Pele was born Edson Arantes Do Nascimento on 3 October 1940. His father was a soccer player who was forced to retire from the game when he fractured his leg.
Young Pele grew up in poverty, and used to polish shoes to help contribute
to the family income. The boy showed great interest for, and talent in, soccer
and was playing for a local minor league club when he got his first break.
The 11-year-old Pele caught the eye of Waldemar de Brito, a premier player
of the nation. Brito is said to have presented Pele to skeptical directors at Santos, boldly stating that Pele would be the greatest soccer player in the world. Whether or not he truly believed in his passionate statement at the time he made it remains immaterial.
Pele proved himself to Santos when, at the age of 16, he scored a goal in
his very first mainstream match, which was against Corinthians FC.
The world began to sit up and pay attention when a 17-year-old Pele scored a whopping 6 goals during the 1958 World Cup, thereby leading the Brazil National Team to victory. Brazil won its first World Cup that year.
With word of his brilliant performances spreading like wildfire, and a wide range of sports clubs showing unmasked interest in having Pele play for them,
Brazil declared its star soccer player a national treasure, thereby barring
Pele from playing for any non-Brazilian club or corporation.
Pele was a vision when on the field, with his agile 5 ft. 8 inches frame
swiftly running across the arena, his deft feet expertly dribbling the ball.
Besides being hailed for his extraordinary command on the ball and powerful kicks, Pele also commanded admiration for his powerful head shots.
In 1962, Pele was unable to play alongside his team during World Cup as he sustained severe injuries during the first match of the tournament. However, in 1970, Pele led his team to win what would be the 3rd World Cup for his nation.
His goal was precious in more ways than one – not only was it Brazil’s 100th World Cup goal, but it was also a goal that was close to Pele’s heart as he had scored it with his head. Pele’s dad was adept at headshots, and is reported to have made 5 headshot goals in a single match, and the move was special for Pele.
Pele’s score board is stunning. In all, the master soccer player has scored
1,280 goals, and is second only to Arthur Friedenreich, another Brazilian soccer player with 1,329 goals in his kitty. Pele’s average worked out to one goal at every international game. 92 hat tricks and 97 international goals are the statistics that place his at the top of his game, with his statistics being the highest ever.
After he retired, Pele returned to active soccer for a short span of 2 years to promote soccer in North America. He played in the North American Soccer League to attract the interest of millions of Americans towards the “beautiful game” of soccer.
He played an exhibition game between Cosmos and Santos, playing for the former during the first half, and for the latter team during the second half.
He used his popularity to spread the message of love and peace among the
followers of the game, and had crowds chanting “Love! Love! Love!” during the exhibition match.
Pele invested a lot of time and effort to advance the popularity of soccer.
He penned autobiographies, and even starred in various documentary and semi-documentary films that focused on soccer, or on his life as a soccer
Towards the end of his soccer career, Pele also went to display his acting
skills, and he is also a musician. His other talents, too, were invested to
promote soccer and goodwill among populations.
In the beginning
Born on October, 23, 1940 in Minas Gerais, Brazil, Edson Arantes do Nascimento would become more commonly known around the world as Pelé. His father, João Ramos do Nascimento, played professional soccer himself, but his career never brought him much in the way of money. As the legend goes, Pelé’s family could not even afford to buy a ball for him, so he stuffed socks and molded them into the shape of a ball to kick around.
Although he continued to struggle financially in São Paulo, working a variety of jobs to help his family, the young Pelé found his true talent on the field. Under the tutelage of his father and a former national team player named Waldemar de Brito, Pelé began to mature as a player on the Bauru Athletic Club juniors. Coach de Brito recognized his ability and recommended him for a tryout with Santos FC.
The team’s management agreed with de Brito’s assessment and signed Pelé in June 1956. A mere three months later, Pelé scored a goal in his debut match. Although few people knew it at the time, this foreshadowed the success to come in the rest of Pelé’s professional career.
Stardom of a youngster
Only a short year later, Pelé topped the list of scorers in the league. His performance, at the tender age of 17, caught the attention of the national team. He would not disappoint. In his first appearance on the world stage, he scored key goals in both the semifinal and the final match of the 1958 World Cup to win it for Brazil. At this point, he had achieved superhero status in Brazil and became a household name around the world. The Brazilian government honored him as a “national treasure,” which elevated his status at home, but also prevented him from taking advantage of offers a broad.
Struggle with injuries
On an individual level, the next two World Cups turned out disappointing due to injuries. The Brazilian side still won the tournament in 1962, but they fell way short in 1966 without their star player—they were eliminated in the group stage. During this era, though, Pelé continued to excel on his club team, Santos. Consistently a top scorer, he often faced teams who had altered their play specifically to deal with the threat he posed. Despite this, he still managed to score 60 goals in the 1964 season and 101 goals the year after that.
Retirement and comeback
By the time 1970 rolled around, Pelé had reportedly decided to hang up his hat and leave while he was on top. However, he was eventually coaxed into playing one last World Cup for Brazil in Mexico on what many consider as the best team in history. Pelé contributed to Brazil’s tournament win with goals and several important assists, earning himself the Golden Ball award for his play. Pelé continued with the Brazilian team for about another year, finally calling it quits in 1971. A few years after that, he said goodbye to his fans at Santos, too. His days as a player were still not over, though.
Although he had long said that he would only ever play for Santos, he could not resist answering the call from the New York Cosmos in 1975. The North American Soccer League (NASL) represented a significant step down in terms of the level of play that Pelé was accustomed to. The burgeoning league benefitted greatly from this ambassador of the game, though, and ticket sales rose. The American public, largely unfamiliar with the game, took notice. Pelé led the Cosmos to a championship before retiring for good, an event marked by an exhibition match between his adoptive New York team and Santos.
Legacy and life after the football career
At the time of his retirement in 1977, Pelé had amassed a series of seemingly unbreakable records. He had racked up a total of 1,283 goals in 1,363 matches, making him the top scorer in Brazilian national team history and FIFA history. Just as impressively, he managed to pull off 92 hat-tricks. He also set a record for the most FIFA World Cup wins for an individual, with three medals to his name. His early years should not be overlooked, though. The young Pelé burned bright, becoming the youngest player to score a hat-trick and the youngest player to score in a World Cup final match.
Retirement saw “O Rei” go on to campaign for a variety of causes, including poverty reduction, anti-corruption movements, and environmental protection. He also received an honorary knighthood, served as the Minister of Sport in Brazil, and assumed the role of a UNICEF Goodwill ambassador. Of course, he never stopped promoting the game throughout the world, including FIFA events and Olympic ceremonies. Perhaps most memorable of all, he popularized the phrase “the beautiful game” as shorthand for the game he loved so much.
Generations of enthusiasts have imagined themselves playing with the grace and beauty of “The Black Pearl.” He could strike the ball with astonishing accuracy or flick it off to a teammate through a thick web of defenders’ legs. His iconic goal-scoring bicycle kick in Belgium in 1968 sent young players from all over rushing outside for hours of painful practice. What dazzled many of his fellow players was his uncanny ability to work his way out of almost any situation with sheer skill.
For those who have wondered about the origin of the name “Pelé,” the answer proves elusive. Some have claimed that it came from Pelé’s poor pronunciation of the name of a goalie he admired named “Bilé.” According to this version of events, his teammates half-mockingly gave him the name “Pelé” and he could not shake it. Pelé himself has never given a definitive account of how he got the name. In fact, he claimed he never cared for it much. Like so much else in this superstar’s life, though, the magic lies not in minute biographical details or trivia, but in the legacy that Pelé left on the field.