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Edison Arantes do Nascimento , (born, Três Corações, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 23 October 1940), best known by his nickname Pelé (Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation: [pe?l?], usual English pronunciation: /?p?le?/) is a Brazilian football player. He was given the title “Athlete of the Century” by the International Olympic Committee. In 1999 Time Magazine named Pelé one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. While his birth certificate shows his first name as Edison, he prefers to call himself Edson, but it is as Pelé that he has become a sporting legend.
In his native Brazil, Pelé is hailed as a national hero. He is known for his accomplishments and contributions to the game of football in addition to being officially declared football ambassador of the world by FIFA and a national treasure by the Brazilian government. He is also acknowledged for his vocal support of policies to improve the social conditions of the poor (when he scored his 1,000th goal he dedicated it to the poor children of Brazil). During his career, he became known as “The King of Football” (O Rei do Futebol), “The King Pelé” (O Rei Pelé) or simply “The King” (O Rei). He is also a member of the American National Soccer Hall of Fame.
Spotted by football star Waldemar de Brito, Pelé began playing for Santos at 15 and his national team at 16, and won his first World Cup at 17. Despite numerous offers from European clubs, the economic conditions and Brazilian football regulations at the time benefited Santos, thus enabling them to keep Pelé for almost two decades until 1974. Pelé played as an inside forward, striker, and what later became known as the playmaker position. Pelé’s technique and natural athleticism have been universally praised and during his playing years he was renowned for his excellent dribbling and passing, his pace, powerful shot, exceptional heading ability, and prolific goalscoring.
He is the all-time leading scorer of the Brazil national football team and is the only footballer to be a part of three World Cup-winning teams. In 1962 he was on the Brazilian squad at the start of the World Cup but due to an injury suffered in the second match, he wasn’t able to play the remainder of the tournament. In November 2007 FIFA announced that he would be awarded the 1962 medal retroactively, making him the only player in the world to have three World Cup winning medals.
Since his retirement in 1977, Pelé has been a worldwide ambassador for football and has undertaken various acting roles and commercial ventures.
Pelé was born in Três Corações, Brazil, the son of a Fluminense footballer Dondinho (born João Ramos do Nascimento) and Maria Celeste Arantes. He was named after the American inventor Thomas Edison, however his parents decided to remove the ‘i’ and call him ‘Edson’. But there was a mistake on the birth certificate, leading many documents to show his name as ‘Edison’, not ‘Edson’, as he is actually called. He was originally nicknamed Dico by his family. He did not receive the nickname “Pelé” until his school days, when it is claimed he was given it because of his pronunciation of the name of his favorite player, local Vasco da Gama goalkeeper Bilé, which he misspoke but the more he complained the more it stuck. In his autobiography, Pelé stated he had no idea what the name means, nor did his old friends. Apart from the assertion that the name is derived from that of Bilé, the word has no known meaning, although it is the name of a Hawaiian volcano goddess and it does resemble the Irish language word peil, meaning football.
Growing up in poverty in Bauru, São Paulo, Pelé earned extra money by working in tea shops as a servant. Taught to play by his coach, he could not afford a proper football and usually played with either a sock stuffed with newspaper, tied with a string or a grapefruit. In an interview with British magazine Loaded, Pele revealed that his father caught him smoking at a young age. His father advised, “Listen, if you want to play sport, you have to be in good health.”
In 1954, several members of the Ameriquinha team, including Pelé, were invited to join the Baquinho boys’ team to be managed by former Brazilian international Waldemar de Brito, who played in the 1934 World Cup in Italy.
At the age of fifteen, he joined the Santos FC junior team. He played for one season before joining the senior team.
In 1956, de Brito took Pelé to Santos, an industrial and port city in the state of São Paulo, to try out for professional club Santos Futebol Clube telling the directors at Santos that the 15-year-old would be “the greatest football player in the world.”
During his time at Santos, Pelé played alongside many gifted players, including Zito, Pepe, and Coutinho; the latter partnered him in numerous one-two plays, attacks, and goals.
Pelé made his debut for Santos in 7 September 1956, scoring one goal in a 7–1 friendly victory over Corinthians. When the 1957 season started, Pelé was given a starting place in the first team and, at the age of just 16, became the top scorer in the league. Just ten months after signing professionally, the teenager was called up to the Brazil national team. After the World Cup in 1962, wealthy European clubs such as Real Madrid, Juventus and Manchester United tried to sign the young player, but the government of Brazil declared Pelé an “official national treasure” to prevent him from being transferred out of the country.
On 19 November 1969, Pelé scored his 1000th goal in all competitions. This was a highly anticipated moment in Brazil. The goal, called popularly O Milésimo (The Thousandth), occurred in a match against Vasco da Gama, when Pelé scored from a penalty kick, at the Maracanã Stadium.
Pelé states that his most beautiful goal was scored at Rua Javari stadium on a Campeonato Paulista match against São Paulo rivals Juventus on 2 August 1959. As there is no video footage of this match, Pelé asked that a computer animation be made of this specific goal. In March 1961, Pelé scored the gol de placa (goal worthy of a plaque), a goal against Fluminense at the Maracanã which was regarded as so spectacular that a plaque was commissioned with a dedication to the most beautiful goal in the history of the Maracanã.
In 1967, the two factions involved in the Nigerian Civil War agreed to a 48-hour ceasefire so they could watch Pelé play an exhibition game in Lagos.
After the 1972 season (his 17th with Santos), Pelé retired from Brazilian club football although he continued to occasionally suit up for Santos in official competitive matches. Two years later, he came out of semi-retirement to sign with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League (NASL) for the 1975 season. Though well past his prime at this point, Pelé is credited with significantly increasing public awareness and interest in soccer in the United States. (Previously, a video clip of Pelé scoring with a bicycle kick for the Brazilian National Team was part of the opening video montage of the popular sports TV series ABC’s Wide World of Sports and was probably many Americans’ initial viewing of the sport.) He led the Cosmos to the 1977 NASL championship, in his third and final season with the club.
On 1 October 1977, Pelé closed out his legendary career in an exhibition match between the Cosmos and Santos. Santos arrived in New York and New Jersey after previously defeating the Seattle Sounders 2–0. The match was played in front of a capacity crowd at Giants Stadium and was televised in the United States on ABC’s Wide World of Sports as well as throughout the world. Pelé’s father and wife both attended the match. Pelé gave a brief pre-match speech during which he asked the crowd to say the word “love” with him three times. He played the first half for the Cosmos and the second half for Santos. Reynaldo scored the first goal for Santos, kicking the ball into the net after it had deflected off the crossbar. Pelé then scored his final goal on a direct free kick, driving the ball past the diving Santos goalkeeper. At halftime, the Cosmos retired Pelé’s number 10. Pelé presented his Cosmos shirt to his father, who was escorted to the field by Cosmos captain Werner Roth. During the second half, Cosmos striker Ramon Mifflin, who had replaced Pelé when he switched sides at halftime, scored on a deflected cross, and the Cosmos won the match 2–1. After the match, Pelé was embraced by the Cosmos players, including longtime rival Giorgio Chinaglia, and then ran around the field while holding an American flag in his left hand and a Brazilian flag in his right hand. Pelé was soon lifted by several Cosmos players and carried around the field.
Pelé’s first international match was a 2–1 defeat against Argentina on 7 July 1957. In that match, he scored his first goal for Brazil aged 16 years and 9 months to become the youngest player to score in International football.
1958 World Cup
His first match in the World Cup was against USSR in the first round of the 1958 FIFA World Cup. He was the youngest player of that tournament, and at the time the youngest ever to play in the World Cup. He scored his first World Cup goal against Wales in quarterfinals, the only goal of the match, to help Brazil advance to semifinals, while becoming the youngest ever World Cup goalscorer at 17 years and 239 days. Against France in the semifinal, Brazil was leading 2–1 at halftime, and then Pelé scored a hat-trick, becoming the youngest in World Cup history to do so.
On 19 June 1958 Pelé became the youngest player to play in a World Cup final match at 17 years and 249 days. He scored two goals in the final as Brazil beat Sweden 5–2. His first goal, a lob over a defender followed by a precise volley shot, was selected as one of the best goals in the history of the World Cup. When the match ended, he passed out on the field, and had to be attended by the medical staff. He then recovered, and was visibly compelled by the victory, in tears as being congratulated by his teammates. He finished the tournament with six goals in four matches played, tied for second place, behind record-breaker Just Fontaine.
1962 World Cup
In the first match of the 1962 World Cup, against Mexico, Pelé assisted on the first goal and then scored the second one to go up 2–0 after a run past four defenders. He injured himself while attempting a long-range shot against Czechoslovakia. This would keep him out of the rest of the tournament, and forced coach Aymoré Moreira to make his only lineup change of the tournament. The substitute was Amarildo, who performed well for the rest of the tournament. Yet it was Garrincha who would take the leading role and carry Brazil to their second World Cup title.
1970 World Cup
When Pelé was called to the national team in early 1969, he first refused, but then accepted and played in six World Cup qualifying matches, scoring six goals. The 1970 tournament in Mexico was to be Pelé’s last. Brazil’s squad for the tournament featured major changes in relation to the 1966 squad. Players like Garrincha, Nilton Santos, Djalma Santos, and Gilmar had already retired, but the team, with Pelé, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Gérson, Tostão, and Clodoaldo, is widely considered one of the greatest football teams ever.
In the first match, against Czechoslovakia, Pelé gave Brazil a 2–1 lead after controlling Gerson’s long pass with his chest. In this match, Pelé audaciously attempted to lob goalkeeper Ivo Victor from the half-way line, only narrowly missing the Czech goal. Brazil went on to win the match, 4–1. In the first half of the match against England, he nearly scored with a header that was spectacularly saved by Gordon Banks. In the second half, he assisted Jairzinho for the only goal of the match. Against Romania, he opened the score on a direct free kick goal, a strong strike with the outside of his right foot. Later on the match he scored again to put the score 3–1. Brazil won by a final score of 3–2. In quarterfinals against Peru, Brazil won 4–2, with Pelé assisting Tostão on his team’s third goal. In the semi-finals, Brazil faced Uruguay for the first time since the 1950 World Cup final round match. Jairzinho put Brazil ahead 2–1, and Pelé assisted Rivelino for the 3–1. During that match, Pelé made one of his most famous plays. Tostão gave Pelé a through ball, and Uruguay’s goalkeeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz took notice of it. The keeper ran off of his line to get the ball before Pelé, but Pelé got there first, and without touching the ball, he caused it to go past the keeper, to the latter’s left, while Pelé went right. Pelé went around the goalkeeper and took a shot while turning towards the goal, but he turned in excess as he shot, and the ball drifted just wide of the far post.
Brazil played Italy in the final, with Pelé scoring the opener on a header over defender Tarcisio Burgnich. He then made assists on Jairzinho’s and Carlos Alberto’s goals, the latter one after an impressive collective play. Brazil won the match 4–1, keeping the Jules Rimet Trophy indefinitely. Burgnich, who marked Pelé during the match, was quoted saying “I told myself before the game, he’s made of skin and bones just like everyone else — but I was wrong”.
Pelé’s last international match was on 18 July 1971 against Yugoslavia in Rio de Janeiro. With Pelé on the field, the Brazilian team’s record was 67 wins, 14 draws, and 11 losses, and went on to win three World Cups. Brazil never lost a match while fielding both Pelé and Garrincha.
Pelé also played in the South American Championship. In the 1959 competition he was top scorer with eight goals, as Brazil came second in the tournament
On 21 February 1966, Pelé married Rosemeri dos Reis Cholby. He has two daughters Kelly Cristina (13 January 1967) and Jennifer (1978) as well as a son Edson (“Edinho” – little Edson, 27 August 1970). The couple divorced in 1978.
His eldest son Edinho was arrested for drug possession in 2005.
Since April 1994 Pelé has been married to psychologist and gospel singer Assíria Lemos Seixas, who gave birth on 28 September 1996 to twins Joshua and Celeste through fertility treatments.