Pele receives FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur
© AFP

A 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or Ceremony that had more than a touch of verde-amarelo featured a very special tribute to Brazil’s most famous footballing ambassador. Seleção legend Pele was warmly applauded by the audience at the Zurich Kongresshaus, when he received the FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur in recognition of his dazzling career and achievements.

For more than two decades Pele was an icon of Brazilian football, thrilling not only fans of his own Santos side, considered among the greatest club teams ever assembled, but also supporters of rival outfits. He became a global icon at a time when football did not receive anything like the same media coverage it does today, even earning the richly deserved nickname O Rei do Futebol (The King of Football).

After he retired from the game, Pele was named FIFA Player of the Century and Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee. The Prix d’Honneur he received on Monday, then, will enrichen his already vast collection of honours, as the Ballon d’Or – which was previously only awarded to European players – is one of the only trophies the superstar does not possess.

“With the world preparing for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, it is the ideal moment to recognise this unique player's enormous contribution to football and the world,” declared FIFA President Blatter as he announced the award. “When we think of football, we think of his name above all others. No other player has had such an influence on the sport or touched so many people. His verve and skill will never be forgotten.”

Also on the Kongresshaus stage, Amaury Group and L’Equipe Group President Francois Moriniere emphasised the importance of Pele for both future generations and in paving the way for those who would go on to win the Ballon d’Or. “He was a true ambassador of football and an example to other players. Very few even came close to matching his achievements,” he said.

“It is amazing to think that he never won the Ballon d’Or, but then he played at a time when the prize was only awarded to European players,” continued Moriniere. “Even so, everybody knows him as O Rei do Futebol. In Brazil, he is an icon. In the rest of the world, he is a hero whose fame goes beyond national borders.”

Pele is the only player to win the FIFA World Cup™ three times (1958, 1962 and 1970). He scored more than 1,200 goals in a playing career that spanned over two decades and is Brazil’s all-time leading scorer with 77 goals in 92 official matches.