Pelé: A look at the Brazilian football legend’s greatest achievements

Assists by Pele
Assists by Pele

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known to the world as Pelé and nicknamed by his admirers as O Rei (The King), is hailed by many as the greatest icon of the football world. Many of the numerous records and other achievements that Pelé set in his stellar career of 21 years from 1956 to 1977 remain unbroken to this day. The Brazilian legendary footballer passed away at the age of 82 today.

Pelé was admitted to the Albert Einstein hospital in São Paulo for a re-evaluation of his cancer treatment on 29 November. Reports said that he was later diagnosed with a respiratory infection.

His family gathered on 24 December at the hospital as doctors said over the week that his cancer had advanced and that he needs care for his renal and cardiac dysfunction.

His daughter Kely Nascimento posted a picture of the family in the hospital.

“Almost all of them. Merry Christmas. Gratitude, love, togetherness, family. The essence of Christmas. We thank you all for all the love and light you send,” Nascimento wrote.

Edinho, the icon’s son, also posted a picture of himself holding his father’s hand with the caption, “Father… my strength is yours.”

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Earlier, on 2 December, the hospital released a medical report saying that he was in a stable condition “with general improvement in health status” and was responding adequately to an antibiotic treatment.

Brazilian fans held up a large banner bearing Pelé’s face and a “Get well soon” message on the same day at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, where the Brazilian national football team was playing against Cameroon in their last group match.

Pelé posted a message on Instagram on 3 December thanking millions of his admirers as well as Qatar, the host nation of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, for wishing him recovery with an illuminated display of his face and the words “Get well soon” projected on a building.

“Friends, I am at the hospital making my monthly visit. It’s always nice to receive positive messages like this. Thanks to Qatar for this tribute, and to everyone who sends me good vibes!” he wrote alongside a picture of the tribute paid to him.

 

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Following the concerns, Nascimento tweeted that there was ‘no emergency’ about his health.

“Lots of alarm in the media today concerning my dad’s health. He is in the hospital regulating medication…There is no emergency or new dire prediction,” Nascimento, who is not in Brazil, posted on Instagram.

But on 3 December, Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, reported that the footballing legend was moved to end-of-life support, or palliative care, after he stopped responding to chemotherapy treatment for colon cancer.

As the news started doing the rounds, several prominent personalities took to Twitter to pray for O Rei.

Among them was young French striker Kylian Mbappé, whose prolific performance on the field has drawn comparisons with Pelé, and British broadcaster Piers Morgan.

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As the world grew increasingly concerned about him, Pelé took to Instagram to issue his statement as well as a new medical report from the hospital.

“My friends, I want to keep everyone calm and positive. I’m strong, with a lot of hope and I follow my treatment as usual. I want to thank the entire medical and nursing team for all the care I have received. I have a lot of faith in God and every message of love I receive from you all over the world keeps me full of energy. And watch Brazil in the World Cup too. Thank you so much for everything,” he wrote on Instagram.

In its statement, the hospital said, “Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pelé) was admitted to Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein last Tuesday (29) for a reassessment of chemotherapy therapy for the colon tumor, identified in September 2021. He is still undergoing treatment and his health status remains stable. He has also had a good response to care for the respiratory infection, with no worsening of the condition in the last 24 hours.”

Pele died on Thursday from multiple organ failure due to the progression of colon cancer, according to a statement from Albert Einstein Hospital.

 

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A look at Pelé’s career and his greatest accomplishments

Pelé began his career at the age of 15 for Brazilian club Santos FC and quickly dazzled the footballing world with his timing, accuracy, speed, dribbling and agility.

The former striker for Santos football club, Major League Soccer (MLS) club New York Cosmos and the Brazilian national team has not been keeping well for some time. He had a tumour removed from his colon in September 2021, and was in and out of hospital for regular check-ups.

The outpouring of love and support for Pelé is not surprising. He is the one credited by FIFA for coining the term ‘The Beautiful Game’ for football.

And back in 1961, when he was still around 21 years old, the government of Brazilian President Janio Quadros declared him an ‘official national treasure’ to prevent European clubs from taking him away from the country. And, then there was the historic event from 1969 when the two factions of Nigerian civil-war agreed to a 48-hour cease-fire only to watch Pelé play when he was visiting Nigeria with Santos.

That, in a way, shows how much valued O Rei has always been from the very beginning of his career.

Only player to have won the FIFA World Cup championship three times

Pele Wins 1970 World Cup
Brazil national team players and staff lift Pelé after the team’s win at the 1970 FIFA World Cup final. (Image: Courtesy of Pelé/@pele/Instagram)

Pelé won the FIFA World Cup titles three times — back-to-back in 1958 and 1962, and then for the last time in 1970. The 1958 win was the first FIFA World Cup for Brazil — the most successful nation at the grandest stage of football with five wins.

No one in history has ever won the World Cup title as many times as a player as him. As such, it is one of Pelé’s many Guinness World Records.

In all, 21 players including Pelé have won the tournament more than once. While 16 of them are Brazilians, there are four Italians and one Argentine in that coveted list.

Santos’ all-time top goalscorer and Brazil’s highest international goalscorer

Pelé achievements
Pelé in the Netherlands as a player for Santos. (Image: Courtesy of Bilsen, Joop van / Anefo/CC BY-SA 3.0 NL/Wikimedia Commons)

Pelé scored 643 ‘official’ goals in at least 659 games for Santos — the club he played for close to two decades of his career from 1956 to 1974. Technically, that figure translates to almost one goal per match.

No one has since scored as many goals as Pelé for the Brazilian club. He won Campeonato Brasileiro Série A (Brasileirão, as it is better known), two Copa Libertadores and two Intercontinental Cup trophies with Santos.

The 643-figure also made Pelé the holder of the record for the highest goalscorer for a single club in football history for 46 years till 22 December 2020, when Argentine great Lionel Messi surpassed it with his 644th goal while playing for La Liga club Barcelona.

Pelé is still the record holder for most goals scored by a Brazilian for the Brazil national team, with 77 goals from 92 appearances.

Youngest ever to score at FIFA World Cup and the youngest World Cup champion

Pelé achievements
A young Pelé before the 1958 FIFA World Cup. (Image: Courtesy of Pelé/@pele/Instagram)

Pelé was only 17 years and 239 days old when he got his first FIFA World Cup goal during Brazil’s quarter-final match against Wales in the 1958 edition of the tournament in Sweden. He is thus the youngest ever to score in a World Cup tournament.

Ten days later, on 28 June 1958, Pelé’s heroics led to Brazil’s victory against Sweden in the final. As such, he became the youngest ever World Cup winner at the age of 17 years and 249 days — an unbroken Guinness World Record.

Youngest to score a hat-trick and youngest ever to score in FIFA World Cup final

Pelé achievements
Pelé, 17, cries after Brazil won FIFA World Cup in 1958. (Image: Courtesy of Aftonbladet – Aftonbladet/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

The 1958 edition indeed brought the world’s attention to Pelé.

Apart from the other records, he also became the youngest ever to score a hat-trick in the World Cup tournaments at the age of 17 years and 244 days. His treble came against France in the semi-final match on 24 June. All three goals came in the second half and Brazil knocked out France 5-2.

Pelé followed up his sensational performance in the semi-final with a brace against Sweden in the final match. His appearance in the match alone made him the youngest ever player in a FIFA World Cup final. And his goals made him the youngest ever to score in a FIFA World Cup final.

All the records stand to date. Interestingly, Pelé is also the only player in the world to score in a World Cup before turning 18.

Most career goals

O Rei in action
The icon in action during a match. (Image: Courtesy of Pelé/@pele/Instagram)

Pelé is recognised by both the Guinness World Records and FIFA as the player with the highest goals in a career. But there is no agreement on the exact figure.

According to Guinness’ documentation Pelé scored 1,279 goals in 1,363 games, including the ones that came in friendly matches, amateur level at club, reserve team level and junior national games.

FIFA and South American football confederation CONMEBOL agree that he scored 1,281 goals in as many games. Santos club historian Odir Cunha had in March 2021 told ESPN that Pelé scored 1,282 goals in his career.

But Pelé himself claims to have scored 1,283 goals in his career. In fact, he had put this out in a tweet in 2015.

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No matter the exact career figure, FIFA recognises Pelé as the only player to reach 25 international goals while still a teenager. And The King did that in just 20 appearances.

Most assists of all-time in World Cup

Young Pele
A young Pelé enters the field for Brazil during a match. (Image: Courtesy of Pelé/@pele/Instagram)

Pelé was not just a prolific striker but also a brilliant tactician on the field. He had the eye to find his team-mates in the most perfect of positions for a score, and he deftly passed or crossed the ball over to them whenever such an opportunity arose.

The King scored 10 assists in the three World Cups — a record that stands to this day. He also holds the record for most assists in a single World Cup, which came in the 1970 edition of the tournament in Mexico. Pelé had six assists apart from the four goals he scored himself.

One of his 10 assists came in the final match of the 1958 tournament while two others came in the final of the 1970 tournament. As such, he is the record holder for most assists in World Cup finals with 3.

Over 100 goals in two calendar years

Assists record
Image: Courtesy of Pelé/@pele/Instagram

FIFA has recognised Pelé as having scored 127 in a calendar year in 1959 and 110 goals in 1961. The official Twitter handle of the governing body had on 13 July 2022 put out a tweet acknowledging the 127 goals mark.

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It is not clear if this makes Pelé the record holder for most goals scored in a calendar year. Guinness World Records recognises Messi as the holder of the record for scoring 91 goals in 2012. The same year, Zambian Football Association also claimed that its star, Godfrey Chitalu, scored 107 goals for club and country in 1972.

Following the debate, FIFA spokesman Alex Stone had then told BBC Sport that “it’s not an official Fifa record” as the governing body does not keep domestic records. As such, neither Messi nor Chitalu are recognised as the holders of the record for a calendar year by FIFA.

A recipient of numerous honours

Brazil Icon
The Brazilian legend shows the Global Citizen Award presented to him by the World Economic Forum. (Image: Courtesy of Pelé/@pele/Instagram)

Pelé received several national and international honours including the International Peace Award in 1978, and an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1997 for his work as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.

He was also named the co-winner of the Player of the Century award by FIFA in 2000, alongside Argentine great Diego Maradona.

Pelé was also honoured with an Olympic order — the highest honour given by the International Olympics Committee (IOC) — in 2016 at Pelé museum in Santos.

Yet many wonder why he never won the Ballon d’Or — football’s most important individual honour. The answer is because the Ballon d’Or was not awarded to non-European players till 1995. Moreover, no non-European player playing outside of Europe was eligible for Ballon d’Or till 2007 — the year its organiser, France Football magazine, opened the award to every footballer anywhere in the world.

As such, neither Pelé nor Maradona could ever win the award. Pelé was, however, awarded the inaugural FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur (honorary award) in 2013.

He also received the inaugural Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 and was one of the only three sportspersons — along with Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson — to feature in TIME magazine’s ‘The Most Important People of the Century’ list in 1999.

(Main image: Courtesy Justin TALLIS / AFP; Featured image Courtesy: Pelé/@pele/Twitter)

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