Brazilian legend. Cultural icon. King of football. Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, he is regarded as one of the greatest players to ever step on a football pitch.
At the age of 82, Pelé has left this world, leaving behind countless feats and records. Let’s look at some of the late Pele’s biggest accomplishments throughout his illustrious career, along with a couple of interesting facts.
Three-time WC winner
Winning the most prestigious trophy in football, the FIFA World Cup, is definitely not an easy deed. How about three in total?! Having lifted the trophy in 1958, 1962, and 1970, Pelé is the only three-time World Cup winner. More so, he is still the youngest player to win the tournament, at just 17 years of age.
In 1958 he played a crucial role in Brazil’s victory, scoring two goals in the final match against Sweden, winning the first World Cup title for his country. In 1962, many teams went after him and this resulted in a serious injury in the 2nd group stage match against Czechoslovakia. This left him on the sidelines for the rest of the tournament, yet Brazil was victorious once again, beating the same Czechoslovakia in the final.
In 1970, he scored a total of four times and not only secured the World Cup for a third time but also won the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player. His opening goal in the final against Italy and the celebration that followed will forever remain in football history.
With 77 international goals in 92 games to his name, Pelé is the joint-top goalscorer for Brazil alongside Neymar. The youngster, however, needed 124 caps to do so.
Pelé is the only player in history to have scored over 1,000 goals in his career. He scored a total of 1,281 goals in 1,363 games, a feat so impressive it may never be matched by another player. His goals came in a variety of competitions, including international tournaments, club, and friendly matches. He was known for his clinical finishing ability and powerful shots on goal, averaging a goal per game throughout his entire career.
Pelé spent most of his glittering career playing for Santos in Brazil. He joined the club in 1956 at the young age of 15 and played for them until 1974, scoring over 600 goals in his time with the team (643 goals in 659 games). During his time with Santos, he won numerous titles, including eight Campeonato Paulista (São Paulo State Championship) titles and two Copa Libertadores titles. He also helped lead the team to international success, winning the Intercontinental Cup (now known as the Club World Cup) three times.
New York Cosmos
After a year-long retirement from professional football, Pelé became the star player for the New York Cosmos, a North American Soccer League team. His presence helped to popularize the sport in the United States immensely, launching an era of dominance for the Cosmos, and opened the door for a host of other stars, including Johan Cruyff and George Best, to play stateside.
In his three seasons with the Cosmos, Pelé won the Soccer Bowl (the NASL championship) and was named the NASL Most Valuable Player in 1977.
His legacy was so powerful there wasn’t a single soul in the whole country who didn’t know what football was. More and more kids started to play. However, after his departure, the sport quickly started to decline again. Yet, many believe that thanks to Pelé, Americans now play for top European clubs.
Hall of Fame and other honors
His contributions to the sport have been recognized globally with countless collective accomplishments, as well as individual honors and even orders. The list of Pelé’s total achievements and records goes well over 100, so we’ll name just a few.
Pelé got inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1998, the Brazilian Football Museum Hall of Fame the same year, and the International Olympic Committee’s Hall of Fame in 2000.
In 1997, he was awarded an honorary knighthood, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, the British order of chivalry. Three years later, in December 2000, he and Maradona shared the prize of FIFA Player of the Century.
Apart from already mentioned seemingly unbreakable 1,283 career goals, Pelé also holds the record for most hat-tricks in world football with 92. He is the youngest goalscorer and winner of the World Cup tournament to this day. Definitely worth mentioning are his 127 goals scored in 1959, which is the record for most goals in a calendar year.
Remember the name
Sure, his birthname is quite a mouthful. But how did “O Rei do Futebol” or “The King of Football” get his world-famous nickname?
There have been conflicting reports as to why. Still, the most famous story is that as a young player, while playing in goal, he was compared to his favorite player, a local goalkeeper Bilé, after making several impressive saves. Unable to pronounce the name correctly, he would shout “Pelé” instead. And so, the nickname stuck for the next 75 years.
According to another story, he was given the nickname by his schoolmates because of his mischievous nature. When he was younger, Pelé was known to play practical jokes on his friends and teachers, so they started calling him “Pelé” as a shortened form of “pelele,” the Spanish word for “dummy” or “clown.”
Regardless of how he received the iconic nickname, Pelé will forever remain a name that represents greatness, raises respect, and inspires everyone to play the beautiful game of football.