Pele is the most iconic footballer of the Twentieth Century. He epitomised the flair, joy and passion the Brazilians bought to the game.
Pele was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento on 23 October 1940 in Três Corações, Minas Gerais, Brazil. He was named after the American inventor Thomas Edison (his parents removed the i). In his childhood, he gained a nickname ‘Pele’ – after he mispronouced the name of a goalkeeper ‘Bile’ – Initially Pele disliked it and complained, but the more he complained, the more it stuck. Pele has no meaning, though the word Bilé is Hebrew for “miracle.”
Pele grew up in poverty in São Paulo. He was taught to play football by his father (who used to play football), but often he had to practise with a sock stuffed with newspapers because he could not afford to buy a football. As well as playing football, he worked as a waiter in local tea shops.
In his youth, Pele played in indoor leagues, and this helped increase his speed of reactions. He rose through the youth leagues and at the age of 15 was signed by Santos FC. He was soon marked out as a future star. By the age of 16 he was the top scorer in the Brazilian league and received a call up for the Brazilian national side. Interest was such that the Brazilian President declared Pele a national treasure to prevent him being bought by foreign clubs such as Manchester United.
As a teenager, the young and unknown Pele helped inspire Brazil to victory in the 1958 World Cup. He scored in the final during a 5-2 win over Sweden and finished the competition with six goals and a reputation as the brightest prospect in football. In 1962, Pele helped Brazil to retain the World Cup. In 1966, Brazil were hot favourites, but, lost out to the home nation England.
His crowning glory was the Brazilian victory in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. In this World Cup, some of the football played by Brazil and Pele was widely considered to the greatest in the history of the game. Brazil won the final 4-1 against Italy; it was a genuine advertisement for the ‘beautiful game’ and a fitting pinnacle of Pele’s international career.
Pele went on to score over 1,000 goals in professional games. (The 1000th goal coming as a penalty in the US league – sparking celebrations around the world). His strike rate in international games was one of the highest ever. In 92 appearances, he scored 77 goals.
In the domestic league, Pele made his debut for Santos aged just 16. He played for Santos in the Brazilian league from until the 1972-73 season.
Pele finished his career in the lucrative US league. In 1975, he signed for New York Cosmos and played three seasons. He led the New York Cosmos to the US title in 1977 – the year of his retirement.
After retiring has gone on to be a great ambassador for football and sport in general. In 1992, Pelé was appointed a UN ambassador for ecology and the environment. He was also appointed a UNESCO goodwill ambassador. He is not only one of the most gifted footballers of his generation, but, also a mild-mannered man who used his fame and prestige for a positive effect.
Some Highlights of Pele’s Career
- Athlete of the Century, by Reuters News Agency: 1999
- Athlete of the Century, elected by International Olympic Committee: 1999
- UNICEF Football Player of the Century: 1999
- TIME One of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century: 1999
- FIFA Player of the Century: 2000
Sports people – Famous sportsmen/women. Including football, athletics, tennis, rugby, cricket, boxing. A list of 100 sports stars, such as Muhammad Ali, Serena Williams, Pele and Usain Bolt.
People who made a difference. Men and women who made a positive contribution to the world – in the fields of politics, literature, music, activism and spirituality.
Inspirational people – People who made a difference in a positive way and left the world a better place. Includes Eleanor Roosevelt, Mother Teresa and Emil Zatopek.