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Pele embodied the idea of football as the beautiful game – a look back on his life

Pele, the most famous Brazilian footballer, was Brazil’s all time leading scorer with 77 goals in 92 matches.

Three-time World Cup winner, he embodied the idea that football is “the beautiful sport”, one that involves skill, speed and imagination.


Early life

Peele was the child of a poor family from Tres Coracoes, southern Brazil, on 23 October 1940.

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His real name was Edson Aantes do Nascimento. He revealed this in a tweet from 2014 that it was in honor of Thomas Edison, the American inventor, as electricity was just being introduced in his hometown.

During school, he was given the nickname Pele.

Dondinho was his father and a minor league footballer. He taught his sons how to play, as well as Zoca, his brother who played for Brazilian side Santos.


The 1958 World Cup

Image Photo: AP

At 15 years old, Pele joined Santos and made his senior debut in 1956.

He was selected for the national team squad at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. At just 17 years old, he scored twice in the final against the hosts, 5-2.

Pele was the tournament’s youngest goal scorer and remains the only 17-year old to have scored in the World Cup.


1962 , 1966 and 1970

Image Pele scores in the final of 1970 World Cup

His contribution to Brazil’s 1962 triumph in Chile was limited by injury. He was also heavily marked in England’s 1966 competition, where he was subject to repeated, sometimes fatal, fouls.

He was still the player of the tournament four year later when Brazil assembled one the most formidable sides and won the Jules Rimet Trophy in Mexico.

Carlos Alberto led the team that included Rivellino, Tostao, and Jairzinho to defeat Italy 4-1 in final.


What makes him great?

Image Photo: AP

Pele, like many others considered to be among the game’s greatest players, was short at 5ft 7in (1.73m).

He made up for his height with speed, strength, speed, and heading ability.

Even more impressive are the achievements of the centre-forward, who played during an era in which skilled players were regularly fouled out of games. Referees were often reluctant to send off or book offenders.

He was not a striker by nature, and some of his most memorable moments weren’t even goals.

The 1970 World Cup saw an attempt to score from the halfway line against Czechoslovakia. This was an absurd dummy against Uruguay and was somehow saved by Gordon Banks, England’s goalkeeper.


Club football – Santos

Pele spent 18 seasons at Santos where he is still the most prolific goal scorer.

He was instrumental in helping them win six league titles, five consecutively from 1961, and two victories at the Copa Libertadores. This Copa Libertadores is considered the closest South American soccer team to the Champions League.


New York Cosmos

Pele retired from football in 1977 after he quit playing for the New York Cosmos.

Because of his immense impact on the US and the emerging North American Soccer League (NASL), over 75,000 people packed into New York’s Giants Stadium to see his last game against Santos.

Cosmos won the NASL title last season thanks to his prolific scoring.

His star power was instrumental in creating the sport that is now the most popular in the world, in a country that had previously largely ignored it.


Goals controversy

Image Photo: AP

The number of goals he scored in his career is disputed by many. Guinness World Records puts it at 1,279.

Many critics think that this figure is too high. This is despite the fact that hundreds of players have been able to score in practice matches and friendlies.

These were just a few of the many goals he scored in his 22-year-long career.

Some others put his total at 757 goals. Santos however claims that his total was closer to 1,000.

He would be the highest ever scorer for any major club.

He was presented with the FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur in 2013 as an honor for his achievements and career.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 800th goal in a modern match, scoring from 1,095 senior appearances for clubs or country in December 2021.


Personal Life

Image Pele poses before photographers at a news conference about an exhibit about his life, ‘The Marks of the King’

Pele was three times married, the third time to Marcia Aoki (entrepreneur and businesswoman), in 2016.

He had seven children. However, he admitted that he was unable to determine the true number of his affairs in 2021.


2014 World Cup

Image Pele is present at a news conference in Paris to announce the FIFA World Cup global “Trophy Tour” in Paris on March 10, 2014.

Pele, who retired in 2009, was Brazil’s Sports Minister and an Ambassador for Football.

He served as honorary ambassador to Brazil during the 2014 World Cup.

He also criticised the timing of anticorruption protests and warned demonstrators that they could ruin the tournament before it started.


The best?

Many football fans enjoy debating who is the greatest, with some believing that Ronaldo, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi are more worthy than Pele.

Martin Tyler, Sky Sports’ football commentator, disagrees and says “for me he (Pele) is the greatest player ever.”

He said, “One of my first jobs outside of television was putting the English voice on VHS, as it was back then, of his Brazil career, and his 1,000 goals.”

“If there were any doubts as to how great he is, this video proves it. It was an honor to pay tribute to a man capable of so much more than scoring goals.

He will be remembered for his ability to score incredible goals on pitch conditions that were bumpy. This was back when there was less freedom to stop him. He was irresistible.

“Undoubtedly, he will always remain the greatest for me and in the football industry he is immortal.”

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