Pelé, who was raised in poverty, was known to kick a grapefruit in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. He ultimately ended his career as possibly the greatest soccer player of all time.
He was a unique figure, much like Muhammad Ali, in the world of sports. Pelé rose above his sport and became a star.
The Brazilian injected happiness and innovation into a sport that is often constrained by strict rules and embodies the concept of “the beautiful game.”
“Pele’s impact was transformative,” stated Neymar Jr., a current player for Brazil, following the announcement of Pelé’s passing.
“He transformed the game of football into a form of art and entertainment. He provided a platform for the underprivileged and marginalized communities, particularly Black individuals. He also brought attention to Brazil.”
At the age of 17 in 1958, he made a splash on his path to winning his first World Cup victory, and eventually went on to earn the prestigious Golden Ball award as the best player in the 1970 World Cup. Known as “The King,” he accomplished nearly everything imaginable while donning the iconic yellow and blue jersey of Brazil.
There were many goals scored.
Pelé tallied 757 goals in 812 official games for both his club and national teams. Nonetheless, there is a discrepancy regarding the total number of goals he achieved throughout his career. As reported by Reuters, the Brazilian Football Confederation and Santos claim Pelé netted 1,283 goals in 1,367 matches, while FIFA records 1,281 goals in 1,366 games.
Not only did he score an impressive amount of goals, but as Neymar points out, Pelé was also a skilled performer on the field.
According to CNN Sport’s Don Riddell, even without a brush or pen, he could still create with just a ball at his feet.
An expert in action.
In 1958, the world was introduced to Pelé during the World Cup.
In 2016, Pelé shared with CNN that upon our arrival in Sweden, there was little knowledge of Brazil, but there was awareness of Argentina and Uruguay which came as a surprise to us.
At the age of 17 and a half years, Pelé broke the record for the youngest player in a World Cup. This record was held by the Brazilian until 1982, when Norman Whiteside from Northern Ireland surpassed it.
After nearly 15 years since his outstanding performance at the 1958 World Cup, Pelé retired from playing for the Seleção, leaving behind a legacy for his country as the most successful team in World Cup history and the most intimidating in international football.
Pele’s most significant achievement for Brazil was during the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, which was also the first World Cup to be televised in color, adding to its romanticized aura.
During the tournament, Pelé dazzled with his colorful skills, moving quickly in his yellow and gold uniform, charming and enchanting the opposing teams.
He was awarded player of the tournament for scoring four goals, including an assist to Carlos Alberto’s stunning goal in the final against Italy.
Pelé told CNN that winning the World Cup was the greatest achievement of his athletic career.
The Italian defender Tarcisio Burgnich accurately described Pelé’s extraordinary talent by saying, “I thought to myself before the game, he’s just flesh and bones like the rest of us. But I was mistaken.”
Pelé’s status as a legend was solidified not just by his scoring moments, but also by noteworthy events such as England goalkeeper Gordon Banks’ remarkable save from Pelé’s strong header during a group game. This save is often regarded as the greatest of all time.
“The save was one of the best I have ever seen – in real life and in all the thousands of games I have watched since,” wrote Pelé in a 2019 Facebook post in tribute to Banks following the goalkeeper’s death.
As a football player, you can immediately tell how well you have struck the ball. I executed that header precisely as I had envisioned, placing it exactly where I intended. I was eager to celebrate.
“Then this individual, Banks, materialized in my view as if a spectral figure in blue.”
Pelé spent the majority of his club career with Brazilian team Santos, except for three years. However, his impressive skills on the field and ability to score goals made him one of the first Black international icons in the world of football.
In 2015, Pelé acknowledged to CNN that he had received numerous offers from European teams to leave Santos and play across the Atlantic. However, he ultimately decided against it due to his loyalty and affection for his home team, further solidifying his beloved status in Brazil.
“Previously, it was a career driven by passion, but now it has become just another job,” Pelé stated.
“I don’t have the same passion for playing for my club or my country as I used to. Nowadays, footballers have to rely on the game as a source of income, which was not the case during my career.”
Coping with pressure
According to a recent documentary on Netflix, Pelé’s influence as a soccer player made him the emblem of a nation.
Ben Nicholas, co-director of the documentary about the life of the Brazilian, stated that in order to deal with this, he believes that the individual creates a persona known as Pelé, who ultimately sacrifices his own identity to embody Brazil.
According to the Netflix documentary, the rise of the Brazilian military in 1964, which saw football as a means of achieving strategic and political goals, also placed pressure on Pelé who was known for his apolitical stance. This was especially evident in their targeting of the 1970 World Cup as a “government issue.”
David Tryhorn, the co-director of the documentary, pointed out a significant line at the end of the film. Instead of the expected inspirational words from Pelé about joy and happiness, he speaks about “relief.”
The ongoing discussion about the greatest football player of all time will continue forever – is it Pelé? Or is it Diego Maradona? Or perhaps Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?
However, the unparalleled adoration and admiration for Pelé in Brazil goes beyond his talent as a football player, making him a symbol of the nation.