There are many famous soccer players in the world such as Ronaldo and Garrincha from France, Maradona and Di Stefano from Argentina, Zidane from France, Eusebio from Portugal, Puskas from Hungary, Cruyff from Netherlands, and Beckenbauer from Germany. Of all these names, there is one player that stands out from the rest – Edison Arantes do Nascimento. Known by many as Pele, he is considered by many as the greatest soccer player in the history of soccer.
“It seems that God brought me to Earth with a mission to play soccer” – Pele
The Early Years
Edison Arantes do Nascimento, aka Dico, was born on October 23, 1940 in Tres Coracoes, Brazil to Joao Ramos and Dona Celeste. His father, Joao Ramos also known as Dondinho, was a local professional soccer player. Like most people, Dico grew up in poverty, but this did not hinder him from exemplifying his talent for soccer. Growing up, he would play by kicking rolled-up socks filled with rags. His friends gave his nickname, “Pele” – a name he despised and did not know why he was called as such.
In his adolescent years, Valdemar de Brito, a youth squad coach and former World Cup player, discovered his talent and convinced him to try out for Santos, a midlevel club team in Brazil. During his time at Santos, he scored 32 goals in his first full season. Because of this, he was selected for Brazil’s 1958 World Cup at the age of 17.
He made his debut in the match against Sweden in 1958. It was Pele’s goal that helped Brazil win past Wales, and made him the youngest player to score a goal in the history of World Cup.
A National Treasure
Pele received enormous amounts of offers from European teams. He also received a million dollar offer from Inter Milan of Italy. This prompted Brazil’s president, Janio Quadros, to declare Pele as a “National Treasure” to make it hard for him to join other teams.
In his 22 years of playing professional soccer, he scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 games. He was also the highest paid team-sport athlete with an estimated annual income of $150,000. He was the most famous soccer player in his time, even the Shah of Iran waited three hours to speak with him. His name also came in the list of the most popular brands in Europe, just one rank behind Coca-Cola.
Like most players, his entire soccer career wasn’t smooth. There were bumps along the road, and he suffered massive injuries while playing soccer. In the 1962 tournament in Chile, he sustained a groin injury, but still managed to score a goal in a 2-0 win against Mexico. He tried to hide his injury; however, during the second match against Czechoslovakia, his injury got worse and he was forced to sit out in the final rounds. In his return to the world stage in England, he sustained leg injuries from attacks by defenders of the opposing team, which forced him to be side lined for the rest of the tournament.
Despite his injuries, his legacy continued to grow. In the 1960’s, a two-day truce was declared between Nigeria and Biafra’s war so they could watch him play. In the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, Pele scored 4 goals in the tournament, and Brazil won over Italy. This tournament marked Pele and Brazil’s triumphant return.
New York Cosmos
In 1974, Pele announced his retirement from soccer. However, Clive Toye, Cosmos’ general manager encouraged him to go back to the field. He said, “I told him don’t go to Italy, don’t go to Spain, all you can do is win a championship. Come to the U.S. and you can win a country.” He signed a 2.8 million dollar, 3-year contract with the Cosmos. His presence in the Cosmos helped make NASL an attraction. In 1977, he played his final game in an exhibition game between Cosmos and Santos. In a speech he made before the fans, Pele asked the crowd to pay more attention to the children of the world.
The Legacy Continues
Despite his retirement, Pele’s legacy continues. Pele is considered an inspiration to most people, especially the poor. Journalist Joao Luiz de Albuquerque said, “He was the light at the end of the tunnel. All the poor said, hey, this guy made it, I can make it. He brought the rest of Brazil with him.” In 1978, he was awarded the International Peace Award from UNICEF because of his extensive work in advancing children’s causes. In 1999, he was given the title, “Hero of the Century” by Time Magazine. FIFA named him as the “Player of the Century” in 2000. The title, “O Rei de Futbol” (The King of Football) was given to him by the International Olympic Committee, and last January 2014, he received the FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur award.