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Pele

Brazil

Full name: Edson Arantes do Nascimento
Date of birth: 23/10/1940
Position: Forward
International caps: 92
International goals: 77
World Cups: 1958 - Champions
1962 - Champions
1966 - First Round
1970 - Champions
South American Footballer of the Year: 1973
Clubs: Santos
New York Cosmos
1956-1974
1975-1977

Many a poll, by organisations such as FIFA and the IOC, proclaim Pele as the greatest player (and even athlete) of last century and probably ever... and it's very hard to disagree.

Pele made his Santos debut a month before his 16 birthday, but his football career started two years earlier when he played for the Baquinho boy's team in a 1954 Brazilian youth championship where he is said to have scored an astounding 148 goals in 33 games. Pele was top scorer in the league in first full season in 1957. With Santos, he won the Taca Brasil (Brazilan trophy) 5 times, and the Copa Libertadores/Intercontinental Cup double twice in 1962 and 1963, as well as numerous state championship titles.

Pele's overhead kick

Pele was introduced to the world when he started Brazil's third group match in the 1958 World Cup. The team doctor said that he was "too young, too infantile" to play, but the manager, Feola, had faith in the youngster. His risk payer off; Pele and the other new-comer, Garrincha, both hit the bar within the first couple of minutes. Pele looked eerily assured for a boy of only 17. In the quarter final, Pele became the youngest player to score in the World Cup (17 years 239 days) when his goal gave Brazil a 1-0 win over Wales. In the semi final, Pele broke yet another record by becoming the youngest player ever to score a hat-trick in a World Cup (17 years 244 days), in Brazil's 5-2 demolition of France. This gave Pele the chance to break a third record and become the youngest player in the World Cup final (17 years 249 days), against Sweden. Not only did he play - he hit the post once and scored two marvellous goals, and Brazil won the trophy with another 5-2 win. Pele was obviously a huge talent - in his first senior tournament he was the second highest goalscorer with 6 goals - but this was to be his last successful World Cup for 12 years.

In 1962 Pele played in the first two group games and scored a brilliant individual goal against Mexico, nutmegging one player and taking it past three others before shooting left-footed into the corner. However, he was suffering from a groin injury and played no further part in Brazil's triumph. Contrary to popular belief, Pele didn't get a winner's medal from this tournament and therefore only ever had two.

Pele in action

For Pele, things were even worse in 1966, in England. The first game for Brazil was against Bulgaria, and Pele virtually won it himself, scoring one of the goals in a 2-0 victory. However, he left the pitch at the end bruised from all of the cynical defending. He was rested for the second group game, which Brazil lost to Hungary, but reappeared for the third against Portugal, appearing tired and injured. Again, the great man was kicked and fouled out of the game. Brazil lost and were out of the tournament; Pele, who limped off the field at the end, vowed neither to play in a World Cup again.

Luckily for football, he was asked to reconsider and Pele, the greatest footballer in the world, was part of the greatest team in the world, for the 1970 World Cup. There are two moments in this tournament that sum up how brilliant Pele really was. Both are attempts on goal, both are still remembered today as seminal World Cup moments, but both strikes actually missed the net. Only Pele could create two memorable misses! The first moment was in the first game of the tournament. On the stroke of half-time, Pele shot from inside his own half and then watched as the ball drifted just wide of the right post. The second was in the final minute of Brazil's 3-1 semi final victory over Uruguay. Pele sprinted onto a diagonal through ball from Tostao and dummied Mazurkiewicz, beating a world-class goalkeeper without touching the ball. He met up with the ball on the other side of the keeper, but his shot from a tight angle rolled just past the far post. Brazil beat Italy in the final 4-1, with Pele opening the scoring. He finally had that second World Cup winner's medal.

Pele celebrating

Pele played his final game for Santos in 1974 and finished his career with New York Cosmos, where he almost single-handedly kept the ailing Major League Soccer afloat, and won the 1977 NASL Soccer Bowl. His final game was between Santos and Cosmos in 1977, where he played a half for each side. It was his 1363 game and of course he scored (his 1281 career goal - he is sometimes claimed to be the only player in history to have over 1000 career goals). In two later special appearances he scored another two goals! Pele is also Brazil's leading goalscorer with 77 goals in 92 appearances (although some sources say this is as high as 97 goals in 111 games).

Scoring goals was Pele's trademark, but he was also an intelligent player and remarkable good in the air for someone so short. Pele wasn't just a great footballer, he was a great role-model for the millions of fans who watched him, and indeed still see recordings of the moments that made him famous. His charisma and footballing skills opened the game up to the whole world. Since leaving the pitch, Pele has been appointed the "extraordinary" sports minister in Brazil, is a worldwide ambassador for sport, and a UNESCO goodwill ambassador, and still regularly appears at World Cups and other matches.