Football: 10 things about the legend Pele

Pele's real name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento, named after light-bulb inventor Thomas Edison. PHOTO: AFP

Regarded by most as the greatest footballer of all time, Pele’s legacy inspired the world long before the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo became household icons. The Straits Times’ Ervin Ang compiles 10 facts about the Brazilian legend who died on Thursday at the age of 82 after battling colon cancer.

1. He was named after inventor Thomas Edison

His real name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento, named after light-bulb inventor Thomas Edison following the introduction of electricity to his hometown when he was born.

Although he is famously known as Pele now, he did not like his nickname. In a 2006 Guardian article, Pele wrote: “I thought Pele sounded horrible. It was a rubbish name. Edson sounded so much more serious and important.”

He was given the nickname Pele as a kid, after he mispronounced the name of one of his father’s teammates – Vasco de Sao Lourenco, a goalkeeper affectionately known as “Bile”.

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2. He has unofficially scored 1,283 professional goals

Pele’s goal tally is till this day a controversial topic. While the Prolific Scorers Data claim he has scored only 778 goals, a tally only surpassed by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Pele holds the Guinness World Record for most career goals scored in football, at 1,279.

The dispute comes from the numerous friendly matches Pele played on tour with Santos, which fell in a grey area.

Pele himself chimed in on the controversy in 2015, by declaring the actual tally was 1,283.

3. He led Brazil to their first World Cup win

In 1958, Pele scored six goals in four games to lead Brazil to their maiden World Cup victory. He also became the inaugural and youngest-ever winner of the Fifa Young Player Award at the tournament at the age of 17.

He remains till this day the only footballer to win the World Cup three times. Interestingly, Pele had to pause his career after his World Cup heroics and serve in the military for six months.

4. He grew up in poverty

At the age of 6, Pele was shining shoes and selling roasted peanuts outside movie theatres. He honed his dribbling technique and ball control with a sock stuffed with rags as his family could not afford a football.

He also played barefoot and famously formed a team called “The Shoeless Ones”. Barefooted games in Brazil played in vacant lots, known as “pelada”, are believed to be named after Pele.

5. His first professional contract paid him only US$10 a month

When he signed his first professional contract with Santos in 1956, Pele was given just US$10 (S$13.40) a month as a 15-year-old. He used his pay to purchase a gas stove for his family.

Nineteen years later, he signed a record-breaking three-year US$7 million contract with American outfit New York Cosmos which made him the highest-paid team athlete in the world at that time. Pele had to pay about US$2 million from the contract in taxes to the United States, but gladly obliged.

6. His appearance caused a ceasefire in a civil war in 1967

So internationally acclaimed was he that Pele temporarily stopped a civil war in Nigeria in 1967. A 48-hour ceasefire was declared to allow Federal and Rebel troops to watch him play when he visited.

When Pele played for the New York Cosmos, the club had to prepare a shirt for each player on the opposing team for every match due to overwhelming demand.

Gordon Bradley, one of the Cosmos’ coaches at the time, said: “Pele was the main attraction. Sometimes we had to take 25 or 30 shirts with us to a match – otherwise, we’d never have got out of the stadium alive.”

The New York Cosmos star Pele (right) in action against the Toronto Metros at Yankee Stadium in New York, on June 18, 1976. PHOTO: NYTIMES

7. He once served as Brazil’s Minister for Sport

In 1995, Brazil’s president Fernando Henrique Cardoso appointed Pele as Extraordinary Minister for Sport. During his three-year stint, Pele implemented the “Pele Law” which modernised the country’s sport industry.

The bill mandated all professional local sports clubs to pay tax within two years and liberated teenage athletes from contracts signed with their clubs at a young age.

8. He gave back to society

He was appointed as the United Nations’ goodwill ambassador for its children’s fund Unicef in 1994 and helped to protect the environment and fight corruption in Brazil.

9. He never won the Ballon D’Or

Despite his gargantuan achievements, Pele never won the famed world’s best player award, the Ballon d’Or, during his playing days as prior to 1995 the accolade was reserved for only European players.

He was subsequently awarded the honorary Ballon d’Or award by Fifa in 2014.

10. Nov 19 is Pele Day in Brazil

After he scored what was reportedly his 1,000th career goal on Nov 19, 1969 playing for Santos against rivals Vasco da Gama, the Maracana stadium erupted. Play was reportedly halted for half an hour as fans ran onto the pitch to hold him aloft.

Nov 19 is now celebrated in Brazil as Pele Day.

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