Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento) is widely considered to be the greatest footballer of all time.
He was a powerful, pacey forward with enough skill to score goals and win games for his team regardless of what the opposition did to try and stop him. He won three World Cup winners medals from 1958 to 1970 and has received countless awards for his abilities and contributions to football.
A gentleman off the field and a genius on it, no one could argue that Pele is one of football’s greatest ever players.
Start as you mean to go on
Pele was brought up in a poor family in Sao Paulo despite his father being a professional footballer. He learnt to play by practising with a rolled up ball of socks as he could not afford a ball.
His underprivileged upbringing certainly didn’t hold him back though, as he signed for Santos aged 15 and was put into the first team straight away. He finished as the league’s top goalscorer when aged just 16.
Less than a year after his first professional appearance Pele was called up to the Brazilian national side for the World Cup in 1958. He took the tournament by storm and broke just about every record there was.
He became the youngest player to appear in a World Cup game when he played against the USSR in the first round. He then became the youngest player to score in a World Cup when he scored against Wales in the quarter finals, and then the youngest player to score a hat trick in a World Cup when he got three against France in the semi finals.
Pele completed the fairy tale with another two goals in the final in a 5-2 victory over Sweden. Pele was named Young Player of the Tournament. Aged just 17, he had won the World Cup scoring six goals in four games in the finals.
Pele declared a ‘national treasure’
Pele scored an astonishing number of goals for his club side, Santos. He fired the team to the Campeonato Paulista (the Brazilian top flight title) in 1958, 1960, 1961 and 1962.
Pele was again a part of the national team for the World Cup in 1962. However, he suffered disappointment in Brazil’s second game as he got injured and had to sit out the rest of the tournament.
Brazil did well enough without him though, and lifted the World Cup for the second time in row.
Despite watching most of the competition from the sidelines, Pele had attracted the interest of the richest clubs in the world. Real Madrid and Manchester United both wanted to sign the superstar but a move was blocked by the Brazilian government declaring Pele as a “national treasure” to prevent him leaving the country.
World domination with Santos
1962 was a massive year for Pele and Santos. Because of their success the previous season, the team had qualified for the Copa Libertadores (the equivalent of the South American Champions League), the most prestigious club tournament in the Western hemisphere.
They went on to win the trophy with Pele again the star of the show scoring two goals in the final against reigning champions Peñarol. They also won the domestic cup and league title with Pele topscoring in both competitions.
Having proven they were the best team in South America, Santos now faced European giants Benfica in the Intercontinental Cup. If the world was in any doubt about how good Pele was, he took this opportunity to prove once and for all he was the greatest player in the world.
Santos won the game 5-2 in Lisbon with Pele scoring a hat-trick.
The following season Santos defended the Copa Libertadores with Pele scoring a last minute equaliser in the first leg of the semi final against Botafogo and then another hat-trick in the return leg.
Santos faced Boca Juniors in the final and won the first leg 3-2 in Brazil. They faced a hate fuelled second leg in Argentina but again Pele made the difference with a goal as Santos won the game 2-1 to become the first Brazilian team to win the Copa Libertadores on Argentine soil.
The following season Santos failed to make it three Copa Libertadores titles in a row but they did win the Campeonato Paulista with Pele again leading from the front with 34 goals.
Disgusting treatment in 1966 – Read more