Monday, January 17, 2011

Pelé: King of Football


Every kid in the world who plays football wants to be Pele, which means I have the responsibility of showing them how to be a footballer but also how to be a man.

Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.

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.
—Clive Toye, general manager New York Cosmos,
to Pelé in 1975 to convince him to come to America

Pelé: One of the most recognizable names in sport. He is the only player to be on three World-cup winning squads. Since Since his retirement in 1977, Pelé has been a worldwide ambassador for football. He is currently the Honorary President of the New York Cosmos.
Photo Credit: Sergio Savaman Savarese, 2007.

One of the greatest players in the history of football is Pelé, a name immediately recognizable around the word as the man who had the ability to score goals. That he did with exceptional skill and elan. Pelé made a grand entrance onto the world football stage in Sweden in June 1958, at the age of 17, scoring six goals in the World Cup, two against Sweden in the final.

That launched the Brazilian native to international fame. He not only became Brazil's national treasure, a true sports legend, but an international ambassador for football.

His career spanned 22 seasons (1956-1977), 20 years with the Brazilian Santos FC and the last two with the New York Cosmos, an American team. All told, Pelé scored 1,281 goals, and was on a record-three FIFA World-cup winning teams for Brazil: in 1958, 1962 and 1970. The skills of the celebrated No. 10 were unparalleled in his time or ours, says an article in
With every touch of the ball, every pass, every dribble, Pele was capable of coming up with something new - something the fans had never seen before. With a killer instinct in front of goal, an eye for the perfect pass and supreme athleticism, the Brazilian was just about the perfect footballer. And if the Seleção came to incarnate the "beautiful game" in the eyes of so many observers around the world, this can largely be credited to the breathtaking skills of their most celebrated No 10.
His list of accomplishments are many, but here are a few noteworthy ones: in 1958, he became the youngest player ever to win the World Cup; voted Football Player of the Century; scored 760 official goals, 541 in league championships, making him the top scorer of all time; and a record 1,281 goals in 1,363 games. He scored his 1,000th goal, on a penalty kick, on November 19, 1969, against Vasco da Gama, in front of a delirious crowd at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

In addition, he scored five goals in a game on six occasions, managed 30 four-goal hauls and netted 92 hat-tricks. In one match against Botafogo in 1964, he hit the back of the net eight times. He was voted athlete of the century by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1999, despite having never participated in the Olympics.

Pelé (on right) fights for a ball against the Swedish goalkeeper Kalle Svensson during the 1958 World Cup final. The seventeen-year-old Pelé scored two goals in the final game of the tournament, propelling Brazil to a 5-2  victory in front of a Swedish crowd. It was the first time that Brazil had won the World Cup, and a teenage prodigy was on his way to international fame and fortune.
Photo Credit: Scanpix, 29 June 1958.

Humble Beginnings

Edison "Edson" Arantes do Nascimento was born in Tres Coracoes, Brazil, on October 23, 1940, the son of João Ramos do Nascimento and Dona Celeste Arantes. His father was a footballer known as Dondinho.

Pelé, one of the most recognizable names in sport, got his nickname by accident. When he was a young schoolboy,his favorite player was Vasco da Gama goalkeeper, Bilé. He couldn't pronounce the name well, and it sounded like Pelé. The name stuck. It has no known meaning in Portuguese, but it sounds similar to the word "wonder" in Hebrew.
That he assuredly was, and the name Pelé would soon be equated with football greatness. With such a football pedigree, it's not surprising that Pelé would himself take up the sport. But there were more pressing reasons: Pelé grew up in poverty. "Thus, for young Pelé , soccer was what he regarded as the only way out of poverty and he started training daily, but since he had no money to buy a real ball, he used a stuffed sock instead," says one website on football.

He was first spotted at the age of 11 by former Brazilian international Waldemar de Brito, played some minor football and outscored everyone. At age 15, he joined Santos FC, and scored his first goal in his debut match against Corinthians of Santo Andre on September 7, 1956, rising from the bench to net his team's 's sixth goal in a 7-1 win.

One year after turning professional at Santos, he became the youngest player to start in the Brazilian first division, at age 16. What's more amazing is that Pelé became the league's top scorer at the end of the season. He stayed with Santos FC for 20 seasons and played many international and World Cup  matches.

After he retired from Brazilian Football, Pelé signed with the New York Cosmos in 1977, bringing star power to America. As a biography on Pelé says:
His talent and enthusiasm on and off the field brought thousands to the stadium and created a new national awareness about the game of soccer. His contract with the Cosmos, made him the highest played athlete in the world at that time. In 1977, after leading the Cosmos to a league championship, he retired again and became an international ambassador for the sport.
Coming to play in the United States for the New York Cosmos, Pele was able to change many lives by showing to millions of people a sport they had never seen or heard of before. Without him, soccer would not be what it is today.
Nearing age 37, Pelé's played his last game as a professional against his old team, Santos FC, on October 1,1977, in front of a capacity crowd of 75,000 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. The game was sold out six weeks before, covered by 650 journalists, and broadcast to 42 nations to an audience of about 450 million.

Pelé, who would wear the No. 10 for the last time, played the first half of the game with the Cosmos, and the second half with his former club, Santos. In the video clip of his farewell speech here, he pointed out something that you would not expect from a professional athlete of such distinction and prominenence: "Love is the most important thing."

Unexpected, yes, but then again, he's Pelé. Truly, he is an ambassador's ambassador, so to speak. J.B. Pinheiro, the Brazilian ambassador to the United Nations, was once quoted as saying: "Pelé played football for 22 years, and in that time he did more to promote world friendship and fraternity than any other ambassador anywhere."

When the words star and sports legend are so casually used today in some circles, it's refreshing to read about a true sports legend in his own time. Pelé in so many ways epitomizes the King of Football.
Note: The article uses the more-recognizable international term, football. Generally, four nations use the term soccer for the beautiful game: Australia, South Africa, Canada and the United Stated of America. The reasons are historical, but particularly in Canada and the U.S., soccer is used to differentiate it from another professional sport that is commonly played: American and Canadian football.