Pelé’s real name, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, might not be a household name, but we all know him as Pelé – the brightest star in ‘the beautiful game’. The prodigy was a sweet mix of raw talent, consistency and hard work. He was more than just a soccer player ~ he was a force, an influence, a King! History has it that in Nigeria, a two-day truce was declared in the war with Biafra so that both sides could see him play. One man paused a war, one man caused a 30-minute delay in a game after his 1000th goal ~ there is no denying the fact that this same man is the Greatest of all time!
On the 23rd day of October 1940, in the impoverished village of Tres Coracoes, in southeastern Brazil, Pelé was born. The local professional soccer player, João Ramos and his wife Dona Celeste were probably unaware of the impact their child will bring to the world through soccer or how brightly he’d shine.
Before the name Pelé, he was nicknamed ‘Dico’ after Thomas Edison. Although the origin of Pelé remains unclear, he recalled disliking the name because he thought it was an insult, as it wasn’t Portuguese.
As a young boy, Pelé moved with his family to the city of Bauru. His father and first coach, better known as”Dondinho” struggled to make enough as a soccer player. So Pelé grew up in poverty, earning extra money by working at a tea shop as a servant. But the situation wasn’t enough to stop him from developing a rudimentary talent for soccer, even if he had to kick stuffed-up socks in the streets of Bauru.
As a teenager, Pelé played for various amateur teams including Sete de Setembro, Canto do Rio, São Paulinho, and Ameriquinha. He led a young team Bauru Atlético Clube (coached by Waldemar de Brito, a former member of the Brazilian national soccer team) to two São Paulo state youth championships. Eventually, De Brito persuaded Pelé’s family to let him leave home and try out for the Santos professional soccer club when he was 15.
In the first worldwide broadcast of the 1958 World Cup, Pelé appeared out of nowhere. And people all over the world witnessed as the 17-year-old, full of invention and enthusiasm, ran circles around seasoned professionals on black and white screens. After the world cup, the name Pelé spread all over the world.
Santos and First World Cup
Immediately after signing with Santos, Pelé started practicing with the team, scoring his first professional goal before 16. In his first full season, he scored 32 goals leading the team. Not long after, he was selected to play for the Brazilian national team. That’s how the 17-year-old got to play and win his first world cup against the host country, Sweden.
A National Treasure?
After this feat, the rare specimen drew the attention of European clubs with hefty offers. Because of this, Brazilian President Jânio Quadros declared Pelé a national treasure. So it was legally difficult for him to play in another country.
The Santos club made sure he didn’t look elsewhere by offering him a huge share of Santos’ exhibition fees, making him the world’s highest-paid team-sport athlete with an annual income estimated at $150,000.
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Despite his prowess and exploits in the 1960s with Santos, Pelé had to endure through the 1962 and 1966 world cups. In a game leading to the 1962 tournament in Chile, he sustained a groin injury. The best he could do was score a goal in a 2-0 win over Mexico in the first game. After that, his injury worsened and he had to sit out the rest of the game. Amidst this, Brazil still kept the World Cup.
Again in 1966, what would have been his third world cup didn’t happen as an injury limited to just two games. And Brazil failed to scale through the first round.
1970 World Cup
The 1970 World Cup came with controversies and criticisms as Pelé had sustained injuries in the last two games. But maybe the world needed to understand that stars don’t fall easily.
By the end of the competition, Pelé scored four goals and gave six assists. Brazil won the finals (4-1) against Italy with one of Pelé goals, the opening goal, being the 100th in Brazilian World Cup History.
Tarcisio Burgnich, the defender who marked Pelé in the final, admitted, “I told myself before the game, he’s made of skin and bones just like everyone else. But I was wrong.
Pelé became the first to play and win three World Cups in 1958, 1962 and 1970.
In 1974, Pelé announced his retirement, but the decision wasn’t long-lived as he was lured back to the game in 1975. He signed a three-year contract worth $ 2.8 million to play for the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. And within three years, his presence boosted NASL attendance by 80% (from 7,597 in 1975 to 12.584 in 1977).
In 1977, Pelé led the Cosmos to the league championship, after which he played his final game for both New York and Santos in an exhibition where he scored his final. The day of his last match was the atmosphere of a rainy day, and a Brazilian newspaper wrote, “Even the Sky was Crying.”
After his last match, Pelé did not let go of his love for the beautiful game. Instead, he invested his athletic energy into his career as a global pitchman and soccer ambassador. In 1995, he was appointed the position of Minister of sport in Brazil.
He spent the later times of his life broadcasting, representing brands like Coca-Cola, and writing columns. He also fought against corruption in Brazilian football in a legislature proposition which turned out to be the Pelé Law.
Pelé Net Worth
Pele retired with a net worth estimated at $100 million.
Pele had a pretty large family with 7 children.
Pele scored 77 goals for Brazil in 92 international matches, making him Brazil’s all-time top scorer. Pele scored 12 goals in 14 games played across four editions of the FIFA World Cup played across four editions – the second-most by any Brazilian player. To date, Pele remains the only football player to score in a FIFA World Cup before turning 18.
Pele goals in club football total 680 goals. A staggering 643 goals in 659 games for Santos, in domestic level tournaments at both national and state levels. He scored the remaining 37 goals in 64 official matches when he played for the Cosmos during his three-year contract.
In First class football (official matches at the senior level), Pele scored 757 goals: 680 for his club and 77 for his country.
Notes from the Guinness World Record site, “The most goals scored in a specified period is 1,279 by Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Brazil), known as Pele, from 7 September 1956 to 1 October 1977 in 1,363 games. His best year was 1959 with 126, and the Milesimo (1000th goal) came from a penalty for his club Santos at the Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, on 19 November 1969 when playing his 909th first-class match. He later added two more goals in special appearances.”
Death and Burial
The world lost the legend to the inevitable on the 29th of December 2022, at 82 years. He was buried at the Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica, Santos, São Paulo. Undoubtedly, his legacy will continue to live on.
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