Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Five events that etched Pele as world’s greatest football idol

The Brazilian football ‘god’ was regarded as one of the greatest footballers that ever graced the game and was so labelled by world football governing body FIFA in 2000.

• December 30, 2022
Football Legend Pele Arantes do Nascimento (Credit: Ahmed Oluwasanjo/Peoples Gazette)
Football Legend Pele Arantes do Nascimento (Credit: Ahmed Oluwasanjo/Peoples Gazette)

Arguably the world’s greatest footballer, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known mononymously as Pelé, passed away on Thursday after 82 years of his sojourn on earth.

Though Pele had been in and out of hospital since he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2021, the news of his death reverberated across the World.

The Brazilian football ‘god’ was regarded as one of the  greatest footballers that ever graced the game and was so labelled by world football governing body FIFA in 2000.

As tributes pour across the world over the loss of the great footballing icon, Peoples Gazette takes a glimpse at five wonderful moments that define Pelé’s greatness as an immortal footballer.

A legend was introduced to the round-leather game

An icon was introduced to top flight football on September 7, 1956, when the then 15-year-old Pelé made his professional football debut for Brazil outfit Santos FC against Corinthians Santo Andre, only a few months after joining ‘Alvinegro’ following a successful trial.

The former New York Cosmos player scored the first goal of the more than a thousand he netted during his successful career in the match, as Santos FC clinched an impressive 7-1 victory.

The following season, Pelé became a starter for Santos at just 16-year-old and went ahead to become the highest scorer during the campaign.

His performance attracted interest from top clubs in Europe including Real Madrid, Juventus, and Manchester United vying to price the then protégé away from his homeland but all were to no avail.

Pelé proceeded to win 23 club titles during a trophy-laden career that spanned across two decades solely with Santos and New York Cosmos FC in the United States of America.

First international cap

Pelé himself named the day he made his debut for the Brazil national team as one of the greatests moments in his career. The Santos legend played his first for the ‘O Canarinho’ in a two-day friendly match against Argentina on July 7, 1957, according to

Sixteen-year-old Pelé came on as a substitute and scored Brazil’s only goal in the 2-1 loss to Argentina which came in the 32th minute of the encounter. He found the back of the net again in the reverse fixture following Brazil 2-0 revenge victory over their arch-rival.

“I was selected, it was beautiful,” Pele recalls. “It was like a dream,” he said.

He went on to make history with the Brazil national team, scoring 77 goals in 92 appearances, being the country’s national team topscorer before Neymar matched the record at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Pelé remains the youngest goalscorer for his country.

Still undefeated FIFA World Cup records

The father of seven made his first appearance at FIFA World Cup in the finals of the 1958 edition of the tournament in Sweden, where he became the youngest player to feature in a World Cup final at 17 years and 249 days. 

Despite missing the first two matches of the competition due to knee injury, Pelé made his debut in the third match and finished the tournament with six goals in four matches played including two goals in the final as Brazil beat Sweden 5-2 in the final to win their first ever World Cup title.

Pelé was also a member of the squad that won the 1962 FIFA World Cup in Chile although he was sidelined for most part of the tournament due to injury but came back to play crucial roles as Brazil won its third World Cup at the 1970 March edition of the competition in Mexico.

Till date, he is the only footballer to have won three FIFA World Cup titles.

His other FIFA World Cup record includes being the youngest scorer, youngest hat-trick scorer, youngest finalist and youngest player to score in a Final in World Cup history.

O Milésimo (The thousandth)!

Although details surrounding the number of goals scored by Pelé are sketchy till date due to the hectic schedule of matches and limited records of games that were kept at the time, the legend is believed to have scored over thousand goals during his sterling career.

On November 19, 1969, the fans in the stadium during the game between Santos and Vasco da Gama stood up altogether to give the icon a standing ovation for notching his 1000th professional goal.

The goal is dubbed O Milésimo (The Thousandth).

According to FIFA, Pelé Pele scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 games, majority of which came during his time playing for Santos, with the world’s football governing body noting that a significant number of those goals were scored during multiple unofficial matches.

Guinness World Records stated that Pele scored 1,289 times in 1,363 matches, while The Rec Sport Soccer Statistics Foundation (RSSSF) reported that he scored 767 goals in 831 games based on competitive matches only.

Consecutive continental triumph with Santos 

Santos won their first CONMEBOL Copa Libertadores championship (the equivalent of the UEFA Champions League) in 1962, with Pelé scoring twice in playoff finals against defending champions Peñarol to secure the club’s first title.

He finished as the second top scorer of the competition with four goals. In the same year, Pelé bagged a hat trick against Benfica wearing his number 10 shirt as Santos won 5-2 to clinch its first Intercontinental Cup in Lisbon.

The following year, the man often referred to as ‘The King’ played a massive role as Santos successfully defended its Copa Libertadores title. 

Pelé scored a late-minute equaliser in the 1-1 draw against Botafogo in the semi-finals first leg before scoring hat trick in the second leg as Santos won 4-0

In the doubleheader final playoff against Boca Juniors, Santos defeated the Argentine side 3-2 in the first leg and a rare competition match 2-1 victory in the second leg with Pelê scoring another goal. With the win, Santos became the first (and to date the only) Brazilian team to lift the Copa Libertadores on Argentine soil.

Pelé finished the 1963 Copa Libertadores championship with five goals.

Santos retained its Intercontinental Cup title following a victory over Italian giants AC Milan in the playoff.

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