At the age of 17 in 1958, Edson Arantes do Nascimento clinched what would be the first of three World Cup titles. Fast forward 65 years, and the man known as Pelé was still a household name, synonymous with excellence.
The Brazilian legend died on Thursday after a month-long stay in hospital for complications from cancer, and the impact of his legacy has prompted tributes from around the world.
Pelé was – and still is – an iconic figure in the history of sport, known as much for his World Cup triumphs and scoring records as for spreading the game around the world. He ended his career with a stint with the New York Cosmos.
From Pete Axthelm’s 1966 feature of his prolific career and rise to stardom to SL Price’s 2014 account of his continued stardom, Sports Illustrated chronicled the life and career of the Brazilian star, most of which you can find below.
The samba no one could match
In the summer of 1958, John Mulliken chronicled the events of Brazil’s first World Cup triumph over Sweden. Pele scored twice in the 5-2 thrashing of the Swedes, including what is still considered one of the best World Cup goals of all time.
But at the time, the 17-year-old was just a prodigy, just enough to end the story. Yet a quote from an American referee has turned into a prophecy.
“If there was a star among stars, it was Pelé (Evaldo Alves Santarosa),” Mulliken wrote. “Of this 17-year-old football genius, Johnny Best (the only American who is a fully qualified international football referee) said: ‘The great player of recent years was England’s Stanley Matthews, but that boy is perhaps be even bigger. He is the great potential player in football today. (Read more)
Thus, the legend of Pelé began.
Long live Vava and Garrincha!
In Chile in 1962, Brazil won their second consecutive World Cup, playing most of the tournament without Pelé. The then 22-year-old star only played the first two matches before picking up an injury against Czechoslovakia, whose “strategy was simple: put Pelé horizontally as quickly as possible and continue the match”.
Roy Terrell captured how the Seleção went on regardless and won the tournament without the star’s on-field support, backed by four goals each from Garrincha and Vavá. Still, Pele’s presence hovered over the tournament and even drew a hilarious reference to Willie Mays which seemed to baffle the Brazilian manager.
“’Yes, Garrincha is a wonderful player,’ Brazilian coach Aymore Moreira said after the game, ‘but we still miss Pelé. No one else is like him in the world. Garrincha only plays three notes, do, re, mi. He plays them well but Pelé plays the whole scale, do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do. And he plays every note better than anyone.
“Pelé looks like Willie Mays,” suggested one visitor.
‘Willie who?’ said Moreira.
The most famous athlete in the world
Fresh off his first World Cup disappointment in 1966, Pele was featured in a Pete Axthelm feature film.
The story covers Pelé’s origins as an apprentice cobbler, the star’s quiet marriage, his philanthropic endeavors and his journey from football errand boy to world stardom (while also expressing his shock at winning half a million dollars). dollars playing football).
But one thing seems to have remained engraved in the life of the legend: the pleasure of meeting his fans, as rowdy as they are.
“The Sunday Times of London as ‘the sad millionaire…an introverted, aloof figure trapped in the shell that shields him from the crushing weight of his fame. In fact, Pelé claims he’s rarely been sad, isn’t a millionaire, and will never be crushed or imprisoned by a game he loves or the people who love it.
“I appreciate the crowd around me,” he said. “Especially the children. I know when I was young football was one of the few things I could enjoy. … Now I get a thrill myself having the kids around me. (Read more)
Pelé and his friends remove the cup
Pele’s last World Cup ended with his third triumph in front of 112,504 fans at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. In 1970, Brazil was a team that played “with the fluid rhythm of a conga dancer and the audacity of a bullfighter”, as Tex Maule said.
The nation was also so confident that before the tournament began, the Brazilian Embassy in Mexico removed a religious statue from a case and replaced it with a card that read, “After June 21, the Jules Cup Rimet will occupy this space.” Pelé and his star teammates were taken off the field after the final victory and eventually granted an audience to the president.
“Eventually the Cup will go to Brazil to stay, because it is the third time that Brazil has won the championship. The team itself went home to have lunch with the country’s president the day after the final triumph. The president should feel honoured.
Reminder for a legend
Three World Cups and countless records later, Pelé has brought stardom to the Big Apple. Jerry Kirshenbaum was present at Downing Stadium for Pelé’s debut with the New York Cosmos in June 1975, which became only the second football coverage in Sports Illustrated the story.
“He was received at Buckingham Palace, paraded down the Champs-Élysées and hailed everywhere as the king or the great”, wrote Kirshenbaum. “ … And now he was going to play on Randalls Island, of all places.
Five days earlier, Pelé had arrived in New York with great fanfare, after eight months of retirement. Still, the soccer celebrity loved the relative anonymity of the United States and relished the chance to develop the game there.
“All the talk of money and football promotion has obscured another reason why Pele joined the Cosmos, a reason that dawned on him when he and Rosie were strolling along Hollywood a few years ago. Boulevard in Los Angeles. Suddenly he realized that he was not being stalked and that the United States was one of the few places in the world where this could happen. He lifted his astonished wife into the air and shouted, ‘I’m free! I’m free!'” (Read more)
Everybody wants a piece of Pelé
Ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, SL Price chronicled the final act of Pelé’s career as a global ambassador for an entire sport. The riches of Pele’s playing career are nowhere near modern football stars, who earned millions on and off the pitch. So now it was time to recover.
“Football phenom, actor, singer, sports ambassador, twice failed businessman, futebol reformer: Pelé has been many things in his life. His final act, however, is to get paid.
The legend has raked in over $70 million in endorsements, but one particular anecdote of him filming a Subway commercial in New York will leave a smile on your face. Says Pelé: “Subway I could get used to these colors! (Read more)