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 legendary dribbling skills, Pele was just about the perfect footballer. And if the "Seleçaõ" came to incarnate the "beautiful game" in the eyes of so many fans around the world, this can largely be credited to the breathtaking skills of their celebrated n°10.
Edson Arantes Do Nascimento was born on 23 October 1940 in Tres Corações - "Three hearts" in Brazilian. First spotted at the age of 11 by former Brazilian international Waldemar de Brito, he joined Santos at the age of 15, and had not yet turned 16 when he scored in his first official match against FC Corinthians, in September 1956. A legend was born.
In 1958, he played in his first FIFA World Cup™ at the tender age of 17. The world was amazed as this slight teenager emerged from nowhere to light up the tournament with his dazzling skills. In fact it was player power that earned him a place in the starting line-up for Brazil's third match against the USSR. Pele had been injured, but upon his return from the treatment room, the team closed ranks and insisted upon his selection in a forward trio alongside Garrincha and Vava.
He repaid his team-mates with a goal against Wales in the quarter-finals, and a hat trick against France in the semi. He was unstoppable, allying perfect technique with lightning speed, opportunism and intelligence. He oozed class, and rounded off his FIFA World Cup™ with two splendid goals against Sweden in the final. His first saw him have the audacity to pull off a "sombrero", lifting the ball over the last defender, before smashing the ball home on the volley; his second was a delightful glancing header past a spellbound Swedish keeper. Defender Sigge Parling later confessed: "After the fifth goal, I felt like applauding".
At the final whistle, Seleçaõ keeper Gilmar fondly remembers having to console the child genius as was carried off the field in tears on his team-mates' shoulders. Pele was to go from strength to strength in the years to come, tormenting defences and confirming his status as a footballing idol. He scored 127 goals in 1959, 110 in 1961, and carried off the Copa Libertadores twice (1961, 1962), two World Club Championships (1962, 1963), and nine Sao Paulo Championships.
He arrived at the 1962 FIFA World Cup™ in Chile, ready to set the world alight again. This was the perfect stage to showcase his talents, but, tragically, Pele was injured in Brazil's very first game and did not reappear. He watched from the sidelines as his team-mates regained their world title. By now, Pele was a marked man - and the same unhappy fate awaited him in 1966 as he again left the field on a stretcher, hacked down in Brazil's third game against Portugal. This time, though, he was forced to watch from the sidelines as his team was knocked out of the competition.
The "black pearl" would have to wait until Mexico 1970 before reminding the world of his exceptional talents. Ably assisted by lieutenants Jairzinho, Tostao, Rivelino, and Carlos Alberto, the Sun King shone in all his glory that year. In the first FIFA World Cup™ to be broadcast around the world in colour, it was as if Pele was determined to give new meaning to the world's game. Highlights included his attempted lob from the halfway line against Czechoslovakia, a stunning header that brought an even more stunning save from English keeper Gordon Banks, and the unforgettably cheeky moment when he stepped over the ball, letting it run past the Uruguay ’keeper, before shooting narrowly wide.
Symbolically, it was Pele who scored Brazil's 100th FIFA World Cup™ goal in the Final in Mexico - a magnificent header after a typically athletic leap. "It was a special feeling to score with my head. My father once scored five headers in one match - that's one record I've never been able to beat" said Pele afterwards.
Tarcisio Burgnich, the Italian defender who had been handed the unenviable task of marking Pele in the Final was later quoted as saying: "I told myself before the game, 'he's made of skin and bones just like everyone else' - but I was wrong". Brazil won the right to keep the Jules Rimet trophy after winning it for a third time with arguably the greatest team of all time. Pele had become a living legend. The day after the final the Sunday Times headline summed it up: "How do you spell Pele? G-O-D".
Pele was indeed a legend, and he set some truly startling records in his long and distinguished career. His 1,000th goal came in 1969 in front of a delirious crowd at the Maracana stadium . He scored 5 goals in a game on no less than 6 occasions, 4 goals on 30 occasions and a hat-trick 92 times! In one game, against the hapless Botafogo in 1964, he hit the back of the net 8 times! In all, the great man notched up 1281 goals in 1363 games and picked up 92 international caps.
He quit what he called "the beautiful game" in 1974, before returning a year later to play for the New York Cosmos "to bring the world's game to the American public". He would hang up his boots for the last time in 1977. J.B.Pinheiro, the Brazilian ambassador to the UN was quoted as saying, "Pele played football for 22 years, and in that time he did more to promote world friendship and fraternity than any other ambassador anywhere". And who could contradict him? In warring Nigeria a ceasefire was declared when Pele came to play in Lagos in 1970. The President of Brazil declared him a "national treasure" to thwart any potential transfer to a European club. And in Santos, 19 November is forever "Pele Day" - to celebrate the anniversary of his 1,000th goal scored at the Maracana stadium.
Since his career ended, Pele has used his ambassador status to promote his country, the UN and UNICEF. "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". But that's what gods are for isn't it?
1975-1977 New York Cosmos
1956 Sao Paulo state champion (Santos)
1957 Top goalscorer in Sao Paulo league (17 goals)
1958 Sao Paulo state champion (Santos)
1958 Top goalscorer in Sao Paulo league (58 goals)
1959 Copa America finalist
1959 Top goalscorer in Sao Paulo league (45 goals)
1960 Sao Paulo state champion (Santos)
1960 Top goalscorer in Sao Paulo league (33 goals)
1961 Sao Paulo state champion (Santos)
1961 Top goalscorer in Sao Paulo league (47 goals)
1961 Copa Libertadores (Santos)
1961 Brazilian Cup winner (Santos)
1962 Sao Paulo state champion (Santos)
1962 Top goalscorer in Sao Paulo league (37 goals)
1962 Copa Libertadores (Santos)
1962 World Club champion (Santos)
1962 Brazilian Cup winner (Santos)
1963 Top goalscorer in Sao Paulo league (22 goals)
1963 World club champion (Santos)
1963 Brazilian Cup winner (Santos)
1964 Sao Paulo state champion (Santos)
1964 Top goalscorer in Sao Paulo league (34 goals)
1964 Brazilian Cup winner (Santos)
1965 Top goalscorer in Sao Paulo league (49 goals)
1965 Sao Paulo state champion (Santos)
1965 Brazilian Cup winner (Santos)
1967 Sao Paulo state champion (Santos)
1968 Sao Paulo state champion(Santos)
1968 Brazilian Cup winner (Santos)
1969 Sao Paulo state champion (Santos)
1969 Top goalscorer in Sao Paulo league (26 goals)
1973 Sao Paulo state champion (Santos)
1973 Top goalscorer in Sao Paulo league (11 goals)
1977 USA champion (Cosmos New York)
1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden: winner
1959 Copa America: finalist
1959 Top goalscorer in Copa America (9 goals)
1962 FIFA World Cup in Chile: winner
1966 FIFA World Cup in England: first round
1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico: winner
92 caps, 97 goals
Top Brazilian goalscorer of all-time
1281 goals scored in 1363 matches - an all-time world record
Voted athlete of the century by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1999