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Legends: Pele

1,281 career goals sets the Brazilian apart


8th May 1963: Brazilian footballer Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele. Pub - Evening Standard - 08/05/1963
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Edison Arantes do Nascimento is regarded as the best soccer player ever and is the only person to have won three World Cups.

Fifa's official ambassador played most of his career in Brazil, made his debut for the national team at 16 and won his first World Cup at 17.

He was the complete player, doing things with the ball that no one had seen at professional level. His name has become synonymous with o Jogo Bonito (the beautiful game), but he could not be prised away from Brazil until the end of his career, despite offers from Real Madrid, AC Milan, Juventus and Manchester United.

Quick Facts:

  • Name: Edison Arantes do Nascimento
  • Nationality: Brazilian
  • Date and Place of Birth: October 23, 1940 in Três Corações, Brazil
  • Position: Striker
  • Clubs: Santos (1956-1974), New York Cosmos (1975-1977)
  • International Career: 1957-1971 (91 caps, 77 goals)


The Santos Years:


Not given the nickname 'Pele' until his school days, he claims not to know what it means.


Like so many of his countrymen, Pele grew up in poverty. He joined the Santos FC junior team at 15 after being recommended by former Brazil international Waldemar de Brito, whom he played under in the Baquinho boys' team. He would play for one season before being promoted to the senior side.

At 16, after scoring on his debut against Corinthians, he became the top scorer in the league.

A true record breaker, Pele scored 127 goals for Santos in 1959, 110 in 1961 and 101 goals in 1965. He led the club to consecutive Copa Libertadores triumphs in 1962 and 1963, with these preceded by two Intercontinental Cup victories.

In 1961 Pele scored the gol de placa (goal worthy of a plaque). The effort against Fluminense was deemed so spectacular that a plaque was commissioned with a dedication to the most beautiful goal in the Maracanã's history.

In total Pele struck 1,281 goals in 1,363 games, with these goals contributing to numerous national and regional titles for Santos. His 1000th came against Vasco da Gama from the penalty spot in 1969.

In 1972 after 17 seasons with the club he retired from Brazilian soccer, although still appeared occasionally, often in exhibition matches.

New York Cosmos:


Pele came out of semi-retirement to play for New York Cosmos in 1975. He is credited with raising soccer's profile in the USA, although he was past his best before touching down in New York.


He did, though, average over a goal a game for the club, and closed out his career in an exhibition match between Santos and the Cosmos.

The match was sold out six weeks in advance, covered by 650 journalists and broadcast in 38 nations. Muhammad Ali embraced him in the locker room and Pele made a pre-match speech where he urged his audience to pay attention to the children of the world.

He played the first-half for the Cosmos, scoring a stunning 30-yarder and turned out for Santos after half-time.

International Career:


Pele made his World Cup debut at 17 against Sweden in the 1958 World Cup. After making the starting line-up against the Soviet Union in the third match, his goal helped Brazil past Wales in the quarter-finals. That goal established Pele as the World Cup's youngest scorer, aged 17 years and 239 days.


A second-half hat-trick against France in a 5-2 semi-final win further enhanced his growing reputation. Two more against hosts Sweden in the final made for the most spectacular appearance by a 17-year-old at a World Cup finals.

Pele's mixture of perfect technique and gazelle-like speed meant that he was anything but just a goalscorer.

A groin injury in the second match of the 1962 World Cup against Czechoslovakia meant Pele had to watch from the sidelines as his team-mates regained their title in Chile.

Some tough tackling by Bulgaria and Portugal players in 1966 again saw Pele depart the World Cup scene early, and Brazil went out in the group stage as England lifted the World Cup on home turf.

The 1970 World Cup was not only memorable for Pele scoring Brazil's 100th World Cup goal against Italy in a 4-1 final win. His outrageous effort against Czechoslovakia from the halfway line ended up just going wide, while Pele forced England goalkeeper Gordon Banks into one of the best saves ever made with a downward header.

That 1970 team is considered by many critics to be the best ever, and some of the combination play between Pele and his team-mates bordered on the telepathic.

The Brazilian has also been a champion of good causes off the pitch. Since hanging up his boots, he has used his ambassador's status to promote his country, the UN and UNICEF. In his playing days, a cease-fire was even declared in warring Nigeria when Pele went to play in Lagos. That says it all.

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