Considered by some to be one of the best football players of all time, Pelé has been a member of the World Cup-winning team three times and is an ambassador for football, education and many other causes worldwide. His story is as breathtaking as his playing style.
Pelé – Early Years
Pelé was born on October 23, 1940 in Três Corações, Brazil. His real birth given name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento, after Thomas Edison.
Son of João Ramos and Dona Celeste, Pelé grew up in poverty, as his father (also a football player) struggled to make ends meet.
Having derived passion for football from his dad, Pelé was a young protege. He first learned to kick a ball around by stuffing a rolled-up sock with rags and later joining a youth squad that was trained by a legendary Brazilian footballer Waldemar de Brito.
It was presumably at that time when he got Pelé as a nickname. Though he himself doesn’t remember where it came from, all he knows is that he hated it at first.
At the age of 15, after the young player showed off his skills and talent, de Brito convinced his parents that Pelé should try out for the Santos club in a different city.
Rise to Fame
After signing with Santos, it didn’t take long for Pelé to start making waves, as he scored the first goal of his career before even turning 16.
A year and a half later, he debuted at his first and soon-to-be-iconic World Cup in Sweden in 1958.
The 17-year-old soon left the fans in awe, as he scored the crucial three goals in the semi-final against France and then scoring two more goals over Sweden’s goalie, with the total score of 5-2 in both games.
The resounding success and the player’s popularity made the Brazilian president to declare Pelé a national treasure, making it difficult for him to leave Brazil for European clubs, from which he received a ton of invitations. Naturally, he saw a tremendous wage increase in his club Santos.
Other World Cup Performances
Most of his other performances in the World Cup would not be as spectacular as the first one.
World Cup 1962 in Chile
Pelé had suffered a groin injury, which led to him sitting the finals of the World Cup out. Brazil went on to become the champion for the second time in a row and not without some substantial effort from the famed player.
World Cup 1966 in England
This time with leg injuries, Pelé was left on the bench and Brazil’s winning streak was cut short by the hosts.
World Cup 1970 in Mexico
12 years after his monumentous debut in an international championship, Pelé lead Brazil to reclaiming the champion’s throne. Brazil won Italy 4-1 with one of the goals scored by Pelé
Later Career and Popularity
Soon after becoming a world-famous phenomenon, Pelé became a household name. His popularity was so widespread that in the late 1960s, the two factions in the Nigerian Civil War allegedly agreed to a temporary ceasefire to watch Pelé play in an exhibition game in Lagos.
In 1974, Pelé announced his retirement, but couldn’t stay out of the football field for long as he was invited to play for the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League.
Nearly 20 years after starting his professional career, he played his final game in 1977, as an exhibition between New York and Santos, his original club. The game was iconic for the retiring Pelé, who symbolically played for both sides.
Pelé retired with a dashing statistic of scoring 1,281 goals in 1,363 games.
Pelé’s legacy lives on to this day, having inspired many football players from Brazil and elsewhere around the world. In the meantime, other honourable positions that Pelé took showed just how much was bestowed upon him.
He served as Brazil’s Extraordinary Minister for Sport, as there would be no better candidate for such a role. At the same time, Pelé was a United Nations ambassador for ecology and the environment.
On top of that, he was awarded the International Peace Prize in 1978. Perhaps even more fittingly, he was titled a “Co-Player of the Century” along with Diego Maradona in 1999.