Pelé, who was born into poverty and used to kick a grapefruit around the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil, ultimately ended his career as possibly the greatest soccer player of all time.
He was a rare individual, similar to Muhammad Ali, Pelé was a renowned athlete who went beyond his sport.
The person from Brazil brought happiness and innovation to a sport that is usually constrained and represented by the term “the beautiful game.”
Neymar Jr., a current Brazilian soccer player, expressed that Pelé’s passing brought about significant change.
“He transformed the game of football into a form of artistic expression and entertainment. He amplified the voices of the underprivileged and Black individuals, particularly in Brazil.”
Reword: In 1958, at the age of 17, he began his journey to his first World Cup victory and continued to shine until he was awarded the Golden Ball for his performance in the 1970 World Cup. Known as “The King,” he accomplished nearly everything imaginable while representing Brazil in their iconic yellow and blue jersey.
There were numerous goals scored.
Pele recorded 757 goals in a total of 812 official games for both his club and country. However, there is a discrepancy in the exact number of goals he achieved throughout his career. As reported by Reuters, Brazil’s football association and Santos claim that Pele scored a total of 1,283 goals in 1,367 matches, while FIFA states that he scored 1,281 goals in 1,366 games.
Not only did he score an incredible amount of goals, but as Neymar mentions, 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 perform 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 informed CNN that upon our arrival in Sweden, Brazil was unfamiliar to the locals. However, they were aware of Argentina and Uruguay. This was unexpected for us.
At the age of 17 and a half, Pelé became the youngest player to participate in a World Cup. This record was held by the Brazilian until 1982, when Northern Ireland’s Norman Whiteside broke it.
Pele retired from the Seleção almost 15 years after astonishing the world at the 1958 World Cup. He left behind a legacy for his nation as the most successful team in World Cup history and the most intimidating in global football.
Pelé’s crowning moment for Brazil came at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, a tournament further romanticized by being the first World Cup broadcast in color.
During the competition, Pelé showcased his exceptional skills and talent, leaving a lasting impression on his opponents with his vibrant yellow and gold attire. He dazzled and mesmerized the opposing teams.
He was named player of the tournament for scoring four goals, including an assist for Carlos Alberto’s stunning goal in the final match against Italy.
“I believe winning the World Cup was the pinnacle of my sporting career, without a doubt,” Pelé told CNN.
Italian footballer Tarcisio Burgnich aptly described Pelé’s extraordinary talent as superhuman: “I had convinced myself before the game that he was 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 goals, but also by moments when he didn’t score. One such moment was when England’s goalkeeper Gordon Banks made a remarkable save from Pelé’s header during a group game. This save is often regarded as the greatest of all time.
In a tribute to Banks after his passing, Pelé wrote on Facebook in 2019, “The save was one of the greatest I have witnessed in real life and in the countless games I have watched.”
As a football player, you can immediately tell when you have hit the ball well. I executed that header with precision, exactly as I had intended and towards my desired destination. I was prepared to celebrate.
“However, this individual, Banks, suddenly appeared before me like a blue apparition.”
Although he spent most of his club career with Brazilian team Santos, Pelé’s skill, grace, and effectiveness in scoring made him one of the first Black soccer players to gain worldwide recognition.
In 2015, Pelé revealed to CNN that he received numerous offers from European teams to leave Santos and move to Europe. However, out of loyalty and affection for his home team, he decided not to make the move. This is just one of the many reasons why he is highly revered in his home country.
“Previously, it was a career fueled by passion, but now it’s simply a job,” stated Pelé.
“I no longer have the same passion for playing for my club or country. It’s understandable that footballers need to earn a living from the sport, but things have changed since my time.”
Coping with pressure
Pelé’s significance as a soccer player extended beyond the field, as shown in a recent Netflix documentary where he was portrayed as a symbol of a developing nation.
“He develops this Pelé persona as a way to deal with that situation, almost sacrificing his own identity to represent Brazil,” explained Ben Nicholas, co-director of the documentary about the legendary Brazilian’s life, in an interview with CNN.
According to the Netflix documentary, the rise of the Brazilian military in 1964, which also focused on football as a tactical and political tool, added pressure for the apolitical Pelé as he represented his country on the world stage. This was especially evident during the 1970 World Cup, which was seen as a “government matter.”
At the conclusion of the film, co-director David Tryhorn noted a significant line spoken by Pelé. Instead of the expected inspirational message, Pelé discusses a feeling of “relief.”
The ongoing argument over who is the greatest football player of all time will continue endlessly – is it Pelé? Or perhaps Diego Maradona? Or maybe Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?
However, the love and admiration that Brazil holds for Pelé is unmatched and goes beyond his skills as a football player. He is seen as a symbol of national pride.