30Pelé famously described football as ‘o jogo bonito’ – the beautiful game – and probably no individual has done more to make it so.
The great Brazilian was always willing to go for overtime and in doing so he redefined what was possible on the pitch.
Three moments away from the 1970 World Cup final in Mexico – widely regarded as Pele’s pinnacle – ended in his defeat.
There was the incredible save by England’s Gordon Banks who saved his header, the daring but failed attempt to beat the Czechoslovakia goalkeeper from the halfway line in Brazil’s opening match and the outrageous dummy who deceived the Uruguay goalkeeper in the semi-final but ultimately failed to result in a goal as Pelé shot the resulting shot wide.
But they only enhanced Pelé’s overall impression as one of football’s pioneers, a man who ended his playing days with three World Cup titles to his name and over a thousand career goals, including 77 in 92 appearances with his country.
He died on Thursday, aged 82.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, to give him his full name, came from the state of Minas Gerais, named after the American inventor Thomas Edison.
He felt that his footballing talent was a gift from God and also claimed that he was under special protection when it appeared that he would drown while swimming in a river after leaving school as a child, just to survive.
He fought for survival then, and even battled the name that would later ring across the world, which is said to have evolved from his love for his goalkeeper hero Bile.
“I had a fight in college with guys because I said, ‘No, my name is Edson,’ but they called me Pele,” she said in 2009.
“I was suspended for two days because everyone at school called me Pele.
“I hated it at the time. Today I love it because God gave it to me – a short, easy-to-pronounce name. In any language you can say Pele.
When he arrived in Vila Belmiro to try out for Santos in June 1956, it was his father Dondinho who brought the star reputation.
A tall forward famed for scoring five goals in a game, he had retired early with knee ligament injury, but not before teaching young Edson how to play, initially with a ball made from socks.
Countless goals in this street football environment inspired Santos to set his sights on the leggy 15-year-old.
After scoring on his first-team debut, he never looked back, scoring goals aplenty in São Paulo’s state league and flying straight into Brazil’s squad for the 1958 World Cup after winning his first cap the year before.
The boy who had recently left his humble village was flying to Sweden, where he initially had to wait for the right time to recover from a knee injury.
Brazil unleashed the 17-year-old against Wales and France in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, scoring the winning goal against Wales and a hat-trick against the French. This set up a final meeting with the hosts, where he scored twice more in a 5-2 win as Brazil won the World Cup for the first time.
A star was born, a star who, uncomfortably, still had to complete a year of military service. Combining club and barracks duties, Pelé sometimes played three games in 48 hours, but nothing stopped the flow of goals.
At the time of the 1962 World Cup final in Chile, he was no longer the unknown he was four years earlier, but the most sought-after talent in the world.
Santos has shown off his stellar squad with extensive continental tours, and when asked why he never accepted an offer to play in Europe for the likes of certain Inter Milan suitors, Pelé cited the amount of travel involved. He preferred to win, at least at club level, in South America.
Faith once again led him to the next chapter of his life.
While his teammates panicked when their plane hit a pocket of turbulence in the Andes en route to the final in Chile, Pele remained calm and recalled saying: “I believe in God. If we are to die , then so be it.
However, it was not to be smooth sailing in Chile. Brazil went on to win the tournament, but an injury sustained against Mexico meant that Garrincha was their standout performer, while Pelé brooded in the stands.
That sense of frustration was magnified when Brazil nixed their second World Cup defense in England four years later.
Pele felt the team had been ill-prepared. Too much time was spent haunting past glories while no investment was made to devise a plan that would secure trophy number three.
Two defeats and a solitary win, all at Everton’s Goodison Park, knocked Brazil out of the tournament.
A brief sabbatical from the national team – which surrounded the legendary goal number 1,000, scored against Vasco da Gama – came to an end when Pelé decided to lead a revenge mission by returning for Mexico 1970.
This time the now 29-year-old stayed fit throughout and, with a goal against Italy in the final, would cap off his best performance on the world stage as a star in what is widely recognized as the greatest formation ever assembled . .
Earlier, after a thrilling 1-0 win against England, he showed Bobby Moore the utmost form of respect by swapping shirts with the defender.
Paying tribute to Moore following the Englishman’s death in 1993, Pele said: “He was one of the best defenders in the world and a great sportsman.
“The shirt he wore against me in that 1970 game is my prized possession. The world has lost one of its great footballers and a great gentleman.”
Having paid his debt to Brazil with his 1970 triumph, Pelé sought to sort out his financial situation which had fallen into a precarious state due to a series of poor investments and his alleged trap by Santos.
In an era long before the Bosman ruling, Pelé was one of the first activists for footballers’ rights.
He blocked a multimillion-dollar bid from the New York Cosmos for several years, finally accepting the challenge in 1975 on the advice of US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a football enthusiast.
Two years and 64 goals later he had helped double the average attendance of the North American Soccer League, laying the foundation for Major League Soccer, which continues to grow in popularity today.
After football he moved into politics, campaigning against corruption, a sore subject that would later force him out of the game’s administration, although no charges have ever been proven.
In his personal life, Pelé married his first wife Rosemeri dos Reis Cholbi in 1966, with whom he had three children. He has two more children from his marriage to his second wife, Assyria Lemos Seixas, a gospel singer, who started in 1994.
He is said to have first met his current partner, Marcia Aoki, at a New York party in the 1980s, but they only started dating after meeting again by chance in a São Paulo elevator in 2010. two years after her second marriage. been dissolved.
He and Marcia got married in 2016.
Pele’s health battles began in 1977 when he reportedly had his right kidney removed.
He underwent a successful hip replacement operation in 2017 but was in a wheelchair at the 2018 World Cup draw in Moscow.
The still-loved star had kidney stones removed in 2019, before having a tumor removed from her colon in September 2021.
His thirst for approval — he’s advertised Pepsi, Hublot, Subway, and even erectile dysfunction meds — has been met with criticism at home, but his work as an ambassador with the United Nations has helped allay concerns.
History will decide whether he will be remembered as the greatest footballer of all time, but the quest for greatness exists only because Pele raised the bar.