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Pele – Life, Facts and Figures of the all-time great Footballer

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Early Life of Pele

Pele in action in black & white image

Pele, the famous footballer was born on 23 October 1940 in Três Corações, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Edson Arantes do Nascimento – a Brazilian Portuguese name was his real name.

His father João Ramos do Nascimento was a football player and Celeste Arantes was his mother. His parents named him after the famous American inventor Thomas Edison but decided to remove the “i” and called him “Edson”.

The family gave him the nickname “Dico”. But during his school days, he got the nickname “Pele” And it was the result of his mispronouncing the name of his local favorite player “Bilé”.

Interestingly the word “Pele” has no meaning in it. But the word “Bilé” in Hebrew means “miracle”

While growing he endured poverty and worked in a tea shop to earn money.

His father taught him the game but he was not able to buy a football. Then he found a way and made balls with sacks, which were stuffed with newspapers.

Even at this early age, he led Bauru Athletic Club juniors to São Paulo state youth championships, two times.

When he was in his mid-teens, Indoor football started to become popular in Bauru. Then, Pele played for Radium, which was an indoor football team. Subsequently, he became a part of the first indoor football competition in the region and his team won the championship.

In indoor football, the ball moves quicker. And also, even at the age of fourteen, Pele had to confront senior players. In one of the tournaments, he scored fifteen goals.

Pele attributed his ability to think fast in the field, to indoor football. When recalling the tournament, Pele said, “It gave me a lot of confidence and I knew then not to be afraid of whatever might come”.

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Club career of Pele

Santos

Pele waving to the crowd

In 1956

Waldemar de Brito was a Brazilian footballer. He played as a forward for several clubs in Brazil and Argentina, as well as for the Brazil national team.

He recognized Pele early and in the year 1956, took him to the port city of Santos. Brito wanted to get in Pele in the professional club Santos FC and introduced him to the directors saying that the 15-year-old would be the greatest football player in the world.

During his trial at the Estádio Vila Belmiro, Pele impressed Santos coach Lula with his performance and signed a contract with the club in June 1956.

Pele started to get attention and the local media predicted him as a future superstar. On 7 September 1956, at the age of fifteen, he made his senior team debut.

In the match against Corinthians Santo Andre, he performed impressively in the 7-1 victory and he scored the first goal of his stunning career.

1957 to 1960

Pele got a starting place in the first team when the 1957 season started. Then, he finished the league as a top scorer. Barely ten months after signing the contract, the Brazil national team called him to play for the country.

His performance in the World cups in the years 1958 and 1962 raised his fame. Eventually, many rich clubs in Europe tried to sign a contract with him. To prevent this attempts, the President of Brazil Jânio Quadros declared Pele an “official national treasure”.

In the year 1958, Pele won the first major for Santos, as the team won the Campeonato Paulista. He finished the tournament with 58 goals which still stands as a record.

Next in the following year, Pele helped Santos to get the first victory in the Rio-São Paulo with a 3–0 win over Vasco da Gama. But Santos was unable to retain the Paulista title.

Pele scored 33 goals in 1960 and helped Santos to get back Campeonato Paulista trophy, but lost the Rio-Sao Paulo tournament.

Then the club won the Taca Brasil, which helped Santo to participate in the most prestigious tournament in the Western Hemisphere Copa Libertadores.

In 1962

The year 1962 was a successful Copa Libertadores season for Santos. It won every match in the group but one. Then the team moved on to meet defending champions Peñarol in the finals by defeating Universidad Católica in the semi-finals.

His club Santos defended the Campeonato Brasileiro and the Taça Brasil in the same year. Moreover, Santo also won the 1962 Intercontinental Cup against Benfica. Then Pele went on to produce one of the best performances of his career and scored a hat-trick in Lisbon. Santos won it 5–2.

After 1963

Pele and Marodona

After this victory, Santos automatically qualified for the semifinal stage of the 1963 Copa Libertadores. Pele helped Santos to overcome Botafogo and Boca Juniors.

Santos became the first Brazilian team to win the Copa Libertadores in Argentine soil. In the tournament, Pelé made 5 goals. Moreover, Santos won the Rio-São Paulo tournament and retained Intercontinental Cup and the Taça Brasil.

The Santos club won the Campeonato Paulista in the year 1964 and Pele scored 34 goals in it. Santos also shared the Rio-São Paulo title with Botafogo and won the Taça Brazil for the fourth consecutive year.

The Santos club lost Copa Libertadores in the year 1965. It also failed to retain the Torneio Rio-São Paulo.

Though Santos lost the Taça Brazil in the year 1966, it won the Campeonato Paulista in 1967, 1968 and 1969.

Then came the much-awaited 1000th goal. He scored it on 19 November 1969 in a match against Vasco da Gama. Earlier, it was much expected in Brazil and dubbed it O Milésimo (The Thousandth) and Pele scored it at the Maracanã Stadium.

Pele scored what he called the most memorable goal at Rua Javari stadium on a Campeonato Paulista match against São Paulo rival Clube Atlético Juventus on 2 August 1959.

In March 1961, he scored ‘goal de place’ against Fluminense at the Maracana. In executing the goal, he received the ball in the edge in his own penalty area and ran the length of the field eluding the opposite players.

To honor this goal forever, a plaque was commissioned with a dedication to “the most beautiful goal in the history of the Maracanã”.

In the year 1967 Pele played a game in Lagos and his playing prowess brought the Nigerian civil war factions to agree for a 48-hour ceasefire.

Pele in New York Cosmos

Pele on the playing field

Pele retired from the Brazilian club football in the year 1974. But he played occasionally for Santos in official competitive matches.

Then he came out of retirement to sign an agreement with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League (NASL) for the 1975 season.

Subsequently, he became instrumental in creating awareness and interest in the game in the United States. During his first public appearance in Boston, he got injured in the crowd of enthusiastic fans. Due to this incident, he needed a stretcher to get moved out of the place.

On 15 June 1975, Pele made his debut for the Cosmos at the Downing Stadium and scored one goal in a 2-2 draw.

In the same year, Pele played a friendly match for the Lebanese club Nejmeh. It was against the Lebanese Premier League stars and he scored two goals in the match. For the match, nearly 40,000 people waited from early morning.

On 3 June 1976, he played for Cosmos in an exhibition match against the Haitian team, Violette AC in the Santo Domingo Olympic Stadium. Over 25,000 spectators watched the match and he scored the winning goal in the last moments.

In the year 1977, his final season with the club, he led the Cosmos to the NASL championship.

On 1 October 1977, Pele played the final match of his career. It was an exhibition match between Santos and Cosmos and it was played before the full capacity crowd. It had a worldwide TV coverage and his family and VIPs watched the match.

International career of Pele

Pele - in black & white , designed image

On 7 July 1957, Pele played his first international match for his country. He was at the age of 16 and he scored his first goal in the match. In the match, Brazil lost 2-1 to Argentina and he remains the youngest goal scorer for the country.

1958 World Cup

Pele got a knee injury when he arrived in Sweden. With the insistence of his teammates, he got into the team and he played his first match against the USSR. The match was the third one in the first round of the 1958 FIFA World Cup.

In the match, he assisted in the second goal of his team. He was the youngest player in the tournament and the youngest one to play in the World Cup ever.

In the semifinal match against France, Pele scored a hat-trick in the second half of the match. On 29 June 1988, he became the youngest player to play in the World Cup final and he scored two goals. His team beat Sweden 5-2 and won the World Cup.

“When Pelé scored the fifth goal in that Final, I have to be honest and say I felt like applauding” was the later comment by Swedish player Sigvard Parling.

Pele scored six goals in the four matches he played and tied for second place. Eventually, he was named as the best young player of the tournament.

He started to wear the jersey with the number 10. In the end, the press stated that Pelé was the greatest revelation of the 1958 World Cup. In Addition, he also got the Silver Ball as the second-best player of the tournament.

South American Championship

In the South American Championship which was held in the year 1959, Pele scored eight goals. He got the best player award. In the tournament, he scored in five of Brazil’s six games.

1962 World Cup

Pele entered the 1962 World Cup as the favorite player. In the first match against Mexico which was held in Chile, he gave assistance in making the first goal. And also he made the second goal, after running past four defenders.

In the next match against Czechoslovakia, he injured himself and was ruled out from the rest of the tournament. Amarildo replaced him as a substitute and performed well in the remaining matches. But Garrincha took the leading role and Brazil won their second World Cup title. In final Brazil beat Czechoslovakia in Santiago.

1966 World Cup

When the 1996 World Cup was held in England, Pele was the most famous footballer in the world. But Brazil exited the tournament in the first round itself after playing only three matches.

There were brutal fouls against Pele by the Bulgarian and Portuguese defenders and Pele got injured.

In the first match against Bulgaria, he scored a goal in free-kick and became the first player to score in three successive FIFA World cups. But due to persistent fouls by Bulgarians, he missed the second match against Hungary.

Brazil lost the match against Hungary. But Brazilia coach Vicente Feola took him in for the next game against Portugal though Pele was still in recovery. During the match, Portugal defender João Morais fouled Pele but the referee didn’t send him off.

The decision by the referee was one of the worst errors in World Cup history. Then, Pele had to stay on the field by limping for the rest of the game.

1970 World Cup

Though he refused the invitation by the national team initially, he then played in six World Cup qualifying matches in the year 1969.

In the 1970 World Cup squad players like Rivelino, Jairzinho, Gérson, Carlos Alberto Torres, Tostão and Clodoaldo were part of the Brazilian team and it is the greatest football team in history.

In the first match against Czechoslovakia, he controlled a long pass with his chest and scored a goal. Brazil won the match 4-1.

When played against England, Pele nearly missed a goal by heading. Then, in the second half, he controlled a cross from Tostao and flicked it to Jairzinho. He, in turn, scored the only goal of the match.

Against Romania, Brazil won the match 3-2 and Pele scored two goals in it. Further, in its quarterfinal match against Peru, Brazil won it 4-2. In the match, Pele assisted the third goal of his team.

Brazil faced Uruguay in the semi-final match and won the match 3-1. In the match, Pele’s attempt to go past the goalkeeper is one of his most famous plays.

In the final match, Brazil met Italy at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Pele scored the first goal with a header. Brazil won the match 4-1 and the blind pass given by Pele in scoring the final goal still remains a moment to cherish.

Pele played his last international match on 18 July 1971 against Yugoslavia in Rio de Janeiro.

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Playing Style of Pele

He was a fast, agile and thinking player who produced accurate shots with both of his feet. And also, he was a hard-working team player and a complete forward. He had a natural talent and ability to anticipate the movement of the players and the ball. Moreover, fans still cherish his perfect passing, and his ability to link up with his teammates.

In the earlier period of his career, he played in various attacking positions. Though he played as the main striker or center-forward, his skills helped him to play also as inside forward, second striker or out wide.

In the later period, he played mostly as an attacking midfielder. His speed, techniques, and power gave him a unique playing style. He easily beat the opponents with the ball by his dribbling skills, balance, flair, and agility and he frequently used sudden changes of direction.

The drible da vaca and little stop were his trademark moves. His heading accuracy, timing, and elevation were perfect and he retains the fame for his bending shots. Also, he was an accurate penalty and free-kick taker.

Pele also exhibited charismatic leadership and sportsmanship on the field. And he also earned a reputation as a decisive player for his teams. It’s because of his ability to score crucial goals in important matches.

Personal life of Pele

Pelé married three times and had several affairs.

In the year 1966, Pele married Rosemeri dos Reis Cholbi. They had two daughters and one son.

During the years 1981 to 1986, Pele had an affair with TV presenter Xuxa. And she was only 17 when they started dating.

Then in the year 1994, Pele married psychologist and gospel singer Assíria Lemos Seixas. The couple had twin children through fertility treatments. They got their divorce in 2008.

Pele had two more children from his early affairs. In 1964, he had an affair with Anizia Machado. She was a housemaid. Pele didn’t acknowledge his relationship with her. But courts accepted her claim based on DNA proofs from her biological daughter.

Pele also had another daughter, Flávia Kurtz, from the extramarital affair he had with journalist Lenita Kurtz. It was in the year 1968. Later he recognized Flávia as his daughter.

Pele revealed his intention to marry Marcia Aoki, a Japanese-Brazilian importer of medical equipment from Penápolis, São Paulo. He was 72 then. He dated her from 2008 and married her in July 2016.

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