Another milestone for a towering talent

Pele, the King of Football, turns seventy today
Last Updated : 22 October 2010, 18:09 IST
Last Updated : 22 October 2010, 18:09 IST

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Born in Tres Coracoes, a poor town in the state of Sao Paulo, with the name Edson Arantes do Nascimiento, he was taught the basics of the game by his father, Dondinho, who was a semi-professional centre-forward until his career was ruined by a badly broken leg.

Pele had to help his impoverished family by working as a shoe-shine boy and a waiter. Even so, he always found time to play football barefoot with his friends on a patch of wasteground, usually with a ball of rags and string, and he soon caught the eye with his powerful legs, ability with both feet, strength in the air, lightning speed and uncanny vision.

He was discovered at the age of 11 by one of the country’s leading players, Waldemar de Brito. Brito took the wide-eyed provincial boy to the teeming port city of Santos and told the sceptical directors of the local professional club that: “This boy will be the greatest player in the world -- he has everything.”

Thus began the 18-year love affair between Santos Futebol Clube and Pele, an affair which brought global fame and fortune to both parties. Santos put the skinny street kid on a high-protein diet and he soon blossomed into a strapping muscular young athlete. On his debut for the first team, aged just 16, against Corinthians, he scored a handsome goal and helped the whites, who also featured the likes of Zito, Pepe and Coutinho, to a memorable 7-1 romp. A star was born.

Within months Pele was the youngest ever Sao Paulo league top scorer, aged 17, and was named in the Brazil squad for the 1958 World Cup. At the time he was the youngest player ever at a World Cup. He started the tournament in Sweden as a substitute, partly because of an untimely knee injury, but was brought in against Wales in the quarterfinals and scored the only goal of a tight clash. Pele then became the toast of world football by banging in a remarkable hat-trick in the semifinals against France - and two in the final against Sweden.

Pele’s masterpiece

His first goal against the hapless Swedes - selected as one of the best goals in the history of the World Cup - was a masterpiece of impish genius. He took a high ball on his chest, flicked it over bemused defender Orvar Bergmark then ran round him to make it 3-1 with an unstoppable volley.

Pele then crowned his achievement with a deft header in the last minute to make it 5-2. The teenage hero left the Rasunda stadium in tears - and millions of television fans around the world now had a new idol.

Pele played for Brazil at four World Cups but only the 1958 and 1970 tournaments would give him happy memories. In Chile in 1962, an injury suffered in the first game of the tournament prevented him from helping Brazil win their second title. In his absence, Amarildo emerged as the new national hero.

At the 1966 World Cup in England, Pele was the victim of some brutal tackling from Bulgarian and Portuguese defenders and left the finals injured and in tears. But the very best of ‘The King’ was still to come. At the 1970 finals in Mexico, the 29-year-old Pele, led possibly the greatest team ever assembled to win Brazil’s third World Cup. In the 4-1 final destruction of Italy he scored the first goal with a thumping header - then coolly set up the last goal for Carlos Alberto.

Pele’s statistics are nothing less than astonishing. He scored 1,280 goals in 1,360 games, second only to another Brazilian legend, Arthur Friedenreich. He scored an average of one goal in in every international game he played for Brazil.

At the club level he shattered all records in Brazil. He scored 127 goals for Santos in 1959, 110 in 1961 and 101 goals in 1965, and led the club to two World Club championships. Pele also holds the world record for hat-tricks (92) and the number of goals scored at international level (97). He was renowned for his gentlemanliness and sportsmanship, and was never booked let alone sent off.

He retired from the game in 1974, aged 33, but — due, allegedly, to financial problems - he left Brazil the following year to play in the North American Soccer League for New York Cosmos.

For almost three years he was the best-paid player in the NASL - and the most popular one. He made millions of Americans aware of the world’s favourite sport and his book “My Life And The Beautiful Game” became an instant best-seller.

On Oct 1, 1977, Pele’s remarkable playing career finally ended. His last match, an exhibition game between the Cosmos and Santos, was sold out six weeks beforehand, and was covered by 650 journalists and broadcast in 38 nations.

Published 22 October 2010, 17:10 IST

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