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Pele: 1940-2022

29 Dec 2022

The boy from Bauru who left an indelible mark on the footballing world

Considered by many to be the greatest footballer of all time, Pele acquired international fame aged just 17 when he starred for Brazil at the 1958 FIFA World Cup.

He scored six goals, including two in the final as Brazil beat the hosts, Sweden, to win their first world title.

It was a rapid rise from obscurity for the boy born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in the town of Tres Coracoes on 23 October, 1940.

He was brought up in poverty in the city of Bauru, while his father Joao Ramos struggled to carve out a living as a footballer. 

But Pele had no such problems making his mark on the football field.

Precocious talent

He made his debut for Santos at the age of 15 and broke into the senior national team a year later.

His skill, pace and eye for goal marked him out as unique talent and his achievements in Sweden put the Brazilian national team on the map.

He became a household name with scoring numbers that were simply phenomenal. He produced a world record 1,279 goals in 1,363 matches between 1956 and 1977.

Although he helped Brazil retain their world crown in 1962, injury curtailed his involvement in both that and the following tournament in 1966.

Legendary status

He returned to form four years later, however, inspiring the Selecao to a third World Cup triumph and cementing his legendary status with four goals in the tournament.

He scored in the final, as Italy were dismantled 4-1 in a mesmerising performance that confirmed Brazil’s status as the pre-eminent force in international football.

A couple of years after retiring from club football he became one of the main pioneers to promote the game in the United States, playing for the New York Cosmos in the NASL between 1975-77. 

Pele was an extraordinary talent who inspired millions around the world to fall in love with the beautiful game. 

In addition to his honours for club and country, the International Olympic Committee elected him Athlete of the Century in 1999, while FIFA awarded him the first FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur.

What Pele’s peers said about him

"I told myself before the game, 'He's made of skin and bones just like everyone else.' But I was wrong.”
Tarcisio Burgnich (Italy defender who marked Pele in the 1970 World Cup final)

“The greatest player in history was Di Stefano. I refuse to classify Pele as a player. He was above that."
Ferenc Puskas (Hungary’s legendary footballer)

"When I saw Pele play, it made me feel I should hang up my boots."
Just Fontaine (France's record World Cup goalscorer)

"Pele was the only footballer who surpassed the boundaries of logic."
Johan Cruyff (Netherlands' legendary footballer)

"I sometimes feel as though football was invented for this magical player."
Sir Bobby Charlton (England's World-Cup winning midfielder)


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