Pele (born 1940), called "the Black Pearl, " was the greatest soccer player in the history of the game. With a career total of 1, 280 games, he may have been the world's most popular athlete.
Edson Arantes Do Nascimento Pele, who took the name Pele, was born October 23, 1940, in Tres Coracoes, Brazil, the son of a soccer player. His father's coaching paid off, for when he was 11 he played for his first soccer team, that of the town of Bauru, Brazil. He moved up in competition with outstanding play, and when he was 15 he was playing for the team from the village of Santos. He soon received broader exposure when he was loaned to the Vasco da Gama team in Rio di Janeiro.
In 1958 he went to Stockholm, Sweden to compete in the World Cup championship. His play there helped his country win its first title. He returned to Santos, and his team went on to win six Brazilian titles. In 1962 he again played on the World Cup team, but an injury forced him to sit out the contest.
Soccer is a low scoring game, but on November 19, 1969, before a crowd of 100, 000 in Rio di Janeiro, Pele scored his 1, 000th goal. He was not only a high scorer, but a master of ball handling as well. It seemed that the ball was somehow attached to his feet as he moved down the field.
In 1970 Pele again played for Brazil's World Cup team, and in Mexico City they beat Italy for the championship. It was Pele's play, both in scoring and in setting up other goals, that won them the title. When he announced that he would retire from international competition after a game to be played July 18, 1971, plans were made to televise the event throughout the world. He had scored a total of 1, 086 goals. After his retirement he continued to play until he was signed to play for the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League for a reported three-year, $7 million contract. A year later New York was at the top of their division, and in 1977 the Cosmos won the league championship. Pele retired for good after that victory, but continued to be active in sports circles, becoming a commentator and promoter of soccer in the United States. When the World Cup came to Detroit in 1994, Pele was there, capturing the hearts of millions of fans around the world. Later that spring, he married his second wife, Assiria Seixas Lemos. In May of 1997, he was elected Minister of Sports in his home country of Brazil.
Further Reading on Pele
Two books—Joe Marcus' The World of Pele (1976) and Pele's New World (1977) by Peter Bodo and David Hirshey—provide excellent reading, as well as illustrations. The best book on Pele is by Pele himself—My Life and the Beautiful Game (1977).