Pelé, the world's first and greatest superstar


Pelé, the world's first footballing superstar, has just died at the age of 82. For many fans, the Brazilian will be remembered as the best soccer player of all time and, what's more, the ultimate symbol of football played with passion, enthusiasm and a smile. The image of football that he largely contributed to forging is, even today, an ideal in the eyes of most lovers of this sport.

Pelé was not only a great player and a marvelous ambassador of the most practiced game on the planet ; he was also a cultural icon. It remains, for the general public, the embodiment of a form of purity of football of yesteryear, seen as having been much less parasitized than that of today by money and geopolitical issues.

The planetary notoriety of the Pelé legend has been illustrated by the rain of tributes that have been paid to him around the world, from Sir Bobby Charlton, winner with England of the World Cup in 1966 at present French superstar Kylian Mbappé, passing by innumerable personalities not belonging to the world of sport, including Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – the former and new President of Brazil – and the former US President Barack Obama.

A life in Santos

Pelé was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in the state of Sao Paolo, Brazil in 1940. His early years were the same as those of many football players who came before him and countless others who came after him. and were inspired by him: born in poverty, he was introduced to football by a member of his family, then became obsessed with a sport that taught him life and offered him a horizon.

In 1953, he signed for the youth team of a local club, Bauru. But it was his first professional club, Santos, that propelled Pelé to stardom. Arrived in 1956, there will play 636 games, scoring 618 goals before leaving him in 1974, when his immense career was coming to an end. Pelé will have been, for 18 years, the beating heart of the team, and a great faithful of his almost unique club.

Pelé at the 1958 World Cup.
Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Long before the exploits of current stars Cristiano Ronaldo or Erling Haaland, Pelé scored goals that set him apart from other players around him. Likewise, he showed a skill that, even today, leads some observers of the game to place the Brazilian ahead of other contenders for the title of greatest player of all time, such as the Argentines. Lionel Messi et Diego Maradona.

Less than a year after signing for Santos, three months before his 17th birthday, Pelé made his national team debut with Brazil, against Argentina. That day, he scores. 65 years later, he remains the youngest goalscorer in the history of the Brazilian national team.

A year later, in 1958, when he was under 18, he plays a major role in Brazil's World Cup conquest in Sweden. A trophy he will win again in 1962, in Chile, and again in 1970 in Mexico. No other player in the world has won the World Cup three times.

In the end, Pelé played 92 times for Brazil, scoring 77 goals – a record, again, just equaled by Neymar… but in 124 games. It should be added that, in addition to his exploits in the national team, Pelé won for his club six titles of champion of Brazil and two titles of champion of South America.

The Cosmos years

In 1975, the one who is nicknamed "The King" comes out of his semi-retirement to join the New York Cosmos, which plays in the North American Soccer League. At 35, he still manages to score 37 goals in 64 games. Some observers believe that his brief stint in the United States instrumental in the country's interest in football.

Since then, the United States have hosted the 1994 World Cup, will co-host the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico, and have become one of the countries in the world with the highest number of people fired at a football club.

Official functions and tributes

After his retirement, Pelé was revered, adored and remained influential. He was nominated FIFA Player of the XNUMXth Century, an award he shared with Maradona. In 2014, he was awarded the first-ever FIFA Ballon d'Or, the Honor Award, And even Nelson Mandela sang his praises by presenting him with the Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. Without forgetting his time as Minister of Sports of Brazil from 1995 to 1998.

Pelé's talent has never been in doubt. Yet the man also somehow benefited from playing at a time when football was emerging from the shadows of global strife, when the world needed symbols of hope and sporting heroes. The Brazilian was able to serve that purpose, at a time when television – first black and white, then color – brought football directly into people's living rooms. At the time, Pelé, made globally consumable by this new technology, was simultaneously Messi, Ronaldo and Mbappé.

Inevitably, Pelé's long life was not without problems: his business activities were sometimes marred by controversy; at one point it was labeled as a leftist antagonist of the Brazilian government, before being judged later as being too conservative in his opinions on the Brazilian dictatorship. He had many children – some from extramarital affairs – and one of his sons, Edinho, was sent to jail for laundering money from drug trafficking.

But the most vivid memory that will remain of him is of a man who played football in a way that most of us – amateurs and professionals alike – could only dream of. Pelé was not only of incomparable skill, he also brought great joy to countless people around the world, for several decades. Anyone who is even slightly interested in this sport will never forget it.

Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sport and Geopolitical Economy, SKEMA Business School

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.


Image credit: Shutterstock / Kostas Koutsaftikis

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