Pele, King of Footballing Legends


The beloved footballing great sadly passed at the grand age of 82, on 29th December 2022.

Since Pele retired from football, which made him a great in 1974, Pele marched onward and upwards within the echelons of the footballing institutions as he tirelessly began promoting the sport which projected him to icon status.

Santos to New York Cosmos

Pele retired from professional football in 1974 after spending 19 seasons with Santos. Soon after, in 1975, he came out of retirement to sign for the New York Cosmos. While past his prime, Pele's star power was undeniable, and he is widely credited with significantly increasing interest in football (or soccer as it is called Stateside) in the United States. His arrival at the Cosmos saw average attendance more than double, and his presence helped pave the way for the future success of Major League Soccer (MLS).


The son of a Brazilian footballer himself, the path to football was set at a young age for Pele. Pele’s father was known as Dondinho, and he named his son after Thomas Edison the renowned US inventor.

It’s acknowledged that his nick name – Pele, was blessed upon him whilst he was of school age and was of consequence due to his inability to pronounce his favourite players name correctly. Pele’s favourite player was Bile, who played in goal for his local team, Vasco da Gama.

As a youngster and through to his mid-teen’s life was tough for Pele. He worked in tea shops as a servant, whilst in his spare time his father taught him tricks and skills to perform with a football. Money was sparse within his family at the time, so Pele would seldom have a proper football to play with, using instead socks, and even a strung together grapefruit!

His early footballing skills were exercised more when he joined an indoor football team and competed in futsal tournaments. Pele has attributed futsal as being a major factor in him acquiring prowess when out on a football field.

Signing for Santos

Pele's legacy is undeniably intertwined with Santos Futebol Clube. At the young age of 15, in 1956, Pele, arrived at Santos for a trial. His talent was immediately apparent, and he impressed coach Waldemar Brito, later known as Lula. Lula convinced the club to sign Pele to a professional contract, a decision that would forever alter the trajectory of both the player and club.

The signing proved to be a masterstroke. Pele blossomed at Santos, leading them on to an era of unprecedented dominance. He helped the club win ten Campeonato Brasileiro Série A titles (the top tier of Brazilian football) and two Copa Libertadores titles (the South American continental championship).

His individual brilliance during this period was unmatched, as he racked up a staggering number of goals, unofficially exceeding 640 for Santos. Pele's dazzling skills and goalscoring prowess not only brought success to Santos but also turned him into a global icon, forever etching his name in the history of the beautiful game.

Pele’s Greatest Moments

Pele's career was a tapestry woven with countless moments of brilliance. Here are just a few that stand out:

  • 1958 World Cup Teenage Triumph: At a mere 17 years old, a young Pele took the world by storm in the 1958 World Cup. He silenced doubters with a dazzling display of goals, including a breathtaking volley in the final against Sweden that cemented his status as a future legend.
  • 1970 World Cup Captain's Coronation: Twelve years later, Pele captained a star-studded Brazil to their third World Cup victory. This tournament showcased his all-around game, with leadership, vision, and of course, goals, including a beautiful header in the final against Italy.
  • The 1,000th Goal: In 1969, Pele achieved a feat never seen – scoring his 1,000th goal. The iconic moment, etched in footballing history, solidified his position as one of the sport's most prolific goal scorers.

The real GOAT

The discussion of the "Greatest of All Time" (GOAT) is a passionate one within the world of football, and Pele and Diego Maradona sit firmly at the heart of this debate. Their achievements and styles of play fuelled a captivating rivalry that transcended the pitch.

In the year 2000, FIFA, the sport's governing body, attempted to settle the debate with a one-time award – the FIFA Player of the Century. This prestigious title, voted on by both fans and journalists, was intended to definitively crown the greatest footballer. However, the result only added fuel to the fire. In a controversial move, FIFA declared both Pele and Maradona joint winners.

This decision highlighted the difficulty of comparing players from different eras. Pele, the "King of Football," rose to prominence in the 1950s and 60s, dazzling audiences with his athleticism, finishing prowess, and complete mastery of the beautiful game. He led Brazil to three World Cup victories, showcasing his leadership qualities alongside his undeniable talent.

Maradona, on the other hand, was a mercurial genius. His smaller stature was compensated for by unparalleled dribbling skills, vision, and a fierce competitive spirit. He carried Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986, almost single-handedly dismantling opponents with his mesmerising displays.

While the FIFA Player of the Century award didn't settle the GOAT debate, it did solidify the positions of Pele and Maradona as two of the most iconic figures football has ever seen. Their legacies continue to inspire generations of players and fans, each with their own compelling arguments for the ultimate title.

However, you can change what many greats of football thought about Pele, not only footballing greats but icons from across the world had much to say about Pele.

Tributes to Pele

The passing of Pele in December 2022 sent shockwaves through the world of football and beyond. Tributes poured in from every corner of the globe, a testament to the immense impact he had on the sport and popular culture.

Fellow footballing legends were among the first to express their grief and admiration. Cristiano Ronaldo, a modern-day great, called Pele "the eternal King," while Kylian Mbappe, described him as an inspiration. Former rivals like Franz Beckenbauer lauded his "magnetic presence" and "unforgettable" talent. The beautiful game had lost its king, and the void he left was undeniable.

The world of football wasn't the only one mourning. Political figures, celebrities, and everyday fans shared their memories and condolences. Pele transcended football, becoming a symbol of excellence, sportsmanship, and joy. His influence extended far beyond the pitch, inspiring generations with his shear talent and charisma.

The outpouring of tributes wasn't limited to words. Stadiums around the world held moments of silence, while players donned black armbands or sported messages honouring the great footballing legend. Tributes also took more creative forms, with murals, social media campaigns, and even light shows celebrating Pele's life and legacy. These displays served as a powerful reminder that Pele's impact would continue to resonate for years to come.