Pele, arguably the greatest footballer of all time, was Brazil’s all-time leading scorer, scoring 77 goals in 92 appearances for his country.
The three-time World Cup winner embodied the concept of football as “the beautiful game”, played with skill, pace and imagination.
The first Born on October 23, 1940 in a poor family in Tres Coracos, southern Brazil.
His full name was Edson Arantes do Nascimento, which he revealed in a 2014 tweet, in honor of American inventor Thomas Edison, as electricity had just been introduced in his hometown.
While in school, he took the nickname Pele.
His father, Dondinho, was a minor league footballer, who taught his sons to play and his brother, Zouka, also played for Brazilian side Santos.
Early career and the 1958 World Cup
Pele joined Santos at the age of 15, and at the same age, he began his senior career in 1956.
He earned a place in the national team squad for the 1958 World Cup held in Sweden and, aged just 17, scored twice in the final as the hosts beat the hosts 5–2.
Pele became the tournament’s youngest goalscorer and the only 17-year-old to score at the World Cup.
1962, 1966 and 1970
Injury limited his role in Brazil’s 1962 victory in Chile, and he was much more marked than in England in 1966, where he was repeatedly, sometimes brutally, fouled.
But he was man of the tournament four years later, as Brazil assembled one of the greatest teams of all time and lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy in Mexico.
Led by Carlos Alberto, a side featuring the likes of Jerezinho, Tostão and Revelino beat Italy 4-1 in the final.
What made it great?
Like many of the game’s all-time greats, Pele was relatively short, standing about 5 feet 7 inches (1.73 m).
But what he lacked in height, he more than made up for in skill with both feet, pace, power and heading ability.
The centre-forward’s achievements are all the more remarkable given that he played in an era when skill players were routinely sent off, with referees often reluctant to send off or even book offenders.
Not an out-and-out striker, some of his most famous moments were not goals.
At the 1970 World Cup, there were attempts from the halfway line against Czechoslovakia, an outrageous dummy against Uruguay, and a downward header somehow saved by England goalkeeper Gordon Banks.
Club Football – Santos
Pele spent 18 years at Santos, where he is the all-time top goalscorer.
He helped them win six league titles, including five in a row since 1961, as well as two victories in the Copa Libertadores, considered South America’s closest thing to the Champions League.
New York Cosmos
Pele finished his playing days with the New York Cosmos and retired from football in 1977.
It had a similar impact in the United States and the fledgling North American Soccer League (NASL), with over 75,000 fans cramming New York’s Giants Stadium for its final game against Santos.
He was a prolific scorer in the NASL, leading the Cosmos to the title in his final season.
His star power helped establish the world’s biggest sport in a country that had, until then, ignored it.
Conflict of goals
There is much dispute over the number of goals he scored during his career, which Guinness World Records puts at 1,279.
However, many critics believe that this figure is too high, inflated by hundreds of scores in friendlies and practice matches.
Including them, he scored almost one goal in his 22-year career.
Others put his total at 757 goals, although Santos says his tally was closer to 1,000.
This would make him the all-time leading scorer for a major club.
In 2013, he was awarded the FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur (Honorary Award) in recognition of his career and achievements.
As a modern comparison, Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 800th goal in 1,095 official senior appearances for club and country in December 2021.
Pele has been married three times, most recently to businesswoman and entrepreneur Marcia Aoki in 2016.
He gave birth to seven children, but admitted in 2021 that he had so many affairs, he couldn’t be sure what the actual total was.
2014 World Cup
Since retiring, Pele has been Brazil’s playing minister and acts as a soccer ambassador.
He was Brazil’s honorary ambassador at the 2014 World Cup, which was held in his home country.
But before the tournament began, he angered many of his fellow Brazilians by criticizing the timing of anti-corruption protests, telling the protesters they could spoil the event.
Football fans love to debate who is the greatest of all time, with many believing that Diego Maradona, Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have more claim to the title than Pele.
But Sky Sports football commentator Martin Tyler disagrees, saying “For me that [Pele] The greatest player of all time.”
“One of my first jobs outside of television was to put the English voice on VHS, as in those days, he had his Brazilian career and his 1,000 goals,” he said.
“If I had any doubts about how good he was, this video proved it. To do so and pay tribute to a man who can do so much more than just score goals.
“He will always be remembered for his ability to score terrific goals in difficult situations, when players had more license to use all means to stop him. He was irresistible.
“Of course for me he will always be great and in the world of football he is immortal.”
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