Born: October 23, 1940
Tres Coracoes, Brazil
At Young Age
Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, was born in Tres Coracoes, Brazil, on October 23, 1940, the son of a small league soccer player. Pelé grew up in a very impoverished area where one of the few ways for a poor child to occupy himself was to play soccer barefoot and with a homemade ball. Many players on Brazilian soccer pitches were given meaningless nicknames. His father was called “Dondinho,” and young Edson adopted the moniker “Pelé,” though he has no recollection of how or why he chose the name.
Pelé was taught by his father, and his hard effort quickly paid off, as at the age of eleven, he played for his first soccer team, that of the Brazilian town of Bauru. With his exceptional skills, he quickly rose through the ranks and became one of the team’s top players. Former soccer great Waldemar de Brito, his mentor (an advisor), took him to Sao Paulo at the age of fifteen to test out for big league teams. Pelé was immediately dismissed. Pelé was then taken to Santos by De Brito, where he gained a position on the soccer squad. Pelé was paid approximately 5,000 cruzeiros (about $60) each month to play soccer there. When he was loaned to the Vasco da Gama squad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he quickly gained further exposure.
Pelé travelled to Stockholm, Sweden, in 1958 to compete in the World Cup championship, a soccer competition that brings together all of the soccer-playing nations for one tournament. Pelé’s performance there helped his country win its first title, as he scored two goals in a thrilling 4-2 victory over Sweden. He returned to Santos, where his club won six Brazilian championships. In 1962, he was a member of the Brazilian team that won the World Cup, but he was forced to sit out due to an injury.
Soccer is a low-scoring sport, but Pelé scored his thousandth goal on November 19, 1969, in front of a crowd of 100,000 in Rio de Janeiro. He has led the Sao Paolo League in scoring for ten consecutive seasons. He was not just a prolific scorer, but also a skilled ball handler. The ball appeared to be connected to his feet as he went down the field.
Pelé was a member of Brazil’s World Cup team again in 1970, and they won the tournament in Mexico City, Mexico, defeating Italy. Pelé’s performance, both in scoring and in setting up other goals, was instrumental in them winning the championship. When he announced that he would retire from international competition following a game on July 18, 1971, plans were made to broadcast the event around the world. He had scored a total of 1,086 goals by the time he left the game.
Pelé continued to play after retiring until he was signed to a three-year, $7 million contract with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. A year later, New York had risen to the top of their division, and the Cosmos won the league championship in 1977. After that victory, Pelé retired for good, but he remained active in sports circles, becoming a commentator and promoter of soccer in the United States. Pelé was in Detroit, Michigan, in 1994, when the World Cup was held, and he won the hearts of millions of fans around the world. He married his second wife, Assiria Seixas Lemos, later that spring. In his home country of Brazil, he was elected Minister of Sports in May 1997.
Pelé and Argentina’s Diego Maradona were named the men’s players of the century by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) on December 11, 2001.
Bodo, Peter, and David Hirshey. Pelé’s New World. New York: Norton, 1977.
Canazares, Susan, and Samantha Berger. Pelé, the King of Soccer. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
Harris, Harry. Pelé: His Life and Times. New York: Parkwest, 2002.
Marcus, Joe. The World of Pelé. New York: Mason/Charter, 1976.
Pelé. My Life and the Beautiful Game. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977.