Having slipped on the Seleçao shirt for the first time on 7 July 1957, Pele finally hung up his boots at the age of 37 in 1977. It therefore seems fitting that in 2007, 50 years after his international debut, the iconic former star is to receive the FIFA Presidential Award for his life's work.
He won everything, holds a long list of records and can still lay claim to being the legend of world football. Above and beyond his three FIFA World Cups™, O Rei lives on in the collective memory for his ability to create, surprise and invent something new every time he made contact with the ball.
As a fearsome goalscorer, visionary passer and born dribbler, Pele has spawned dreams in the minds of generation after generation. Brazil have come to represent the essence of the beautiful game, a reputation they owe to their illustrious No10, who set them on their way to their first ever triumph in the biggest tournament of all.
Spotted at just 11 years of age by Brazil international Waldemar
de Brito, Pele joined Santos at 15. A year later, on 7 July 1957,
the youngster marked his first international appearance in the 2-1
defeat by Argentina by striking his first goal within the imposing
surroundings of the gargantuan Maracana stadium. At the time, the
Maracana faithful were still mourning the loss of the 1950 FIFA
World Cup Final to Uruguay, but Pele soon made them forget that
bitter setback with the skills that would lead the
Auriverde to global glory.
1,281 goals in 1,363 matches
Pele's final farewell came 20 years later on 1 October 1977, with Giants Stadium in New York the backdrop. His last match featured the only two clubs he ever represented - Santos and New York Cosmos - and when the final whistle had blown he could look back on a career filled with trophies and unbelievable records. In 1969, for example, 12 years after starting out in the game, he fired in his 1000 th goal amid indescribable scenes at the Maracana. He scored five goals in the same match on six occasions, as well as four goals on 30 occasions and an incredible 92 hat tricks. He even managed to find the back of the net eight times against Botafogo in 1964, and when all was said and done he had hit 1,281 goals in 1,363 games and won 92 international caps.
The most memorable of those came during the 1970 FIFA World Cup, the first to be beamed in colour to television sets around the planet. O Rei was a dazzling presence during that tournament and he enthralled the viewing public with a string of mesmerising moments: his attempt to score from the halfway line against Czechoslovakia, the header against England that prompted a miraculous Gordon Banks save and the way he bamboozled Uruguayan goalkeeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz without even touching the ball. "Before the match, I told myself he's just flesh and bones like me, but I soon found out I was wrong" explained solid Italy defender Tarcisio Burgnich after an unforgettable final.
When Pele eventually called time on his playing career at
37 years of age in 1977, Brazil's ambassador to the United
Nations, J.B.Pinheiro, gave his own glowing review of his
compatriot's influence: "Pele played football for 22 years
and during that time he did more for friendship and fraternity than
any other ambassador."
Since then, Pele has used his unique status in the best way possible, to the benefit of his country, the UN, UNICEF and, of course, football itself, not least through his membership of FIFA's Football Committee. "Every child in the world who plays football wants to be Pele," the legend himself has said in the past. "Because of that, I have a big responsibility not only to show them how to be a footballer, but also how to be a man."