Considered by many to be the greatest soccer player in history, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, popularly known as Pelé, left a trail of great moments during his career.
He won three World Cups and scored a total of 1,281 goals to earn the title of King of Soccer and left his mark on soccer in the United States when he decided to end his retirement to play for the New York Cosmos.
Pelé was born in October 1940 in Trēs Corações, a small town in Minas Gerais, Brazil, and as a youngster kicked makeshift balls made of cloth, and shined shoes on the streets to help his father.
Pele used to say that his father could not hold back his tears as he remembered the ‘Maracanaço’, the tragic final to the 1950 World Cup in which Brazil lost to Uruguay 2-1. He swore the oath of his life: “Don’t cry dad… I’m going to win a World Cup for you”.
Ten years later, in 1958, at age 17, he fulfilled his promise, as a key player during the World Cup Final in Sweden in which Brazil won 5-2 and where he scored two goals. He cemented himself as one of the best soccer players in history, winning two more World Cups in Chile 1962 and Mexico in 1970.
In addition to his extraordinary play in World Cup competition, Pele had an amazing run with Brazilian club team Santos, where he played almost two decades, winning six of the eight League titles, two of the three Copa Libertadores titles and the only two Club World Cups the team has ever won. He reached his 1000th goal with Santos in 1969.
In 1974, Pelé retired from soccer, and began a new life as an entrepreneur. However, bad investments led him to have serious financial problems. The only way out of this situation was to return to soccer.
Pele received offers from Juventus, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Club America in Mexico. Finally, and surprisingly, the Brazilian star opted for a three-year deal from the NY Cosmos of the now defunct NASL. At the age of 35, Pele returned to soccer with the added goal of making Americans fall in love with the sport.
Pele’s arrival and initial debut couldn’t have been better. The world champion signed with the Cosmos in June 1975 and was introduced at the 21 Club, a glamorous venue frequented by entertainment stars. His NASL debut was on June 18 against the Toronto Metros on Randall’s Island in front of more than 22,000 people as the Cosmos won 2-0. However, the rest of the 1975 season was disappointing and Pele missed several games due to injury.
In the following season, the Cosmos finished second in the NASL North Division. In the semifinals they defeated the Washington Diplomats 2-0 with a goal from Pelé. They lost in the finals to the Tampa Bay Rowdies 3-1 with Pele scoring his team’s only goal. Afterward, he received a gold-encrusted boot in commemoration of his 1,250th goal.
1977 was Pele’s last season with the Cosmos. Tampa Bay Rowdies coach Eddie Firmani took over as coach of the Cosmos, and the team was bolstered by Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto. It was Pele’s best season with the team. In the finals they crushed the Fort Lauderdale Strikers 8-3 and in the grand final they beat the Seattle Sounders 2-1.
Pele embarked on a farewell tour of Asia and America. He ended his career with the Cosmos playing 111 games and scoring 65 goals.
On October 1, 1977, at the age of 36, Pelé said his final goodbye to soccer in front of 75,000 fans at Giants Stadium. It was an exhibition match between Santos and the Cosmos, attended by both his father, his wife, and even the great Muhammad Ali, and televised around the world. Pelé played one half for each team, scoring the final goal of his entire career for the Cosmos. The match ended with the Cosmos winning 2-1. During the second half of the match, it began to rain, prompting a Brazilian newspaper to come out with the headline the next day that, “Even The Sky Was Crying”
Thus came an end to the career of one of the very best athletes in history of sports.