The King Among Men

Through humility and determination, Pelé overcame challenges to bring honor to his country and pave the way for future football greats.

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Edson Arantes do Nascimento is a man who goes by many names. He is the revered “O Rei,” or “The King,” a title he owned during his reign and decades beyond. Some have refered to him as “The Black Pearl,” a nickname he took from his very own idol, midfielder Larbi Benbarek, whom he once considered a god on the field. To the people of his country, he is an icon, a national treasure. But beyond all these titles and names is one clear to fans, critics, and colleagues alike: he is Pelé.

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The King of Football dominating the field. (

Nascimento and Celeste Arantes, and was the eldest of three siblings who grew up in poverty. Because the family had trouble making ends meet, he helped his parents by working in tea shops to earn extra money. He was taught to play by his own father, and could not afford a proper football back then. But instead of succumbing to the situation, his creativity came into play; he usually practiced and played with a sock stuffed with newspaper or a grapefruit. Against insurmountable odds, his love of the game prevailed.

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A young Pelé at 15, on his first day with Santos FC. (

In his youth, Pelé played for a number of amateur teams, including Bauru Athletic Club—which he led to three consecutive São Paulo state youth championships. It was during this time, in 1956, when he was merely 15 years old, that his coach Waldemar de Brito introduced him to the first professional club he would ever join: Santos FC. During the meeting with the club’s directors, de Brito confidently declared that Pelé would be “the greatest football player of all time.” Little did they know those words would seal the young athlete’s fate; Pelé went on to impress the club’s coach, the people of Brazil, and a soon after, the rest of the world.

It was said that when Pelé saw his father crying after Brazil lost the FIFA World Cup to Uruguay in 1950, he consoled him by saying, “Don’t worry. One day, I’ll win it.” At 17, during his first attempt to take home the the World Cup with the national team, he stuck to his promise and became the youngest player to have ever won. In the following years, he went on to win two more World Cups for his country; to date, he is the only player to have achieved such a feat.

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Pelé executing the move he made famous, the “bicycle kick,” in a match against Belgium in 1968. (

His illustrious career in football ended with him being widely regarded to be the greatest player of all time. With 541 league goals under his belt, he is considered the most successful league goal scorer in the world. A total of 1283 goals scored in 1363 games earned him a Guinness World Record for most career goals. In 1999, he was named “World Player of the Century” by the International Federation of Football History of Statistics and “Athlete of the Century” by the International Olympic Committee. In 2013, he received the FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur in recognition of his achievements on and off the field.

Although he no longer plays, his love of football continues to inspire others. Pelé has helped raise millions for charitable causes such as UNICEF and Harlem Street Soccer, giving young kids the kind of future he once worked hard to reach. On what motivates him to keep paying things forward, he said: “Every kid around the world who plays soccer wants to be Pelé. I have a great responsibility to show them not to just how to be a soccer player, but how to be like a man.”

Given all brilliance of his achievements, it may be easy to chalk his success to fate and luck. But the truth, he says, is far more simple. “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”

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