goodbye to the king

Pelé dies, forever the greatest soccer player in history

Record breaker, inspiration for great athletes, biggest world cup winner: the unmatched Edson Arantes do Nascimento

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | Rio de Janeiro (RJ) |
Pelé’s historic punch in the air: the greatest soccer player of all time - Reprodução/Instagram

This Thursday (29), in the city of São Paulo, the death of 82-year-old Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pelé, was announced. 

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He had been hospitalized for a month to treat colon cancer. The greatest soccer player of all time also became, since the mid-20th century, the best-known Brazilian in the world, due to his unique talent.

“The most difficult thing, the extraordinary one, isn’t scoring a thousand goals, such as Pelé did. It is to score a goal the same way as Pelé did”. Poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s definition right after the historical 1000th goal, in 1969, seems to inspire soccer players from all generations from then on. Many tried, but only extraordinary players scored a goal like Pelé.

Videos shared online show amazing goals scored by great soccer players such as the Argentinians Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, the late Dutch hero Johan Cruyff, French players Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane and Brazilians Ronaldo, Romário and Ronaldinho. They all have something in common: Pelé had already scored similar goals (often more impressive) a few decades earlier.

The beginning

From a very early age, Pelé showed that he was born to play soccer. Born in 1940 in the town of Três Corações, Minas Gerais state, he moved with his family to São Paulo state as a child. His father, Dondinho, was a soccer player. Known as Dico, Pelé started playing for amateur teams in the city of Bauru as a child. He was discovered by former player Waldemar de Brito. At the age of 13, he was taken to a professional team that was founded in Bauru.

It was also Waldemar de Brito who took Pelé from Bauru to Santos when he was 15. In the coastal city, the talent-scout stated: “This boy will be the world’s greatest soccer player”. His importance in Santos came quickly. His first call up to the Brazilian national team happened even before he turned 17, in 1957.

Santos won the Libertadores da América and World titles twice between 1962 and 1963 under his leadership. He was the top scorer in 11 of the 18 editions of the São Paulo championship (national tournaments were still in their beginning), reaching a mark that will hardly be exceeded: 58 goals in 1958.

Besides Santos and Brazil’s national team, Pelé only used one more shirt: that of the New York Cosmos, from the United States. Nevertheless, it was about two decades of captivating soccer fans around the world. Playing for Santos, he was national champion six times and ten times São Paulo champion. He was a two-time Libertadores champion and also a two-time Interclub World champion.

World Cup

To this day, no one has won more World Cups than Pelé. In 1958, at 17, he was the greatest name in Brazil's victory in the Sweden World Cup. He did not play the first two matches, but he was crucial in the knockout matches: he scored the only goal in the 1-0 victory over Wales; three goals in the semifinal against France and two more goals in the final match against Sweden (Brazil won both matches by 5-2).

Pelé always said that he saw his father crying when Brazil was defeated by Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup, played at Maracanã. He promised that he would give him the World Cup title. On 5 December, the day of the round of 16 match of the Qatar World Cup between Brazil and South Korea, he recalled the story: "In 1958, in Sweden, I walked through the streets thinking about fulfilling the promise I made to my father. I know that many of Brazil’s players have made similar promises and are also looking for their first World Cup [title],” he said.

At the age of 17, Pelé walks the streets of Sweden. He promised his father that he would win the World Cup. And he kept his promise / Reproduction/Instagram Pelé

In 1962, in Chile, Pelé was already considered the world’s best soccer player and proved it in Brazil’s first match, against Mexico: he scored two goals – one of them, an amazing goal – and assisted the other. However, in the next match, he was injured and couldn’t play the following matches. Another soccer genius, Garrincha, was the one who led Brazil to the second World Cup title. In 1966, in England, he was hunted down by opposing players, especially in the matches against Bulgaria and Portugal, and failed to stand out. Brazil was eliminated in the first phase.

The definitive glory – as if it was still necessary – came in 1970, in Mexico. Pelé was the maestro of a historic team, which had names such as Tostão, Gerson, Carlos Alberto, Rivellino and Jairzinho. It was the first team to be champion of the World Cup winning all the matches. The title came in a 4-1 victory over Italy. With 12 goals scored (one of the top five scorers in the history of the tournament) and three titles (the only one to reach this mark), Pelé will forever be remembered in the history of the World Cup.

In the arms of the people: Pelé is carried after the 1970 World Cup final in Italy. Until today, no one has won so many World Cups / Reproduction/Instagram Pelé

Edited by: Flávia Chacon e Rodrigo Durão Coelho