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The incomparable Pelé passes away at 82: (1940-2022)

Known as Pelé to adoring fans around the world, this Brazilian sports hero and international superstar was actually born Edson Arantes do Nascimento on October 23, 1940,  to parents Celeste and João Ramos in a rural town in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Named in honour of the light-bringing Thomas Edison whose technology had literally illuminated his small town shortly before his birth, the young Edson was hard at work shining shoes at a local railway station to help supplement the family income by the age of 7.

Pelé recounted how he manifested his future football glory after witnessing his father crying during a radio broadcast of the Brazilian team’s World Cup defeat to Uruguay (2 to 1) in 1950. He promised his father – a talented professional player in his own right – then and there, that he would win a World Cup for Brazil one day. Did he ever deliver! After being signed with a junior team at the tender age of 14, he was transferred to Santos at 15, scoring four goals in his debut professional game. Who does that? Pelé! He then burst onto the world stage at the age of 17 at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden at which he went on to score six goals, three in the semi-final against France and two in the final against Sweden, which Brazil of course won, 5 to 2. Remarkably, Pelé was also on the winning Brazilian teams of 1962 and 1970.

Pelé won three World Cup tournaments with Brazil and ten league championships with his club, Santos, not to mention his 1977 North American Soccer League championship with the New York Cosmos. At his debut with the Cosmos on June 15th, 1975, at a less than glorious home field at Downing Stadium, the crowd ballooned to 18,000, three times the previous largest attendance. But that was nothing compared to the 77,691 people who packed Giants Stadium (capacity 76,000) to watch him in a home playoff game in his final season on August 14th, 1977. His twenty-one-year career is the stuff of legend: 1,283 goals, 1,367 professional matches, and 77 goals for his beloved national Brazilian team. As Lawrie Mifflin explained in her New York Times article, Pelé’s sheer brilliance on the pitch came from his “remarkable center of gravity; as he ran, swerved, sprinted or backpedaled, his midriff seemed never to move, while his hips and his upper body swiveled around it.” Furthermore, at just 5’8”, his hang time could provoke jealousy in the best outside hitters in volleyball.

Amongst his many accolades, Pelé received an honorary knighthood in the UK (1997), was named athlete of the century by the international Olympic Committee in 1999 (without ever having appeared in an Olympic Games), and in 2000 (alongside Diego Maradona) was crowned FIFA player of the century.

Pelé was also a musician, composer, public servant, and education advocate. But for most, he will long be remembered for being essential to the creation and promotion of “o jogo bonito” – the beautiful game – and for this, we will be forever grateful.