Edson Arantes do Nascimento. Pele. O Rei. Whatever the name, the memory is the same: of a world-beating superstar, a record-breaking football icon. Above and beyond his unequalled achievement in winning three FIFA World Cups™, Pele was a genius who was constantly reinventing the game of football.
With every touch of the ball, every pass, every dribble, Pele was capable of coming up with something new - something the fans had never seen before. With a killer instinct in front of goal, an eye for the perfect pass and supreme athleticism, the Brazilian was just about the perfect footballer. And if the Seleção came to incarnate the 'beautiful game' in the eyes of so many observers around the world, this can largely be credited to the breathtaking skills of their most celebrated No10.
First spotted at the age of 11 by former Brazilian international Waldemar de Brito, he joined Santos at the age of 15 and had not yet turned 16 when he scored on his first team debut in a friendly against Corinthians of Santo Andre in September 1956, rising from the bench to net his side's sixth goal in a 7-1 win. A legend was born.
Throughout his career, Pele was a record breaker. His 1,000th goal, a penalty, came in 1969 in front of a delirious crowd at the Maracana. He scored five goals in a game on no fewer than six occasions, managed 30 four-goal hauls and netted 92 hat-tricks. In one match against Botafogo in 1964, he hit the back of the net eight times. In total, the great man struck 1,281 goals in 1,363 games.
Pele quit what he called o jogo bonito (the beautiful game) in 1974, before returning the following year to play for the New York Cosmos in order "to bring the world's game to the American public". He would hang up his boots for the last time in 1977.
J.B. Pinheiro, the Brazilian ambassador to the United Nations, was quoted as saying: "Pele played football for 22 years, and in that time he did more to promote world friendship and fraternity than any other ambassador anywhere". And who could contradict him? In warring Nigeria a ceasefire was declared when Pele played in Lagos in 1969. The President of Brazil declared him a "national treasure" to thwart any potential transfer to a European club. And in the port city of Santos, 19 November is forever 'Pele Day', to celebrate the anniversary of his 1,000th goal.
Since his playing career ended, Pele has used his ambassador's status to promote his country, the UN and UNICEF. "Every kid in the world who plays football wants to be Pele," he said, "which means I have the responsibility of showing them how to be a footballer but also how to be a man." But that is what Gods are for, isn't it?