The Genius Legend of Pelé – A 20th Century Soccer King

pele blue brazil kit
Pele was, and is, a bona fide Brazilian legend

Not everyone may know the name “Edson Arantes do Nascimento”, but there is no doubt that in every corner of the world the name “Pelé” has been heard. This Brazilian left an eternal mark on the history of the game.

His spectacular talent, his great achievements and impressive statistics left an enormous legacy that remains intact more than 40 years after his retirement.

Pelé and soccer, soccer and Pelé, a beautiful idyll that seems eternal.

But Pelé is much more than a great soccer player, he’s part of popular culture, a symbol for the masses. Several movies about Pelé have been made to portray his legend, as well as several documentaries to relate his exploits.

His life is part of the history of sport and that makes it fascinating.

Childhood

peles father dondinho
Pele’s father Dondinho was a big inspiration for him

He was born in Tres Coracoes (Minas Gerais) on October 23, 1940. He grew up in the municipality of Bauru, where his family always suffered financial hardship.

His father was a footballer whose career was cut short by a serious knee injury.

The image that marked Pelé’s life was that of his father crying in front of his radio after Brazil’s defeat in the 1950 World Cup final. At that moment Pelé promised him that he would win the title when he grew up.

As a child, Edson Arantes do Nascimento worked in a shoe factory, earning two dollars a day. When he wasn’t working, he was playing football with his friends, who called him “Dico”.

His main mentor was Waldemar de Brito, a former football player who represented Brazil in the 1934 World Cup. He helped the little “Dico” improve his skills and also convinced his mother to let him quit his job and join Santos’ youth team.

Club Career

Santos FC

pele santos
Pele wore the number 10 shirt for Santos

He played a total of 665 matches for Santos and scored 647 goals.

He won the Copa Libertadores twice with Santos, in 1962 and 1963. In 1962 he scored two crucial goals in the 3-0 victory over Penarol in the playoff game of the final.

In 1963, he scored a goal in the 2-1 victory over Boca Juniors in the second leg of the final. In those two years, he also won the Intercontinental Cup.

In 1962, Pelé scored two goals in the first leg against Benfica and then scored four goals in the second leg for Santos to defeat Eusebio’s team with a humiliating 8-4 aggregate score.

In 1963, Santos faced AC Milan and Pelé scored two goals in the first leg, the Brazilian team ended up winning by an aggregate score of 7-6.

pele childhood
Pele was at Santos from a young age

His list of titles doesn’t end there. In 1968 he won the Intercontinental Champions’ Supercup after defeating Inter Milan 1-0 in a very tight match.

He also won the Brasileirao -Brazil’s first division championship- six times (1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1968).

Besides that, he won the Paulista Championship 10 times (1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969 and 1973) and the Rio-Sao Paulo Tournament in 1959, 1963, 1964 and 1966.

His loyalty to Santos and his country is also touching. Pelé never played in Europe, despite having received countless offers from teams such as Real Madrid and AC Milan. He was happy in Santos and he loved living close to the beach and to his family.

New York Cosmos

pele new york cosmos
Pele moved to New York Cosmos at the end of his career

He then signed with New York Cosmos in 1975 and played there until 1977, when he retired.

With New York Cosmos, he played 64 games scoring 37 goals.

International Career

Brazil

Pele Brazil
Pele won the FIFA World Cup 3 times for Brazil

He was part of the Brazil national soccer team for 14 years (1957-1971). Pelé played 92 matches with the Brazilian national team and scored 77 goals.

The main achievement for which Pelé is remembered and recognized globally is for being the only player in the history of football who has been able to win the World Cup on three different occasions (1958, 1962 and 1970).

Among Pelé’s enormous list of records, some stand out, such as being the all-time leading scorer of the Brazil national team, being the youngest goalscorer in a FIFA World Cup Final (17 years and 249 days) or being the youngest player to score a hat-trick in a FIFA World Cup (17 years and 244 days). He also owns the world record number of hat-tricks: 92.

What made Pele Special?

There were many things that made Pelé special. His dribbling, his juggling with the ball, his virtuosity, his coordination, his physical prowess, his speed, his lethal headers, his powerful shots, his titles and the monstrous number of goals he scored are just some of them.

All these sensational attributes allowed him to lift very important trophies.

Watching Pele in action is a spectacle

His influence in big moments was also unparalleled. In 1958 a very young Pelé played a key role scoring the winning goal against Wales in the quarterfinals, scoring a magnificent and iconic hat-trick in the 5-2 victory over France in the semi-finals and scoring two goals in the 5-2 victory over Sweden in the final. In 1970, he scored in the final against Italy through a legendary header.

Pelé also has countless individual distinctions. He has been named the best player of the 20th century by various entities such as FIFA, IFFHS and France Football magazine. The IOC also chose him as the sportsman of the century.

Throughout his career, Pelé played a total of 1,351 games and scored a total of 1,284 goals. However, it should be noted that he only played 812 official games and “only” scored 757 official goals.

How the Legend Lives On

pele older
Pele is still an influential figure in the footballing world

Overall, Pelé has been an extremely influential player. He led Santos and Brazil to absolute glory and inspired superstars who came after him, as well as exporting soccer to a huge market such as the United States.

In Brazil, countless movies about Pelé and his life have been made, such as ‘Pelé Eterno’ (Pelé Forever). Tributes to him also transcend the borders of the South American country with films such as ‘Pelé: Birth of a Legend’ by American directors Michael and Jeff Zimbalist.

After his retirement, he became an ambassador for the sport around the world and his public image is impeccable, despite some controversies he had with Diego Maradona (who at the time made slurs about his sexuality).

In summary, Pelé is pure soccer history. His incredible skills and goals allowed him to win the most prestigious titles and bring joy to millions of people, as well as help spread soccer around the world.

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