Pele: 1940-2022

By Sports Desk December 29, 2022

Pele remains the marker to whom modern greats such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are compared.

The Brazilian legend is one of football’s most iconic figures and his death at the age of 82 brings the curtain down on a life and career that entertained and inspired in equal measure.

The forward, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in Tres Coracoes in 1940, was just 15 years old when he made his Santos debut in 1956, winning his first Brazil cap the following year.

It was at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden that Pele first commanded international attention, though.

Brazil were yet to lift the Jules Rimet trophy when Pele first burst onto the scene, but the teenager helped kick-start a period of success for the South American nation with a series of scintillating displays.

After breaking into Vicente Feola's starting XI for the final game of the group stage against the Soviet Union, Pele thrived during the knockout matches, scoring six goals as Brazil saw off Wales, France and Sweden to clinch their maiden title.

Pele's influence began to tell domestically too, scoring 127 goals in 1959, and Santos picked up the first of five consecutive Taca Brasil crowns in 1961 – the same year he was declared a Brazilian national treasure – before a groin injury hindered his involvement in the country's successful World Cup defence in Chile in 1962.

Santos collected back-to-back Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup triumphs in 1962 and 1963 – Pele scoring in all four finals – but he was a marked man at the 1966 World Cup in England, with heavy tackles limiting his influence as Brazil crashed out at the group stage.

There would be one last World Cup flourish for Pele, though, scoring the opener and turning in a superb final display as Brazil beat Italy 4-1 to reclaim the title, earning the legendary striker a record third tournament win.

After a brief retirement, Pele eventually closed out his career playing for the New York Cosmos in the United States.

Pele's achievements have been celebrated with countless individual accolades, including being a joint winner of FIFA's Player of the Century with Diego Maradona in 2000.

"God was really generous with Pele in every way," former international team-mate Rivellino told Stats Perform. "Physically speaking he was a perfect athlete.

"He was fantastic, a good team-mate, very positive, always pushing us to win.

"He was a guy I learned a lot from, he was an example for me on the pitch.

"He wanted to get perfection. It is difficult to get there but he got very close to it.

"His headers were the best, his ball control was like no one else's, he was great with both legs. He could even play as a goalkeeper, so he was a phenomenal player and I believe in life I will not see anyone like him.

"All he won and did, for me there won't be another one. 

"Another great player may appear – an excellent player – but another king like him? No."

Pele spent his later years working as an ambassador for a variety of charitable causes and commercial partners, but it is his magic on the field that will forever set the benchmark.

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