Brazilian soccer legend Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known mononymously as Pelé, passed away on December 29, 2022, after a battle with colon cancer. He was 82.
A member of three Brazilian World Cup champion teams, Pelé was widely regarded as the greatest soccer player of all time and often was given credit for coining the term "the beautiful game," used to describe the sport.
Pelé began playing soccer as a young child and usually played with a sock stuffed with newspaper and tied with a string or with a grapefruit. He played on several amateur teams, even leading the local Bauru Athletic Club juniors team to two Sao Paulo state youth championships. At the age of 15, his youth coach, Waldemar de Brito, a former member of the Brazilian national soccer team, convinced Pelé’s parents to let the budding phenomenon try out for the Santos professional club. The teenager was signed and immediately began making an impact. He scored the first professional goal of his career before he turned 16 and led the Brazilian soccer league in goals scored in his first full season.
The world was officially introduced to the phenom at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Displaying remarkable speed, athleticism and field vision, the 17-year-old Pelé scored three goals in a 5-2 semifinal win over France before netting two more goals in the 5-2 championship win over the host country. Pelé helped Brazil to win two more World Cup trophies — at the 1962 World Cup in Chile and the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Brazil crashed out in the first round of the 1966 World Cup in England, having only played three matches.
Averaging almost a goal per game throughout his career, Pelé was adept at striking the ball with either foot in addition to anticipating his opponents' movements on the field. While predominantly a striker, he could also drop deep and take on a playmaking role, providing assists with his vision and passing ability, and he would also use his dribbling skills to go past opponents.
Throughout the years, the legend of Pelé continued to grow — so much so that in the late 1960s, the two factions in the Nigerian Civil War reportedly agreed to a 48-hour ceasefire so they could watch him play in an exhibition game in Lagos. Pelé was also known to be a fair and highly influential player, who stood out for his charismatic leadership and sportsmanship on the pitch. Pelé went on to play for the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League after a brief retirement from the sport. He played his final game in an exhibition between New York and Santos in October 1977, competing for both sides. He retired with a total of 1,279 goals in 1,363 games, a Guinness World Record.
Pelé held the records for youngest player to play in a World Cup final, youngest goal scorer and youngest hat-trick scorer in World Cup history. In 1978, he was awarded the International Peace Award for his work with UNICEF, and in 1999, FIFA named him "Co-Player of the Century" along with Argentine star Diego Maradona.