For soccer fans around the world, the argument for the best player in the sport’s history is a hotly contested one. But for many, Brazil’s Pelé sits near or at the top of the list.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento was born this day in 1940 in Tres Coracoes. His father, known as Dondinho, was a promising soccer player but had to retire due to injury. He moved on to odd jobs while serving as a mentor and trainer to his young son. Blessed with the same athletic gifts his father had, Pelé was asked to join a professional club, Santos, as a teenager and his fortunes changed for the better.
In 1958, at just 17, Pelé exploded in a pair of crucial games en route to the World Cup. In a semi-final match, Pelé scored three goals against France and helped the team vanquish the host nation for the Cup, scoring two goals. At the time, he was the youngest player to play in the World Cup. Pelé would aid Brazil in winning the Cup twice more in 1962 and 1970.
Because of his star play, Pelé was recruited by European teams but Brazil declared him a national treasure thus he could not easily move about. He continued playing with Santos, retiring after 19 seasons in 1974. He then joined the North American Soccer League’s New York Cosmos in a limited role and well past his prime. Still, he was a big draw and raised the sport’s profile in the United States.
In October 1977, Pelé played his final game with the Cosmos in an exhibition match against his former pro club, Santos. Muhammad Ali and others were in attendance.
Pele is 78 today.
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