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This article is about the retired Brazilian footballer. For other uses, see Pele (disambiguation).
"O Rei" redirects here. For the Portuguese footballer of the same nickname, see Eusébio.
This name uses Portuguese naming customs. The first or maternal family name is Arantes and the second or paternal family name is Nascimento.
Pelé in 2008
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento[1]
(1940-10-23) 23 October 1940 (age 76)[1]
Três Corações, Brazil
Height 1.73 m (5 ft 8 in)
  • Rosemeri dos Reis Cholbi (m. 1966–82)
  • Assíria Lemos Seixas (m. 1994–2008)
  • Marcia Aoki (m. 2016)
Partner(s) Xuxa (1981–86)
Parent(s) Dondinho, Celeste Arantes
Association football career
Playing position
Youth career
1953–1956 Bauru
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1956–1974 Santos 638 (619)
1975–1977 New York Cosmos 56 (31)
Total 694 (650)
National team
1957–1971 Brazil[7] 91 (77)

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Brazilian Portuguese: [ˈɛtsõ (w)ɐˈɾɐ̃tʃiz du nɐsiˈmẽtu]; born 23 October 1940),[1] known as Pelé (Brazilian Portuguese: [pe̞ˈlɛ]), is a retired Brazilian professional footballer who played as a forward. He is widely regarded as the greatest player of all time. Pelé has also been known for connecting the phrase "The Beautiful Game" with football. In 1999, he was voted World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS). That year, France Football asked their former Ballon d'Or winners to choose the Football Player of the Century; they selected Pelé. In 1999, Pelé was elected Athlete of the Century by the IOC. That year, Time named him in their list of 100 most influential people of the 20th century. In 2013 he received the FIFA Ballon d'Or Prix d'Honneur in recognition of his career and achievements as a global icon of football.

According to the IFFHS, Pelé is the most successful league goal-scorer in the world, with 541 league goals. During his career, Pelé scored 1281 goals in 1363 games, which included unofficial friendlies and tour games. He was listed in the Guinness World Records for most career goals scored in football for this. During his playing days, Pelé was for a period the best-paid athlete in the world.[8] In Brazil, he is hailed as a national hero for his accomplishments in football and for his outspoken support of policies that improve the social conditions of the poor. In 1961, Brazil President Jânio Quadros had Pelé declared a national treasure. During his career, he became known as "The Black Pearl" (A Pérola Negra), "The King of Football" (O Rei do Futebol), "The King Pelé" (O Rei Pelé) or simply "The King" (O Rei).[9]

Pelé began playing for Santos at age 15 and the Brazil national football team at 16. During his international career, he won three FIFA World Cups: 1958, 1962 and 1970, being the only player ever to do so. Pelé is the all-time leading goalscorer for Brazil with 77 goals in 91 games. At club level he is also the record goalscorer for Santos, and led them to the 1962 and 1963 Copa Libertadores. Pelé's "electrifying play and penchant for spectacular goals" made him a star around the world, and his club team Santos toured internationally in order to take full advantage of his popularity.[10] Since retiring in 1977, Pelé has been a worldwide ambassador for football and has made many acting and commercial ventures. In 2010, he was named the Honorary President of the New York Cosmos.

Early years

"In my mid-teens I also played indoor football, which had just taken off in Bauru, for a team called Radium, and took part in the first futebol de salão championship to be held in Bauru. We won. Futebol de salão was a new thing and I took to it like a fish to water. It's a lot quicker than football on grass. You have to think really quickly because everyone is close to each other. Learning the game probably helped me think on my feet better. It was through futebol de salão that I first got my chance to play with adults. I was about fourteen, and I can remember that there was a tournament for which I was told I was too young to take part. In the end, I was allowed to play. I ended up top scorer, with fourteen or fifteen goals. That gave me a lot of confidence. I knew then not to be afraid of whatever might come."

— Pelé speaking on futebol de salão.[11]

Pelé was born in Três Corações, Minas Gerais, Brazil, the son of Fluminense footballer Dondinho (born João Ramos do Nascimento) and Celeste Arantes. He was the elder of two siblings.[12] He was named after the American inventor Thomas Edison.[1][13] His parents decided to remove the "i" and call him "Edson", but there was a mistake on the birth certificate, leading many documents to show his name as "Edison", not "Edson", as he is called.[1][14] He was originally nicknamed Dico by his family.[12][15] He received the nickname "Pelé" during his school days, when it is claimed he was given it because of his pronunciation of the name of his favorite player, local Vasco da Gama goalkeeper Bilé, which he misspoke but the more he complained the more it stuck. In his autobiography, Pelé stated he had no idea what the name means, nor did his old friends.[12] Apart from the assertion that the name is derived from that of Bilé, and that it is Hebrew for "miracle" (פֶּ֫לֶא), the word has no known meaning in Portuguese.[16]

Pelé grew up in poverty in Bauru in the state of São Paulo. He earned extra money by working in tea shops as a servant. Taught to play by his father, he could not afford a proper football and usually played with either a sock stuffed with newspaper and tied with a string or a grapefruit.[9][12] He played for several amateur teams in his youth, including Sete de Setembro, Canto do Rio, São Paulinho, and Amériquinha.[17][18] Pelé led Bauru Athletic Club juniors (coached by Waldemar de Brito) to three consecutive São Paulo state youth championships between 1954 and 1956.[19] He also dominated Futebol de Salão (indoor football) competitions in the region and won several championships with local team Radium.[19]

Club career


In 1956, de Brito took Pelé to Santos, an industrial and port city located near São Paulo, to try out for professional club Santos FC, telling the directors at Santos that the 15-year-old would be "the greatest football player in the world."[17][19] Pelé impressed Santos coach Lula during his trial at the Estádio Vila Belmiro, and he signed a professional contract with the club in June 1956.[17][19] Pelé was highly promoted in the local media as a future superstar. He made his senior team debut on 7 September 1956 at the age of 15 against Corinthians Santo Andre and had an impressive performance in a 7–1 victory, scoring the first of his record 1281 goals in football during the match.[20][21]

When the 1957 season started, Pelé was given a starting place in the first team and, at the age of 16, became the top scorer in the league. Ten months after signing professionally, the teenager was called up to the Brazil national team. After the 1962 World Cup, wealthy European clubs such as Real Madrid, Juventus and Manchester United tried to sign him, but the government of Brazil declared Pelé an "official national treasure" to prevent him from being transferred out of the country.[9]

Pelé with Santos in the Netherlands, October 1962

Pelé won his first major title with Santos in 1958 as the team won the Campeonato Paulista; Pelé would finish the tournament as top scorer with 58 goals,[22] a record that stands today. A year later, he would help the team earn their first victory in the Torneio Rio-São Paulo with a 3–0 over Vasco da Gama.[23] However, Santos was unable to retain the Paulista title. In 1960, Pelé scored 33 goals to help his team regain the Campeonato Paulista trophy but lost out on the Rio-São Paulo tournament after finishing in 8th place.[24] Another 47 goals from Pelé saw Santos retain the Campeonato Paulista. The club went on to win the Taça Brasil that same year, beating Bahia in the finals; Pelé finished as top scorer of the tournament with nine goals. The victory allowed Santos to participate in the Copa Libertadores, the most prestigious club tournament in the Western hemisphere.[25]

"I arrived hoping to stop a great man, but I went away convinced I had been undone by someone who was not born on the same planet as the rest of us."

—Benfica goalkeeper Costa Pereira following the loss to Santos in 1962.[26]

Santos's most successful club season started in 1962;[13] the team was seeded in Group One alongside Cerro Porteño and Deportivo Municipal Bolivia, winning every match of their group but one (a 1–1 away tie vs Cerro), with Pelé scoring his first goal against Cerro. Santos defeated Universidad Católica in the semifinals and met defending champions Peñarol in the finals in which Pelé scored twice in the playoff match to secure the first title for a Brazilian club.[27] Pelé finished as the second top scorer of the competition with four goals. That same year, Santos would successfully defend the Campeonato Brasileiro (with 37 goals from Pelé) and the Taça Brasil (Pelé scoring four goals in the final series against Botafogo). Santos would also win the 1962 Intercontinental Cup against Benfica.[28] Wearing his number 10 shirt, Pelé produced one of the best performances of his career, scoring a hat-trick in Lisbon as Santos won 5–2.[29][30]

As the defending champions, Santos qualified automatically to the semi-final stage of the 1963 Copa Libertadores. The ballet blanco managed to retain the title after victories over Botafogo and Boca Juniors. Pelé helped Santos overcome a Botafogo team that contained Brazilian legends such as Garrincha and Jairzinho with a last-minute goal in the first leg of the semi-finals which made it 1–1. In the second leg, Pelé scored a hat-trick in the Estádio do Maracanã as Santos won, 0–4, in the second leg. Santos started the final series by winning, 3–2, in the first leg and defeating Boca Juniors 1–2, in La Bombonera, with another goal from Pelé.[31] Santos became the first (and to date the only) Brazilian team to lift the Copa Libertadores in Argentine soil. Pelé finished the tournament with 5 goals. Santos lost the Campeonato Paulista after finishing in third place but went on to win the Rio-São Paulo tournament after a 0–3 win over Flamengo in the final, with Pelé scoring one. Pelé would also help Santos retain the Intercontinental Cup and the Taça Brasil.[28]

Pelé is the all-time leading scorer with Santos.

In the 1964 Copa Libertadores, Santos were beaten in both legs of the semi-finals by Independiente. The club won the Campeonato Paulista, with Pelé netting 34 goals. Santos also shared the Rio-São Paulo title with Botafogo and won the Taça Brasil for the fourth consecutive year. In the 1965 Copa Libertadores, Santos reached the semi-finals and met Peñarol in a rematch of the 1962 final. After two matches, a playoff was needed to break the tie.[13] Unlike 1962, Peñarol came out on top and eliminated Santos 2–1.[13] Pelé would, however, finish as the topscorer of the tournament with eight goals.[32] This proved to be the start of a decline as Santos failed to retain the Torneio Rio-São Paulo. In 1966, Pelé and Santos also failed to retain the Taça Brasil as O Rei's goals weren't enough to prevent a 9–4 defeat by Cruzeiro (led by Tostão) in the final series. The club did however win the Campeonato Paulista in 1967, 1968 and 1969. On 19 November 1969, Pelé scored his 1000th goal in all competitions, in what was a highly anticipated moment in Brazil.[13] The goal, popularly dubbed O Milésimo (The Thousandth), occurred in a match against Vasco da Gama, when Pelé scored from a penalty kick, at the Maracanã Stadium.[13]

Pelé states that his most memorable goal was scored at Rua Javari stadium on a Campeonato Paulista match against São Paulo rival Juventus on 2 August 1959. As there is no video footage of this match, Pelé asked that a computer animation be made of this specific goal.[13] In March 1961, Pelé scored the gol de placa (goal worthy of a plaque), against Fluminense at the Maracanã.[33] Pelé received the ball on the edge of his own penalty area, and ran the length of the field, eluding opposition players with feints, before striking the ball beyond the goalkeeper.[33] A plaque was commissioned with a dedication to "the most beautiful goal in the history of the Maracanã".[34]

Pelé's "electrifying play and penchant for spectacular goals" made him a star around the world.[35] His team Santos toured internationally in order to take full advantage of his popularity. In 1967, the two factions involved in the Nigerian Civil War agreed to a 48-hour ceasefire so they could watch Pelé play an exhibition game in Lagos.[35] During his time at Santos, Pelé played alongside many gifted players, including Zito, Pepe, and Coutinho; the latter partnered him in numerous one-two plays, attacks, and goals.[36]

New York Cosmos

Pelé (left) with Eusébio (far right) before a game in the NASL in April 1977

After the 1974 season (his 19th with Santos), Pelé retired from Brazilian club football although he continued to occasionally play for Santos in official competitive matches. Two years later, he came out of semi-retirement to sign with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League (NASL) for the 1975 season. Though well past his prime at this point, Pelé is credited with significantly increasing public awareness and interest of the sport in the United States. Hoping to fuel the same kind of awareness in the Dominican Republic, he and the Cosmos team played in an exhibition match against Haitian team, Violette AC, in the Santo Domingo Olympic Stadium on 3 June 1976, where over 25,000 fans watched him score a winning goal in the last seconds of the match, leading the Cosmos to a 2–1 victory.[37] He led the Cosmos to the 1977 NASL championship, in his third and final season with the club.[38]

On 1 October 1977, Pelé closed out his career in an exhibition match between the Cosmos and Santos. Santos arrived in New York and New Jersey after previously defeating the Seattle Sounders, 2–0. The match was played in front of a sold out crowd at Giants Stadium and was televised in the United States on ABC's Wide World of Sports as well as throughout the world.[39] Pelé's father and wife both attended the match, as well as Muhammad Ali and Bobby Moore.[39] Pelé played the first half for the Cosmos and the second half for Santos. Pelé scored his final goal from a direct free kick, and Cosmos won 2–1.[39]

International career

Pelé (crouched, second from right to left) and the Brazil national team at 1959 Copa America

Pelé's first international match was a 2–1 defeat against Argentina on 7 July 1957 at the Maracanã.[40][41] In that match, he scored his first goal for Brazil aged 16 years and nine months to become the youngest player to score in international football.[42]

1958 World Cup

Pelé cries on the shoulder of Gilmar dos Santos Neves, after Brazil won the 1958 World Cup.

Pelé arrived in Sweden sidelined by a knee injury but on his return from the treatment room, his colleagues closed ranks and insisted upon his selection.[43][44] His first match was against the USSR in the third match of the first round of the 1958 FIFA World Cup, where he gave the assist to Vavá's second goal.[45] He was the youngest player of that tournament, and at the time the youngest ever to play in the World Cup.[46] He scored his first World Cup goal against Wales in quarter-finals, the only goal of the match, to help Brazil advance to semifinals, while becoming the youngest ever World Cup goalscorer at 17 years and 239 days.[41] Against France in the semifinal, Brazil were leading 2–1 at halftime, and then Pelé scored a hat-trick, becoming the youngest in World Cup history to do so.[47]

On 29 June 1958 Pelé became the youngest player to play in a World Cup final match at 17 years and 249 days. He scored two goals in that final as Brazil beat Sweden 5–2 in the capital of Stockholm. His first goal where he flicked the ball over a defender before volleying into the corner of the net, was selected as one of the best goals in the history of the World Cup.[48] Following Pelé's second goal, Swedish player Sigvard Parling would later comment; "When Pelé scored the fifth goal in that Final, I have to be honest and say I felt like applauding".[49] When the match ended, Pelé passed out on the field, and had to be attended by the medical staff.[13] He then recovered, and was compelled by the victory to weep as he was being congratulated by his teammates. He finished the tournament with six goals in four matches played, tied for second place, behind record-breaker Just Fontaine, and was named best young player of the tournament.[50]

It was in the 1958 World Cup that Pelé began wearing a jersey with number 10. Recently it has become known that the event was the result of disorganization: the leaders did not send the shirt numbers of players and it was up to FIFA to choose the number 10 shirt to Pele who was a substitute on the occasion.[51] The press proclaimed Pelé the greatest revelation of the 1958 World Cup, and he was also retroactively given the Silver Ball as the second best player of the tournament, behind Didi.[52][53]

South American Championship

Pelé also played in the South American Championship. In the 1959 competition he was named best player of the tournament and was top scorer with 8 goals, as Brazil came second despite being unbeaten in the tournament.[49][54][55]

1962 World Cup

Pelé fighting for a ball against the Swedish goalkeeper Kalle Svensson during the 1958 World Cup final

This was expected to be Pelé's World Cup, as he was rated as the best player in the world at the time.[56] In the first match of the 1962 World Cup in Chile, against Mexico, Pelé assisted the first goal and then scored the second one, after a run past four defenders, to go up 2–0.[57] He injured himself while attempting a long-range shot against Czechoslovakia.[13] This would keep him out of the rest of the tournament, and forced coach Aymoré Moreira to make his only lineup change of the tournament. The substitute was Amarildo, who performed well for the rest of the tournament. However, it was Garrincha who would take the leading role and carry Brazil to their second World Cup title, after beating Czechoslovakia at the final in the capital of Santiago.[58]

1966 World Cup

The 1966 World Cup in England was marked, among other things, for the brutal fouling on Pelé, by the Bulgarian and Portuguese defenders.[59] Pelé was the most famous footballer in the world, and Brazil fielded some world champions like Garrincha, Gilmar and Djalma Santos with the addition of other stars like Jairzinho, Tostão and Gérson, leading to high expectations for them.[60] Brazil was eliminated in the first round, playing only three matches.[60]

Pelé scored the first goal from a free kick against Bulgaria, becoming the first player to score in three successive FIFA World Cups, but due to his injury, a result of persistent fouling by the Bulgarians, he missed the second game against Hungary.[60] Brazil lost that game and Pelé, although still recovering, was brought back for the last crucial match against Portugal at Goodison Park in Liverpool by the Brazilian coach Vicente Feola. Feola changed the entire defense, including the goalkeeper, while in midfield he returned to the formation of the first match. In attack he maintained Jairzinho and substituted the other two players, despite knowing that Pelé was still recovering from his serious injuries.[61] During the game, Portugal defender João Morais brutally fouled Pelé, but was not sent off by referee George McCabe, of whom it is acknowledged let "the Portuguese get away with murder".[62] Pelé had to stay on the field limping for the rest of the game, since substitutes were not allowed at that time.[62] After this game he vowed he would never again play in the World Cup, a decision he would later change.[56]

1970 World Cup

"The most wondrous player of all [Pelé] consecrated Brazil as the cathedral of The Beautiful Game. Brazil '70 were a team of superstars dedicated not just to a cause but an ideal, a dream of what football should be."

—Sports writer Jeff Powell.[63]

Pelé was called to the national team in early 1969, he refused at first, but then accepted and played in six World Cup qualifying matches, scoring six goals.[64] The 1970 World Cup in Mexico was to be Pelé's last. Brazil's squad for the tournament featured major changes in relation to the 1966 squad. Players like Garrincha, Nilton Santos, Valdir Pereira, Djalma Santos and Gilmar had already retired, but the team, with Pelé, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Gérson, Carlos Alberto Torres, Tostão and Clodoaldo, is often considered to be the greatest football team in history.[65][66][67]

Pelé, front row second from right, before the match against Peru in the 1970 World Cup

The front five of Jairzinho, Pelé, Gerson, Tostão and Rivelino together created an attacking momentum, with Pelé having a central role in Brazil's way to the final.[68] All of Brazil's matches in the tournament (except the final) were played in Guadalajara, and in the first match against Czechoslovakia, Pelé gave Brazil a 2–1 lead, by controlling Gerson's long pass with his chest and then scoring. In this match Pelé attempted to lob goalkeeper Ivo Viktor from the half-way line, only narrowly missing the Czechoslovak goal.[69] Brazil went on to win the match, 4–1. In the first half of the match against England, Pelé nearly scored with a header that was saved by the England goalkeeper Gordon Banks.[70][71] In the second half, he controlled a cross from Tostão before flicking the ball to Jairzinho who scored the only goal.[72]

Against Romania in Guadalajara, Pelé scored the first goal with a bending free kick hit with the outside of his right foot.[72] Later in the match he scored again to make it 3–1.[72] Brazil won by a final score of 3–2. In the quarterfinals against Peru, Brazil won 4–2, with Pelé assisting Tostão for Brazil's third goal. In their semi-final match, Brazil faced Uruguay for the first time since the 1950 World Cup final round match. Jairzinho put Brazil ahead 2–1, and Pelé assisted Rivelino for the 3–1. During that match, Pelé made one of his most famous plays.[69] Tostão passed the ball for Pelé to collect which Uruguay's goalkeeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz took notice of and ran off his line to get the ball before Pelé. However, Pelé got there first and fooled Mazurkiewicz with a feint by not touching the ball, causing it to roll to the goalkeepers left, while Pelé went to the goalkeepers right. Pelé ran around the goalkeeper to retrieve the ball and took a shot while turning towards the goal, but he turned in excess as he shot, and the ball drifted just wide of the far post.[73]

Brazil played Italy in the final at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.[74] Pelé scored the opening goal with a header over Italian defender Tarcisio Burgnich. He then made assists on Brazil's third goal, scored by Jairzinho, and the fourth finished by Carlos Alberto which is often considered the greatest team goal of all time, involving all but two of the team's outfield players, and ended with Pelé making a blind pass which went into the path of Carlos Alberto, who came running from behind, and struck the ball to score.[75][76] Brazil won the match 4–1, keeping the Jules Rimet Trophy indefinitely, and Pelé received the Golden Ball as player of the tournament.[49][77] Burgnich, who marked Pelé during the final, was quoted saying "I told myself before the game, he's made of skin and bones just like everyone else — but I was wrong".[78]

Pelé's last international match was on 18 July 1971 against Yugoslavia in Rio de Janeiro. With Pelé on the field, the Brazilian team's record was 67 wins, 14 draws and 11 losses.[64][79] Brazil never lost a match while fielding both Pelé and Garrincha.[80]

Reception and legacy

"Pelé is the greatest player of all time. He reigned supreme for 20 years. All the others – Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini – rank beneath him. There's no one to compare with Pelé."

—West Germany's 1974 World Cup-winning captain Franz Beckenbauer.[49]

"Pelé was one of the few who contradicted my theory: instead of 15 minutes of fame, he will have 15 centuries."

Andy Warhol[26]

"My name is Ronald Reagan, I'm the President of the United States of America. But you don't need to introduce yourself, because everyone knows who Pelé is."

—US President Ronald Reagan, greeting Pelé at the White House[26]

Pelé is one of the most lauded players in history and is frequently ranked the best player ever.[81][82][83] Among his contemporaries, Dutch star Johan Cruyff stated; "Pelé was the only footballer who surpassed the boundaries of logic."[26] Brazil's 1970 FIFA World Cup-winning captain Carlos Alberto Torres opined; "His great secret was improvisation. Those things he did were in one moment. He had an extraordinary perception of the game."[26] Tostão, his strike partner at the 1970 World Cup; "Pelé was the greatest – he was simply flawless. And off the pitch he is always smiling and upbeat. You never see him bad-tempered. He loves being Pelé."[26] His Brazilian teammate Clodoaldo commented on the adulation he witnessed; "In some countries they wanted to touch him, in some they wanted to kiss him. In others they even kissed the ground he walked on. I thought it was beautiful, just beautiful."[26] Former Real Madrid and Hungary star Ferenc Puskás stated; "The greatest player in history was Di Stefano. I refuse to classify Pelé as a player. He was above that."[26]

Just Fontaine, French striker and leading scorer at the 1958 World Cup; "When I saw Pelé play, it made me feel I should hang up my boots."[26] England's 1966 FIFA World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore commented: "Pelé was the most complete player I've ever seen, he had everything. Two good feet. Magic in the air. Quick. Powerful. Could beat people with skill. Could outrun people. Only five feet and eight inches tall, yet he seemed a giant of an athlete on the pitch. Perfect balance and impossible vision. He was the greatest because he could do anything and everything on a football pitch. I remember Saldhana the coach being asked by a Brazilian journalist who was the best goalkeeper in his squad. He said Pelé. The man could play in any position".[84] Former Manchester United striker and member of England's 1966 FIFA World Cup-winning team Sir Bobby Charlton stated; "I sometimes feel as though football was invented for this magical player."[26] During the 1970 World Cup, a British television commentator asked; "How do you spell Pelé?", with the response; "Easy: G-O-D."[26]

1969 Brazil stamp commemorating Pelé's landmark 1,000th goal

Since retiring, Pelé has continued to be lauded by players, coaches, journalists and others. Brazilian attacking midfielder Zico, who represented Brazil at the 1978, 1982 and 1986 FIFA World Cup, stated; "This debate about the player of the century is absurd. There's only one possible answer: Pelé. He's the greatest player of all time, and by some distance I might add".[85] French three time Balon D'or winner Michel Platini said; "There's Pelé the man, and then Pelé the player. And to play like Pelé is to play like God." Joint FIFA Player of the Century, Argentina's 1986 FIFA World Cup-winning captain Diego Maradona stated; "It's too bad we never got along, but he was an awesome player".[85] Prolific Brazilian striker Romário, winner of the 1994 FIFA World Cup and player of the tournament; "It's only inevitable I look up to Pelé. He's like a God to us".[85] Two-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo said: "Pelé is the greatest player in football history, and there will only be one Pelé", while José Mourinho, two-time UEFA Champions League winning manager, commented; "I think he is football. You have the real special one – Mr Pelé."[86] Real Madrid honorary president and former player, Alfredo Di Stéfano, opined; "The best player ever? Pelé. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are both great players with specific qualities, but Pelé was better".[87]

Presenting Pelé a lifetime achievement award, former South African president Nelson Mandela said; "To watch him play was to watch the delight of a child combined with the extraordinary grace of a man in full."[88] US statesman and political scientist Henry Kissinger stated, "Performance at a high level in any sport is to exceed the ordinary human scale. But Pelé's performance transcended that of the ordinary star by as much as the star exceeds ordinary performance."[89] Former Brazilian ambassador to the United Nations, J.B. Pinheiro, commented; "Pelé played football for 22 years, and in that time he did more to promote world friendship and fraternity than any other ambassador anywhere."[26] One of the world's most famous people since the mid 20th century, a reporter asked if his fame compared to that of Jesus, Pelé in response quipped, "There are parts of the world where Jesus Christ is not so well known."[90]

Personal life

A practicing Catholic, Pelé donated a signed jersey to Pope Francis, which is located in one of the Vatican Museums.

On 21 February 1966, Pelé married Rosemeri dos Reis Cholbi;[91] they have two daughters, Kelly Cristina (born 13 January 1967), who married Dr. Arthur DeLuca, and Jennifer (b. 1978), as well as a son, Edson ("Edinho", b. 27 August 1970). The couple divorced in 1982.[92] In 1977, Brazilian media reported that Pelé had his right kidney removed.[93] From 1981 to 1986, Pelé was romantically linked with the model Xuxa, and was seen as influential in launching her career; she was 17 when they started to date.[94] In April 1994 Pelé married psychologist and gospel singer Assíria Lemos Seixas, who gave birth on 28 September 1996 to twins Joshua and Celeste through fertility treatments. The couple divorced in 2008. Pelé had at least two more children from former affairs. Sandra Machado, his daughter with a housemaid Anizia Machado in 1964, for years fought to be acknowledged by Pelé, who refused to submit to DNA tests.[95][96][97] Although she was recognized by courts as his daughter based on DNA evidence in 1993, Pelé never acknowledged his eldest daughter even after her death in 2006, nor her two children, Octavio and Gabriel.[96][97] Pelé had had another daughter, Flávia Kurtz, in an extramarital affair in 1968 with journalist Lenita Kurtz. Flávia was recognized by him as his daughter.[95]

At the age of 73, Pelé announced his intention to marry 41-year-old Marcia Aoki, a Japanese-Brazilian importer of medical equipment from Penápolis, São Paulo, whom he has been dating since 2010. They first met in the mid-1980s in New York, before meeting again in 2008.[98][99] Pelé is now married to Marcia Aoki who stood by him during his illness in 2014.[100]

In 1970, Pelé was investigated by the Brazilian military dictatorship for suspected leftist sympathies. Declassified documents show Pelé was investigated after being handed a manifesto calling for the release of political prisoners. Pelé himself did not get further involved within political struggles in the country.[101] He has been criticized in the public opinion for his conservative views.[102] In June 2013, during the Brazilian protests, he asked for people to "forget the demonstrations" and support the Brazil national team.[103][104][105][106] In November 2012, Pelé underwent a successful hip operation.[107] In May 2014, his son Edinho was jailed for 33 years for laundering money from drug trafficking.[108] Pelé has stated that he is a Catholic.[109]

After football

Pelé at the White House on 10 September 1986, with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Brazil President José Sarney

In 1995, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso appointed Pelé to the position of Extraordinary Minister for Sport, and he was also appointed a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.[110] During this time he proposed legislation to reduce corruption in Brazilian football, which became known as the "Pelé law." Pelé left his position in 2001 after he was accused of involvement in a corruption scandal, although nothing was proven, and it was denied by UNICEF.[111][112] In 1997, he received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace.[113] Pelé also helped inaugurate the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals, alongside supermodel Claudia Schiffer.[67]

Pelé, Brazil's Extraordinary Minister for Sport, with US President Bill Clinton in Rio de Janeiro, 15 October 1997

Pelé publicly accused the Brazilian football administrator Ricardo Teixeira of corruption after Pelé's television company was rejected in a contest for the Brazilian domestic rights to the 1994 World Cup.[114] Pelé accusations led to an eight-year feud between the pair.[115] As a consequence of the affair, the President of FIFA, João Havelange banned Pelé from the draw for the 1994 FIFA World Cup in Las Vegas. Criticisms over the ban were perceived to have negatively affected Havelange's chances of re-election as FIFA's president in 1994.[114]

Pelé has published several autobiographies, starred in documentary films, and composed musical pieces, including the soundtrack for the film Pelé in 1977.[116] He appeared, alongside other footballers of the 1960s and 1970s, with Michael Caine, and Sylvester Stallone, in the 1981 film Escape to Victory, about a World War II-era football match between Allied prisoners of war and a German team.[117] in 1969, Pelé starred in a telenovela called Os Estranhos, about first contact with aliens. It was created to drum up interest in the Apollo missions.[118] In 2001, had a cameo role in the satire film, Mike Bassett: England Manager.[119] In 2009, he cooperated with Ubisoft on arcade football game Academy of Champions: Soccer for the Wii and appeared in the game as a coach to its players.[120] On FIFA 14, Pelé plays for the Ultimate team known as Legends for the Xbox One, where game-players can acquire classic players from different eras.[121]

Brazil President Lula and Pelé in commemoration of 50 years since the first World Cup title won by Brazil in 1958, at the Palácio do Planalto, 2008

In November 2007, Pelé was in Sheffield, England to mark the 150th anniversary of the world's oldest football club, Sheffield F.C..[122] Pelé was the guest of honour at Sheffield's anniversary match against Inter Milan, which Inter won 5–2 at Bramall Lane.[122] As part of his visit, Pelé opened an exhibition which included the first public showing in 40 years of the original hand-written rules of football.[122] Pelé scouted for Premier League club Fulham in 2002.[123] He made the draw for the qualification groups for the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals.[124] On 1 August 2010, Pelé was introduced as the Honorary President of a revived New York Cosmos, aiming to field a team in Major League Soccer[125] On 3 August 2011, it was reported that Santos were considering bringing him out of retirement for a cameo role in the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup, although this later turned out to be false.[126]

The most notable area of Pelé's life since football is his ambassadorial work. In 1992, he was appointed a UN ambassador for ecology and the environment.[110][127] He was also awarded Brazil's Gold Medal for outstanding services to the sport in 1995. In 2012, Pelé was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh for "significant contribution to humanitarian and environmental causes, as well as his sporting achievements".[128]

On 12 August 2012, Pelé was an attendee at the 2012 Olympic hunger summit hosted by UK Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street, London, part of a series of international efforts which have sought to respond to the return of hunger as a high-profile global issue.[129][130] Later on the same day, Pelé appeared at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, following the handover section to the next host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro.[131]

In March 2016 Pelé filed a lawsuit against Samsung Electronics in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois seeking $30 million in damages claiming violations under the Lanham Act for false endorsement and a state law claim for violation of his right of publicity.[132] The suit alleges, that at one point Samsung and Pelé came close to entering into a licensing agreement for Pelé to appear in a Samsung advertising campaign. Samsung abruptly pulled out of the negotiations. The October 2015 Samsung ad in question, includes a partial face shot of a man who allegedly "very closely resembles" Pelé and also a superimposed high-definition television screen next to the image of the man featuring a "modified bicycle or scissors-kick", perfected and famously used by Pelé.[133]






New York Cosmos


In December 2000, Pelé and Maradona shared the prize of FIFA Player of the Century by FIFA.[162] The award was originally intended to be based upon votes in a web poll, but after it became apparent that it favoured Diego Maradona, many observers complained that the Internet nature of the poll would have meant a skewed demographic of younger fans who would have seen Maradona play, but not Pelé. FIFA then appointed a "Family of Football" committee of FIFA members to decide the winner of the award together with the votes of the readers of the FIFA Magazine. The committee chose Pelé. Since Maradona was winning the Internet poll, however, it was decided he and Pelé should share the award.[163]


Personal records

Career statistics


Pelé dribbling past a defender during Malmö FFBrazil 1–7 in May 1960. Pelé scored two goals.

Pelé's goalscoring record is often reported by FIFA among others as being 1281 goals in 1363 games.[172] Some sources, however, claim that Pelé scored 1282 goals in 1366 games.[173] This figure includes goals scored by Pelé in friendly club matches, for example, international tours Pelé completed with Santos and the New York Cosmos, and a few games Pelé played in for armed forces teams during his national service in Brazil.[173]

The tables below record every goal Pelé scored in major club competitions for Santos and the New York Cosmos. During much of Pelé's playing career in Brazil there was no national league championship. From 1960 onwards the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) were required to provide meritocratic entrants for the then-new Copa Libertadores, a South American international club competition broadly equivalent to the European Cup. To enable them to do this, the CBF organised two national competitions: the Taça de Prata and Taça Brasil. A national league championship, the Campeonato Brasileiro, was first played in 1971, alongside traditional state and interstate competitions such as the Campeonato Paulista and the Torneio Rio-São Paulo.

The number of league goals scored by Pelé for Santos and New York Cosmos is listed as 656 in 702 games, which is a world record for League competitions. This number is the sum of the goals scored by Pelé in domestic league-based competitions: the Campeonato Paulista (SPS), Torneio Rio-São Paulo (RSPS), Taça de Prata and Campeonato Brasileiro. The Taça Brasil was a national competition organised on a knockout basis.

Club Season Domestic competitions Domestic competitions
International club
Total inc.
SPS[177] RSPS[178] TRGP[174] Série A[178] TB[174][179] CP[174]
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Santos 1956 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2
1957[174] 29 36 9 5 38 41 38 41 67 58
1958 38 58 8 8 46 66 46 66 60 80
1959[182] 32 45 7 6 4 2 43 53 43 53 82 100
1960[183] 30 33 3 0 0 0 33 33 0 0 0 0 33 33 66 59
1961 26 47 7 8 5 7 38 62 0 0 0 0 38 62 74 110
1962 26 37 0 0 5 2 31 39 4 4 2 5 37 48 50 63
1963[184] 19 22 8 14 4 8 31 44 4 5 1 2 36 51 52 67
1964 21 34 4 3 6 7 31 44 0 0 0 0 31 44 47 58
1965 30 49 7 5 4 2 41 56 7 8 0 0 48 64 66 97
1966 14 13 0 0 5 2 19 15 [185] - 0 0 19 15 38 30
1967 18 16 14 9 0 0 32 25 -[186] - 0 0 32 25 65 56
1968 21 17 18 12 0 0 39 29 0 0 0 0 2 1 41 30 73 55
1969 25 26 12 12 37 38 -[187] - 0 0 6 2 43 40 61 58
1970 15 7 13 4 28 11 0 0 0 0 28 11 54 47
1971 19 8 21 1 40 9 0 0 0 0 40 9 72 29
1972 20 9 16 5 36 14 0 0 0 0 36 14 74 51
1973 19 11 30 19 49 30 0 0 0 0 49 30 66 50
1974 10 1 17 9 27 10 0 0 0 0 27 10 45 19
Total 412 469 53 49 57 37 84 34 33 30 639 619 15 17 3 7 8 3 665 646 1114 1089
Club Season League Post season Other Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
NY Cosmos 1975 9 5 14 10 23 15
1976 22 13 2 2 18 11 42 26
1977 25 13 6 4 11 6 42 23
Total 56 31 8 6 43 27 107 64

National team

Pelé is the top scorer of the Brazil national football team with 77 goals in 91 official appearances.[7][188] In addition, he has scored 18 times in 22 unofficial games. This makes an unofficial total of 113 games and 95 goals. He has also scored 12 goals and is credited with 10 assists in 14 World Cup appearances, including 4 goals and 7 assists in 1970.[189] Pelé shares with Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose the achievement of being the only three footballers to have scored in four separate World Cup tournaments.[190]


Pelé numbers differ between sources mostly due to friendly games. The RSSSF states that Pelé scored 767 goals in 831 official games, 1281 goals in 1365 overall while he was active, 1284 in 1375 taking into account benefit games after retirement.[192] The following table is a compendium of sources that include Santos and FIFA among others.[43][193]

Matches Goals Ratio
Domestic Tournaments 702 656 0.94
International Cups 18 24 1.33
Brazil 92 77 0.84
Official 812 757 0.93
Friendly matches and other defunct Tournaments 554 526 0.95
Total 1366 1283 0.94
Matches Goals Ratio
International matches 503 479 0.95
National matches 863 804 0.93
Total 1366 1283 0.94
Matches Goals Ratio
Santos FC[194] 1116 1091 0.98
New York Cosmos[194] 111 65 0.59
Brazil 114 95 0.83
Other 25 32 1.28
Total 1366 1283 0.94

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Official forename and birth date, as written on his birth certificate, are "Edison" and "21 October 1940":


    CERTIFICO que sob o n° 7.095 às fls. 123 do livro n° 21-A de Registro de Nascimento consta o assento de Edison Arantes do Nascimento nascido aos vinte e um (21) outubro de mil novecentos e quarenta (1940) às 03 horas e --- minutos em esta Cidade de Três Corações sexo masculino filho de João Ramos do Nascimento e de Celeste Arantes

    However, Pelé has always maintained that those are mistakes, that he was actually named Edson and that he was born on 23 October 1940.

    Pelé; Duarte, Orlando; Bellos, Alex (2006). Pelé: The Autobiography. London: Simon & Schuster UK. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-7432-7582-8. Shortly before I came along, there was another arrival in Três Corações: electricity. In order to celebrate this great improvement to our daily lives, Dondinho named me Edson, a tribute to Thomas Edison, the inventor of the lightbulb. In fact, on my birth certificate I am actually called Edison with an 'i', a mistake that persists to this day. I'm Edson with no 'i', but to my eternal annoyance quite often the 'i' appears on official or personal documents and time after time I have to explain why. As if that wasn't confusing enough, they got the date wrong on my birth certificate as well – it says 21 October. I'm not sure how this came about; probably because in Brazil we're not so fussy about accuracy. This is another mistake that carries on to this day. When I took out my first passport, the date was put in as 21 October and each time I have renewed it the date has stayed the same. 

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  174. ^ a b c d e f g This number was inferred from a Santos fixture list from and this list of games Pelé played.
  175. ^ As friendly matches are not counted in official statistics, this is what Pelé's goal total should be after friendly matches are disregarded.
  176. ^ Pelé's first two matches for Santos are assumed here to be friendlies. No record of them exists in any of the tournaments listed at
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  190. ^ Jan Alsos (5 November 1936). "Legends - Uwe Seeler". Planet World Cup. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  191. ^ "Edson Arantes do Nascimento "Pelé" - Goals in International Matches. NB. In January 2001, FIFA decided not to recognise this match (1968-11-06) as a full international. The CBD kept it in the national records". Retrieved 20 October 2015
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  193. ^ Jogos e goals de Pelé pelo Santos
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External links