Athletic Genius, Soccer Legend, Master of Offense, Pelé. All are names for Edson Arantes do Nascimento, undoubtedly one of the greatest soccer players of all time. This report is to inform you about the things Pelé accomplished throughout his life and career, and also about what he did that effected the world so much.
Pelé was born on October 23rd, 1940, in the Brazilian town of Tres Coracoes, which means Three Hearts. Pelé was the first child to Dondinho and Celeste. Dondinho, his father, was a professional soccer player, and started Pelé in the sport.
Pelé started playing soccer with his friends in the street, using a sock filled with rags as a soccer ball. They’d use the sidewalks as sidelines, and buckets or barrels as goalposts. “I became pretty good at being able to dribble the sock around and even learned how to hit it with my head,” Pelé says. He would sometimes cut school with his friends just to play soccer in open fields. In fact, he was discovered by a soccer scout while playing with some fellow workers.
Pelé’s first job was a cobbler’s apprentice, which paid just over $2 a month. A cobbler is one who repairs shoes, a skill which Pelé continued to use throughout his soccer career. He would repair his and his teammates shoes because very few soccer teams had people to do it for them. About the time he took that job, he was given the nickname of Pelé. The word, which has no literal translation in Portuguese, was given to him by the boys he used to play soccer with. Pelé didn’t like it at the time, because he thought they were making fun of him. He sometimes got into fights with his friends over it, and asked them to call him Edson, his real name. They continued to call him Pelé though. Pelé says “Even today, my real friends call me Edson.”
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There was a time, earlier in his life, when Pelé, smaller than most people he played against, would get into fights often during soccer games. Often times when he’d outclass the older boys he was playing against, they’d become cynical, and start fights with him. “He would come right back and take a swing at the kid who hit him. The games would be cut off when everybody got into a fight,” recalls Pelé’s younger brother, Zoca. Pelé would often watch older workers play street games, and try to pick up moves from them. He and his friends would share their dreams of playing on a well-known team. Who would’ve thought? “Often when I got home from my job and from the games we played I was very tired and would skip my dinner. But to me playing soccer was even more important than eating,” Pelé says, reminiscing of his younger years.
The chance Pelé had hoped for most of his life, a spot on a soccer team, came to him when he was 12 years old. A former Brazilian soccer player, Valdemar de Brito, who was also a talent scout, had heard a lot about Pelé. As it turned out, Valdemar had been looking to start a junior soccer team, and had already begun to find kids from 12-15. Intelligently enough, he’d been scouting around schoolyards and sandlots to find players. Then one day, he happened upon Pelé playing at a construction site, and upon watching him, Valdemar deemed Pelé ”pure genius.”
“I couldn’t believe that such a young boy was able to perform some of the moves and tricks with the ball that Pelé was doing. He was making the older men look silly and in an effort to stop him, they kept fouling him. He would wind up on the ground but be up a second later doing it again,” remembers de Brito. De Brito asked Pelé to join the team, and Pelé accepted. Valdemar began to train Pelé, and even started him on physical conditioning. It wasn’t until then, when Pelé was 12 years old, that he got the chance to play in a regulation game with kids his own age.
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Pelé was already starting what would later be known as his signature right footed and head goals. After 3 years of junior soccer, he was starting to be watched by many professional clubs. Valdemar de Brito set up a meeting with Pelé and his parents to discuss starting Pelé in the professional ranks. At first Pelé’s mother was reluctant to have him leave home, but eventually both his parents gave the okay. Pelé was to try out for the famous Santos team. So it happened in June of 1956, 15 year-old Edson Arantes do Nascimento boarded a train. He recalls it as a humorous experience now, but hated it at the time.
“It was terrible, I got sick almost as soon as the train left, and I felt worse as we went on. I was really scared I wouldn’t be able to take it anymore. But finally the train got to Santos and I felt a little better as we got off,” Pelé explains of his journey on the train. On June 8th he met with the Santos officials, and the Santos team, many of whom were skeptical. Pelé was nervous going onto the field, but gained confidence as he played, showing his amazing skills. The officials explained to him that he’d start out on the Santos juvenile team. By September, he was already playing for the regular team. In his first professional game, he started the second half, and scored his first professional goal just a few minutes into the half. This was to be the first of his 1,200 professional goals.
Pelé’s next step was to try for the national team. The selection of the national team is very complex process, and involves going through sheets of every professional soccer player. The sheets include not only playing stats, but also have personality reports. Personality is important in the team selection, because of the importance of upholding the dignity of the country you’re representing. The committee that was to decide on who made the team had a meeting with Pelé in person to help with their decision. Their decision was to allow 16 year-old Edson to represent Brazil on the national soccer team.
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“I was a little shocked at first, I knew that my name was being considered, but I felt that my youth might be against me. I told everyone I knew to thank the committee for giving me this chance to play for my country,” Pelé recalls. On July 9th, Pelé had his first game with Brazil. Their opponents, Argentina, had them down 2-0 at the half, before Pelé went in. He scored what was to be Brazil’s only goal that game, ending the game 2-1. When the two teams played again a few days later, Pelé started the game as forward. This time Brazil won the game 2-0, with Pelé scoring one of his team’s two goals.
In 1958 was possibly Pelé’s greatest team success. It was the World Cup finals, Brazil versus Sweden. Pelé stood with his back to the goalie and received a long pass. He used his chest to bring the ball down, rolled it straight off of his left foot, and before the ball hit the ground, flipped it over his shoulder, and spun to launch the ball into the goal with his right foot. A little note here, Pelé was left-footed. Brazil won the game.
One thing that Pelé always had going for him was the support of his fans. For instance, before one of his games against England, a group of Mexicans gathered outside the English players’ hotel, chanting “Bra-sil, Bra-sil!” The English team manager had made derogatory comments about Mexicans after a previous game, causing this protest. On one instance, when Pelé’s team was playing in the semi-finals, a stadium made to house 50,000 packed in 60,000 spectators. Another time during a Brazil versus Yugoslavia game, the score was tied, and then Pelé entered the field area. The whole crowd began to chant at once: “Fica! Fica!” which translates to: “Stay! Stay!” This was shortly after Pelé had left the team.
In November of 1974, Pelé retired from soccer. On June 3rd, 1975, a man named Clive Toye hoped to change that. Toye held a press conference that afternoon, and as he took the podium, he held up a soccer jersey with the number 10 on it. Above the number read only 4 letters: Pelé. Clive Toye began only by saying, ”Today we have the shirt, tomorrow we will have the man.” Clive was the general manager for the Cosmos, a professional soccer team. The amount that had been offered to Pelé wasn’t publicly announced, but was estimated at close to $4.5 million. It wasn’t until February that Pelé’s advisor announced that Pelé was considering playing for the Cosmos. On April 22nd, Pelé agreed to play, but wanted $5 million for the 3-year contract.
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“I have to take care of my family and my business obligations,” Pelé said after he changed his mind, and didn’t end up playing for them, “Nothing will make me change my mind now, I will not resume my career and will only take part in benefit games.” Even after this, the Cosmos continued to make offers to get Pelé to play. Cosmo representatives met with Pelé’s closest advisers, and worked out a deal they thought was perfect.
“Tell him if he doesn’t take it he would be dumb not only for the money, but for what he had previously said about being able to help American soccer,” said one of Pelé’s advisers. A big part of the reason Pelé had hesitated so long was because of his concern that his children got a good education. The Cosmos solved this problem, and the officials flew to Brazil to offer Pelé what was estimated to be somewhere between $4.5 and $11 for 3 years. After this offer, Pelé held a press conference to address the matter.
“If this offer had come from West Germany, Spain, Italy, or even Brazil I would have to say no. But to return to playing in the United States would be a different principle. I love soccer. I’ve been playing it almost 20 years. Why not come to the U.S. to play, and help the game? New York is great for sports. I really feel if I came here I could give something to U.S. soccer,” Pelé said to the reporters, still not giving his final decision.
Finally, Pelé told the Cosmos that he would play for them. Pelé’s legal advisers were still going over the contract, but Pelé agreed to sign. He eventually did sign the contract, and took his place on the team, which was a great step for American soccer. Pelé led the Cosmos to many victories throughout his career, which he finished with the Cosmos. He did many great things for soccer, and for soccer in the U.S.
This concludes my report of Pelé. I hope I’ve informed you about the details of his life, why he was important, and the details about him, which also made him so great.