Full name: Edison Arantes do Nascimento
Date of Birth: 23/10/1940
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, more popularly known as Pelé, or ‘The King Pelé’, or ‘The King of Football’. Like many footballers, Pelé has claimed to be the greatest footballer of all time, saying he was born for football in the same way that ‘Beethoven was born for music’. Unlike many other footballers, however, a lot of people agree with him, and in 2000 he received a FIFA award declaring him, alongside Diego Maradona, the greatest player in the history of the game.
The Brazilian national player retired some 30 years ago (in 1977), and yet he remains the holder of a plethora of records, and he remains the only player ever to have been a member of three World Cup winning teams. He continues to top industry polls as the greatest player that ever was and as the player who set the bar for today’s footballers – he even coined the term ‘the beautiful game’. His combination of energy, dedication, style and arrogance continue to stun a still-growing army of fans, with videos on Youtube recruiting the next generation of fans. Known both as a great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals, his combination of grace and technique set him apart, defining the greatest era in Brazilian football’s illustrious history.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento was born in the city of Três Corações on October 23rd, 1940. He was named after Thomas Edison, the American inventor and engineer. As a boy, Pelé reportedly played football with a sock stuffed with paper or a grapefruit as he could not afford a ball, and had to work as a shoe-shiner to earn extra money. His nickname was given to him by a school-friend – a variation on the name of his favourite footballer ‘Bilé’, which he could not pronounce. Although he did not like it at first, claiming it sounded like the Portugese for ‘baby’, it would stick with him for the rest of his life.
His father ‘Dondinho’ was also a professional footballer, though not a remarkable one, and despite his mother Celeste’s initial caution, Edson was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps.
His first football team was formed with a number of friends from his neighbourhood – they called themselves ‘the shoeless ones’, and played in local tournaments. He and other members of the team were spotted and recruited to join a youth team managed by former Brazilian international Waldemar de Brito. Pelé went on to join the Santos FC juniors at the age of fifteen.
At the age of sixteen, he moved to Santos seniors where he stayed for the greater part of his career. His exploits caught the attention of the national side and, at the age of seventeen, he rose to international stardom in the 1958 World Cup, scoring a hat-trick in the semi-final and two goals in the final against Sweden. In the 1962 World Cup, he managed to score twice against Mexico before tearing a thigh muscle which put him out of the tournament – though Brazil went on to defend their title as World Champions.
In 1966, both Pelé and his team were out of the tournament at a much earlier stage. With Pelé injured again – but still able to play – they lost to Portugal in the third round. It was a career low for Pelé, and he vowed never to play in a World Cup again, but he went back on that promise in Mexico City in 1970 with a spectacular return to form. In his final World Cup match, the final against Italy, he notched the opener in a remarkable team performance which resulted in a 4-1 victory.
Pelé continued to play for Santos until 1974, though he retired from international football, and when he finally left Santos the club marked his leaving by removing the number 10 shirt from their line-up.
In 1975 he was tempted by American megabucks to come out of retirement and play for New York Cosmos, where he stayed for another two years before retiring for good. Even in retirement, however, Pele decided not to sit back and collect the cheques and the accolades that his legendary status has afforded him – he has continued his career in other directions.
Since retiring from football, Pelé has worked as a UNICEF Goodwill ambassador and as a United Nations ambassador, working to protect the environment and combat corruption in Brazil. Pelé was, for a short while, Brazil’s official minister for sport. He has also written multiple autobiographies, worked as a scout for football clubs, appeared in Hollywood films and even promoted Viagra and Pepsi during his decidedly active retirement.
- Bauru AC (Youth player – 1952 – 1956)
- Santos (1956 – 1974)
- New York Cosmos (1975 – 1977)
- Goals: 470 for Santos, 37 for New York Cosmos, 77 as an international for Brazil.
- International Caps: 92
Pelé scored an average of one goal in every international game – 12 of these game in the World Cup finals. His final tally of career goals was 1,283, the highest of any player in history.
‘Pelé is the greatest player in football history, and there will only be one Pelé’ – Cristiano Ronaldo
‘I told myself before the game, he’s just made of skin and bone, like everybody else. But I was wrong’ – Tarcisio Burgnich, defender who marked Pelé in the 1970 World Cup Final
‘Everything is practice’
‘A penalty is a cowardly way to score’
‘For 20 years they have been asking me the same question: who is the greatest? Maradona or Pelé? I reply that all you have to do is look at the facts. How many goals did he score with his right foot or with his head?’
‘Enthusiasm is everything. It must be taut and vibrating like a guitar string.’
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Awards and Honours
- International Olympic Committee Athlete of the Century: 1999
- FIFA Footballer of the Century: 2000
- Lareus Cosmos Award: 2000
- BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award: 2005