When people think about soccer legends, icons and greats a single name is often mentioned: Pelé. The Brazilian icon stole the show for his skills on the pitch. He’s also remembered for his incredible life off of it.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento was quite literally born for greatness. The striker was born in 1940 in Três Corações, Brazil. His father João Ramos was an amateur footballer and mother Celeste Arantes, a housewife. Sports was not a lucrative career and Pelé–an unknown nickname that stuck–grew up in poverty, often going shoeless and using a newspaper filled sock as a soccer ball.
Pelé’s father coached him as a child and ingrained a love for the game early. ““I was born to play football, just like Beethoven was born to write music and Michelangelo was born to paint,” he has said.
His speed, athleticism and ability to use both feet in play made him stand out. Waldmer de Brito, a revered Brazilian national team player, who noticed his talent and recruited him to play for a team in Bauru. At 15 he went pro when he joined the Santos football club.
After almost two years in the pros Pelé was recruited to the Brazilian national team. At 16 , he was the teams’ breakout star and played his first World Cup in 1958. His debut on the world stage took everyone aback. He scored two historic goals that helped Brazil win its first World Cup. The national tournament was the first of three appearances and wins. Pelé is the only player to accomplish this feat with his team in 1958, 1962 and 1970.
As a forward striker Pelé scored more goals than any player in history. In formal games he scored 1281 goals in 1363 games–meaning that he made a goal in almost every game that he played. He holds the Guinness World Record for this accomplishment. His records don’t stop there though. He is the Is all time leading scorer for Brazil National team, Santos Football Club and in South America. His awards and accolades are rivaled only by the other #10, Diego Maradona, who shares his Jersey number.
The father of six played for 20 years in Brazil. This was thanks to being declared a “national treasure” in 1961 to ensure he wouldn’t be traded. After retiring from Santos in 1974 he briefly played with the New York Cosmos. He would only remain for three years and stopped playing football in 1977.
During his career Pelé did charity work with UNICEF on behalf of children and advocated for the rights of the poor. He also worked as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNESCO and as a UN Ambassador. He continues to pay it forward with his Pelé Foundation which launched in 2018 to improve the lives of children around the world.
Perhaps his greatest achievement was showing the world “the beautiful game” of soccer. His play was so mesmerizing that during the Nigerian Civil War a cease fire was called to watch Pelé play.
Once the best paid athlete in the world, a new life emerged from his retirement. He has written several books, acted in numerous films and even wrote the music score for his own documentary. Soccer however remains at the forefront of his life. He became Sports Minister for Brazil and in 1995 proposed “The Pelé Law” to reduce soccer corruption.
Pelé’s is a global icon. November 19th is “Pele Day” in Brazil. The International Federation of Football History & Statistics named him player of the 20th century; the Olympics Committee honored him as athlete of the 20th century; and he is co-winner of FIFA’s Player of the Century. Pele’s legacy is secure and his legend firmly in the history books.