Pelé, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, is a retired Brazilian professional footballer who is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time.
He was honored as a national treasure by the Brazilian government for his accomplishments in football. Pelé is the only player to have won 3 World Cups and scored over 1000 goals in his career.
Early Life and Childhood
Pelé was born on 23 October 1940 in Três Corações, Brazil. He was the eldest of two siblings. His parents were Fluminense footballer Dondinho and Celeste Arantes.
Pelé was named after the American inventor Thomas Edison. However, his parents removed the “i” and called him “Edson”. But as a child, he mispronounced “Edson” as “Pelé” and the nickname stuck with him forever.
Passion for Football Develops
Pelé first developed his love for football at an early age by playing with a sock stuffed with newspaper or a grapefruit. His father Dondinho was a professional footballer himself and often took Pelé to his matches.
Watching his father play made Pelé fall deeper in love with the game. As his skills progressed, he started playing organized football with local youth teams.
The 1950 World Cup Influence
In 1950 when Pelé was 9, the World Cup was held in Brazil. He witnessed the heartbreak of Brazil losing in the finals at the Maracanã stadium.
The passion of the Brazilian public for the game influenced Pelé deeply. He vowed to help Brazil win a World Cup one day. This defining moment ignited his dream to become a professional footballer.
Pelé signed his first professional contract with Santos FC in 1956 at the age of 15. He made his debut for them a year later at 16 years old and scored his first goal the same game.
His electrifying pace, goal-scoring prowess, dribbling skills and ability to playing off both feet made him a sensation. He led Santos to win several trophies.
Highlights during this time:
- Became top scorer in the league from 1958 to 1965.
- Helped Santos win 2 consecutive Copa Libertadores in 1962 and 1963.
- Named best player in the 1962 and 1963 tournaments.
Brazilian National Football Team (1957–1971)
Pelé made his international debut for Brazil in 1957 at age 16. He played 92 matches and scored 77 goals for Brazil in his career.
Highlights of his international career:
- Youngest player to play in a World Cup in 1958 at age 17.
- Won his first World Cup in 1958. Scored 6 goals including a hat-trick in the semi-final and 2 goals in the finals.
- Won the 1962 World Cup. Got injured during the tournament.
- Won the 1970 World Cup. The only player to win 3 World Cups.
- All-time leading goalscorer for Brazil with 77 goals. Record held till 2007.
- Total of 12 World Cup goals puts him at 6th on the all-time list.
|1958 World Cup
|1962 World Cup
|1966 World Cup
|1970 World Cup
New York Cosmos (1975–1977)
After spending nearly 20 years playing in Brazil, Pelé signed with New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League in 1975. Though past his prime, Pelé’s star power gave soccer major popularity in the United States.
- His signing was considered a major milestone for soccer in America.
- Helped take the NASL to new heights of popularity and profitability.
- Retired after playing his final match in 1977 at Giants Stadium in front of a packed crowd.
Records and Accomplishments
- Youngest player to play in and score in a World Cup final (1958)
- Only player to have won 3 World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970)
- Top goalscorer in the history of Santos FC – 1091 goals in 1116 matches
- Total of 1283 goals in 1363 games in all competitions, Guinness World Record
- FIFA Player of the Century award in 2000
- Brazil never lost a match when Pelé and Garrincha played together
Some of Pelé’s significant records:
|Most career goals
|Most goals for Brazil
|77 goals in 92 matches
|Most goals in World Cup tournaments
|12 goals in 14 matches
|Youngest World Cup winner
|17 years 249 days in 1958
Style of Play and Influence
Pelé had an athletic build and was gifted with natural talent. He had superb control, dribbling ability and accurate passing. His excellent heading ability made him a threat in the air. His pace and acceleration enabled him get past defenders with ease. Pelé was also known for his bending shots and volleys.
Despite his natural athleticism, Pelé also focused on honing his skills. He spent countless hours practicing his weaker foot to become an excellent two-footed player. Pelé had an uncanny ability to anticipate plays which enabled him to spot attacking opportunities.
Influence on Football
Pelé is considered the greatest footballer of all time who raised the bar for what was possible in football. His accomplishments with Brazil expanded the country’s global prominence.
He had the vision to spread soccer across North America. Pelé’s charismatic personality and exciting style of play made him a globally renowned superstar who attracted fans everywhere. His story and triumphs inspired millions around the world to embrace football.
Retirement and Post-Football Life
Pelé retired from professional football in 1977 at the age of 37. His last match was played in front of a packed Giants Stadium in New Jersey between New York Cosmos and Santos FC.
He played the first half for Cosmos and the second half for Santos. In his speech, Pelé thanked the fans for their love and support throughout his career.
Ambassadorial and Humanitarian Work
After retirement, Pelé pursued several humanitarian and diplomatic initiatives. He was appointed a UN ambassador for ecology and the environment in 1992. He also served as Brazil’s Extraordinary Minister for Sport. Pelé promotes social programs for youth, health, and poverty reduction through the Pelé Foundation.
In his later years, Pelé has struggled with mobility issues and deteriorating health. However, he remains active in Brazil’s bid for international events like the World Cup and Olympics. His life is an inspiration for millions around the world.
Pelé transformed the beautiful game and became its greatest icon. His spell-binding talent, charismatic personality and historic achievements solidified his status as the King of Football. Pelé’s remarkable journey – from a boy passionate for the sport to a legendary player – epitomizes how dedication, grit and skill can help realize one’s dreams.
Almost half a century from his retirement, Pelé’s legendary story continues to inspire athletes and fans globally. He shall forever be remembered as the immortal king of the greatest game.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Pelé famous for?
Pelé is famous for being the greatest footballer of all time and a legendary Brazilian national hero. He is the only player to have won 3 World Cups and scored over 1000 goals in his career.
Why is Pelé called the King of Football?
Pelé earned the nickname the King of Football because of his extraordinary skills and unprecedented accomplishments in the sport. He dominated football and wowed audiences with his athleticism, goal-scoring prowess and superb technique.
How many goals did Pelé score in his career?
Pelé scored a total of 1281 goals in 1363 games over his 21 year long career. His goal tally includes an astonishing 1091 goals in just 1116 matches for his club Santos FC. He also scored 77 times in 92 appearances for Brazil.
What awards did Pelé receive?
Pelé’s notable awards and honors include – FIFA Player of the Century (2000), Athlete of the Century by Reuters News Agency (1999) and International Peace Award by UNESCO (1978). He also received Brazil’s highest civilian honor the Order of the Republic award in 2006.
Why did Pelé play for the New York Cosmos?
In 1975, Pelé signed a lucrative $2.8 million contract with New York Cosmos which brought him out of retirement. It was considered a major transfer coup as it gave soccer credibility in North America. Pelé played his final professional seasons with Cosmos till 1977.