Pelé: Major Facts & Accomplishments
Pelé’s tag as the greatest soccer player of all time has often gone without contention. It’ll certainly be an exercise in futility trying to look for another soccer player – dead or alive – that has three World Cup titles to his name.
The Brazilian superstar’s influence even went beyond the game of soccer, considering the fact that he devoted his post-playing career to serving as the ambassador for a plethora of charitable causes around the world. His accomplishments on and off the soccer pitch place him up there with the likes of boxing legend Mohammad Ali, Jamaican great athlete Usain Bolt, and golf greatest player Tiger Woods.
Fast Facts about Pelé
Birth name: Edson Arantes do Nascimento
Date of birth: October 23, 1940
Place of birth: Três Corações, Brazil
Date of death: December 29, 2022
Place of death: Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital, São Paulo, State of São Paulo, Brazil
Cause of death: Cancer
Father: João Ramos do Nascimento (also known as Dondinho)
Mother: Dona Celeste Arantes
Spouses: Rosemeri dos Reis Cholbi (m. 1966–1982)
Nickname: “O Rei”, “Black Pearl”, “Pérola Negra”, “Dico”
Clubs played for: New York Cosmos (1975-1977); Santos FC (1956-1974)
Honors and awards: Three-time FIFA World Cup champion with the Brazilian national team, Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE)
Achievements of Pelé
Here are 10 major accomplishments of Pelé, the Brazilian soccer legend who scored his first professional goal before turning 16.
Won his first World Cup championship at just age 17
Following Brazil’s disheartening loss to Uruguay at the 1950 FIFA World Cup final, Pelé, 9/10 years old by then, made a solemn promise to his father that he would win the coveted trophy for his dad and his nation. Eight years later, Pelé did exactly that by winning the World Cup title, much to joy of not just his father but the entire nation of Brazil.
Pele, who was a few months shy of his 18th birthday, inspired his Brazilian teammates to victory over World Cup host Sweden in the final in Stockholm in June 1958. The mesmerizing and powerful forward scored three times in Brazil’s 5-2 win over France in the semi-final. He then netted twice in the final. Pelé was instantly catapulted to a national hero back in his home country.
To this day, his record of being the youngest FIFA World Cup winner remains unbroken.
The government of Brazil declared Pelé a national treasure
Following his superhuman display in Sweden, Pelé’s phone began ringing hot, as many of the top soccer clubs in Europe tried to snap his signature. World-record signing fees were offered to the soccer superstar; however, Pelé was very reluctant to play outside Brazil. His dilemma was settled when then-Brazilian President Jânio Quadros elevated him to the status of a national treasure, effectively preventing any non-Brazilian club from signing him.
Not wanting to deny the world from having a glimpse of the sheer talent of Pelé, Santos Football Club organized exhibition matches across the globe.
Pelé clinched three FIFA World Cup titles in his career
His record of three World Cup titles looks unlikely to be beaten by any soccer player. Such was the impact Pelé had on the world of football. His first World Cup title came in 1958, when he was still a teenager. He would then go on to win the prestigious title two more times – in 1962 and 1970.
At the 1970 World Cup held in Mexico, Pelé was unstoppable, netting four goals and making six assists as Brazil clinched the title for the third time in two decades. One of Pelé’s goals of the tournament came in their 4-1 thrashing of arch rivals Italy in the final. Pelé was the undisputed star of the tournament, perhaps along with the likes of Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto, Gérson, and Rivelino.
Pelé’s record of three World Cup titles will perhaps remain intact forever
Four years after lifting his third World Cup title, Pelé hanged up his boots in 1974. He had attained a feat even he himself could not have dreamed of as a kid. His record – three titles at the World Cup – has stood ever since. And considering how extremely competitive the FIFA World Cup tournament has been in the 21st century, it is unlikely that any soccer player will break Pelé’s record.
He came out of retirement to play for the New York Cosmos
Realizing how his image on and off the field could boast the game of soccer in North America, Pelé shocked the world by coming out of retirement to play for the New York Cosmos. His presence alone in the North American Soccer League (NASL) saw record-fan attendance at the games.
Plying his trade in the U.S., a country not so much in love with soccer, Pelé helped make the sport popular among the youngsters. After spending about 2 years in the NASL, he permanently hanged up his boots for good after an exhibition match his club and his boyhood club Santos in October 1977.
Pelé scored more than 1,000 professional goals
Another very glistering record of Pelé is his mind-blowing 1,279 goals in just about 1400 games. Some historians have called those statistics into question, stating that a reasonable portion of those goals in uncompetitive exhibition games. Regardless, those figures are still no mere feat, an accomplishment that earned him a Guinness World Record.
Rival factions in an African nation halted hostilities in order to watch Pelé play
During his hay days, Pelé’s ability on the soccer pitch was such a mesmerizing phenomenon that it could even cause the cessation of hostilities between two armed groups in Nigeria. It was the late 1960s, and the Nigerian Civil War was probably at its bloodiest. Regardless of the turmoil that was going on in the West African nation, rival factions agreed to a cease fire for two days in order to allow Pelé’s exhibition game to go on smoothly.
He promoted numerous humanitarian causes around the world
Pelé was considered one of the most renowned personalities in humanitarian causes. He visited almost every country in the world, promoting charitable causes that tend to the health, educational and economic needs of some the most impoverished communities in the world.
His experiences with abject poverty while growing up enabled him to work in partnership with many international organizations that provide vital aid to people across the globe, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. For example, he was the United Nations ambassador for ecology and the environment for quite a while. In his role as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, he helped raise funds and awareness for children’s education and health around the world.
FIFA Co-Player of the Century
In 1999, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) named Pelé, along with the late Argentine superstar Diego Armando Maradona, as the greatest soccer players of the 20th century. Often times, soccer pundits and historians have struggled picking between Pelé and the Argentine talisman Maradona.
However, in 1999, the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) named Pelé the World Player of the Century. Similarly, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), voted him the Athlete of the Century, beating other greats like Mohammad Ali and even soccer legend Maradona.
Pelé is one of the most recognized names in Brazil
For someone who scored his first professional goal before he attained the age of 16, it comes as no surprise that his image and legacy will remain sky high long after his playing days came to an end. To this day, Pelé remains one of the most influential personalities in world football. He has used his image very productively as well, embarking on several ambassadorial programs to promote the sport across the globe. He has also been praised for his humanitarian causes in not just Brazil but in several countries in Africa.
However, it is in Brazil that the legendary Santos former player holds the biggest appeal. Considering the fact that soccer, or football as the South Americans and Europeans call it, does not intend relinquishing its title as the most beloved sport in Brazil, Pelé’s legacy remains firmly etched in the historical annals of the South American nation of Brazil.
Did you know: For his tireless humanitarian works, particularly those with UNICEF, post his playing days, Pelé was honored with the International Peace Award?
Other notable accomplishments of Pelé
- As a pro soccer player, Pelé was at some point in time the best-paid athlete in the world.
- As of 2021, Pelé ranks as Brazil’s all-time leading goal scorer. The forward scored an astonishing 77 goals in 92 appearances for the Seleção Brasileira de Futebol (the Brazilian national football team). Neymar, who by the way played for Santos as well, comes in at second at the moment.
- In his first season at the Brazilian club Santos, he claimed the golden boot award, resulting in him immediately receiving a call up to the national team.
- Spending the bulk part of his playing career with his boyhood club Santos, Pelé netted an incredible 504 goals in 496 appearances. He is the all-time leading goalscorer for Santos FC. He also led Santos to two successive Copa Libertadores, in 1962 and 1963. Additionally, he won the Intercontinental Cup with Santos in 1962 and 1963.
- In 1997, Pelé was bestowed upon the honorary title of Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. He earned this honor for his passionate commitment to humanitarianism and social activism across the globe.
- Owing to his three-year stay with the New York Cosmos, as well as his impact on the game in the U.S., he was named the club’s Honorary President in 2010.