The exhibition match between New York Cosmos and Santos was sold out six weeks before the match; some 650 reporters were at the venue to cover the game being held at the Giants Stadium, NY while people in 38 nations were glued to their TV sets. On October 1, 1977 everyone was witnessing history in the making as the greatest soccer player ever graced the ground for the last time. This was the last match played by Edson Arantes Do Nascimento whom everyone knows as Pelé.
Born on October 23, 1940 to a minor league Brazilian soccer player, Pelé started his journey of becoming a soccer legend by playing with makeshift ball — sometimes it would be a stack of socks — around the slum of Tres Coracos, Brazil. Being from a very poor family, soccer became the only way of entertainment for Pelé who used to shine shoes for pennies.
The genius in him couldn’t stay hidden for long as he was discovered by Brazil’s former soccer star Waldemar de Brito at a youth tournament. Pelé, 11 was playing with his ‘shoeless team’ of street children became the top goal scorer of the tournament. Brito not only trained him but also introduced him to professional soccer. When he took Pelé to Brazilian giant Santos, he announced to the directors of professional team, “This boy will be the greatest soccer player in the world.”
And the youngest player (16) to start in the Brazilian first division proved his mentor right by earning the title of league top scorer of the season.
After attaining much popularity at home, Pelé shone in the international soccer world in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. The teenager stunned the world by scoring six goals, including two in the final match that gave Brazil its first World Cup victory. Thus a legend was born at the age of 17.
Pelé went on to play three more World Cups out of which Brazil won two —1962 and 1970. In the 1966 World Cup some rather brutal tackles from Bulgarian and Portuguese defenders forced him to leave the finals injured and in tears.
He came back with vengeance in the 1970 World Cup. At the finals, Pelé, 29 scored the glorious goal that ensured Brazil’s permanent possession of the Jules Rimet Trophy. It was also Brazil’s 100th World Cup goal and also the one that holds special place in Pelé’s heart. While talking about the goal he once said, “I have a special feeling for that goal because I scored it with my head. My father once scored five goals in a game, all with his head. That was one record I was never able to break.”
Pelé remained in Santos for 20 years and led the club to two World Club championships. Many rich European clubs offered huge amount of fees to sign him but the government of Brazil declared him an official national treasure to stop him from being transferred out of the country.
He retired from international competition game in 1974 but a year later joined North American Soccer League for the New York Cosmos for just over two seasons. His reported $ 7 million contract for three years with the club made him the highest paid soccer player of North American Soccer League.
He said he came out of retirement to “make soccer truly popular in the US”, and not for money. A year later New York was at the top of their division, and in 1977 the Cosmos won the league championship.
Pelé retired after the victory but continued to be active in sports circles, becoming a commentator and promoter of soccer in the US.
In addition to his great accomplishments in soccer, he published several best-selling autobiographies, starred in several documentary and semi-documentary films, and composed numerous musical pieces, including the entire sound track for the film Pelé (1977). He was the 1978 recipient of the International Peace Award, and in 1980 he was named athlete of the century. In 2001, FIFA named him — along with Diego Maradona — as the men’s players of the century. He has also done extensive work for children’s causes through UNICEF.
A true athlete in every sense Pelé was blessed with speed, great balance, tremendous vision and the ability to control the ball superbly and shoot powerfully and accurately with either foot or with head. He could dribble effortlessly around tough defenders. He could have played in any position on the field but he chose to wear the number 10 jersey as an inside-left forward.
• He is considered by FIFA as the most prolific scorer in soccer history, with 1281 goals in 1,363 matches in all competitions. His best season was 1958, he scored 139 times.
• He is the only player to have won three FIFA World Cup titles — 1958, 1962, 1970.
• He scored 12 goals in different World Cup matches, being beaten only by Ronaldo.
• He also holds the world record for hat tricks (92) and the number of goals scored on the international level (97).
• He is one of the few players to score in two different World Cup finals, others are Paul Breitner, Vava and Zinedine Zidane.
• Pelé, whose nickname does not mean anything, was also known as Perola Negra (Black Pearl).
• In the late 1960’s, when his team, Santos, went to Nigeria to play friendly matches, the ongoing civil war stopped for the duration of his visit.
• In the 60s, he was nicknamed ‘O Rei’ (The King), and in the 70s 95 persons out of 100 knew his name.
• He had a video game named after him in the 1980s called ‘Pelé’s Soccer’.
• Mixed martial arts legend Jose Landi-Jons was nicknamed Pelé after him. He never missed a Pelé soccer game and remembers every field action of his hero.
• He was named after Thomas A Edison and originally named ‘Dico’ by his family.
• His jersey number, 10, has since been worn by many of soccer’s top stars such as Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Zinedine Zidane and Diego Armando Maradona.