileiro -  Pelé scored thirty seven goals -  and the Taça Brasil and the club went on to win the 1962 Intercontinental Cup against Benfica 5-2, including a Pele hat trick.

The 1963 Copa Libertadores followed, with victory over Boca Juniors and Santos’ retention of the Intercontinental Cup against Milan the following year.

Pelé has said that his favourite goal was against São Paulo rivals Clube Atlético Juventus in August 1959 and the most celebrated, his Gol de Placa, at the Maracana against Fluminense, with the inscription to ‘The most beautiful goal in the history of the Maracanã’.

At the end of his nineteenth season with Santos, in 1974 Pelé officially retired from Brazilian club football and joined the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League (NASL) for the 1975 season. The Cosmos won the 1977 NASL championship, in his final season with the club.

Pele’s second-half hat-trick against France in the Semi-Final of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden made him the youngest in World Cup history to do so and on June 29th the youngest to play in a World Cup Final, scoring two goals as Brazil beat Sweden 5–2. One of his Swedish opponents commented after the game, ‘When Pelé scored the fifth goal in that Final, I... felt like applauding.’ Pele finished the tournament with six goals in four matches.

Pele’s participation in the 1962 World Cup in Chile was limited owing to injury and the tournament belonged to Garrincha, whose individual displays brought the trophy to Brazil for the second time with victory over Czechoslovakia in the Final in Santiago. The 1966 Finals in England were a similarly-disappointing experience for Pelé, with Brazil eliminated at the group stages and Pele afforded little protection by referees at the hands of Bulgarian and Portuguese defenders. The Brazil squad for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico included Pelé, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Gérson, Carlos Alberto Torres, Tostão and Clodoaldo and managed by Mario Zagallo. Brazil’s 4-1 victory over Italy in the Final in Mexico City was brilliant and comprehensive, with Pele scoring the first.

The photograph of Pele- and Bobby Moore’s hug, following Brazil’s victory over England in the group stages, ‘Captured the respect that two great players had for each other. As they exchanged jerseys, touches and looks, the sportsmanship between them is all in the image. No gloating, no fist-pumping from Pelé. No despair, no defeatism from Bobby Moore.’

‘Pelé was one of the few who contradicted my theory: instead of 15 minutes of fame, he will have 15 centuries,’ Andy Warhol said.

Brazil's 1970 World Cup captain Carlos Alberto Torres: ‘His great secret was improvisation. Those things he did were in one moment. He had an extraordinary perception of the game.’

Ferenc Puskás: ‘The greatest player in history was Di Stéfano. I refuse to classify Pelé as a player. He was above that.’ England's World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore commented, ‘Pelé was the most complete player I've ever seen, he had everything. Two good feet. Magic in the air. Quick. Powerful. Could beat people with skill. Could outrun people. Only five feet eight inches tall, yet he seemed a giant of an athlete on the pitch. Perfect balance and impossible vision. He was the greatest because he could do anything and everything on a football pitch.’ Sir Bobby Charlton’s comment was that ‘I sometimes feel as though football was invented for this magical player.’ Alfredo Di Stéfano: ‘The best player ever? Pelé. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are both great players with specific qualities, but Pelé was better’.

Presenting Pelé with the Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award, former South African president Nelson Mandela said; ‘To watch him play was to watch the delight of a child combined with the extraordinary grace of a man in full.’

In 1994, Pelé was appointed a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. In 1995, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso appointed Pelé to the position of Extraordinary Minister for Sport. During this time he proposed legislation to reduce corruption in Brazilian football, which became known as the ‘Pelé law.’ In 1997, he received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.

FIFA World Cup (3): 1958, 1962, 1970

Campeonato Brasileiro Série A (6): 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1968
Copa Libertadores (2): 1962, 1963
Intercontinental Cup (2): 1962, 1963
Intercontinental Supercup: 1968
Campeonato Paulista (10): 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1973
Torneio Rio-São Paulo (4): 1959, 1963, 1964

New York Cosmos
North American Soccer League, Soccer Bowl: 1977
North American Soccer League, Atlantic Conference Championship: 1977

In December 2000, Pelé and Maradona shared the prize of FIFA Player of the Century by FIFA.

Copa Libertadores Top Scorer: 1965

Campeonato Paulista Top Scorer (11): 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1969, 1973
Torneio Rio-São Paulo Top Scorer: 1963
Bola de Prata: 1970

FIFA World Cup Golden Ball (Best Player): 1970
Copa America Best Player: 1959
Copa América Top Scorer: 1959

FIFA Ballon d'Or Prix d'Honneur: 2013[164]
Ballon d'Or (7): 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1970 
FIFA Player of the Century: 2000
FIFA Order of Merit: 1984
FIFA Centennial Award: 2004
FIFA 100 Greatest Living Footballers

Greatest football player to have ever played the game, by Golden Foot: 2012
Athlete of the Century, by Reuters News Agency: 1999
Athlete of the Century, elected by International Olympic Committee: 1999
South American Footballer of the Year: 1973
Football Player of the Century, elected by France Football's Ballon d'OrWinners: 1999
World Team of the 20th Century: 1998
World Soccer Greatest XI of All Time: 2013
FWA Tribute Award: 2018

Knight of the Order of Rio Branco: 1967
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (honorary knighthood): 1997

Personal records
Brazil national football team: All-time leading goalscorer: 77 goals (95 goals including unofficial friendlies).
Santos: All-time leading goalscorer: 643 goals in 656 competitive games.
Intercontinental Cup: All-time leading goalscorer: 7 goals
World record number of hat-tricks: 92
Guinness World Records: Most career goals (football): 1283 goals in 1363 games

English football writer Geoffrey Green: ‘Di Stefano was manufactured on earth, Pele was made in heaven.’

Remember the legacy of Pele with the Vintage Sports collection of signed memorabilia that features Pele's signed boot  and signed Brazil shirt 


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