Pelé: The inspiring story of ‘The King’ (nay ‘Legend’) of soccer

Here are some of the Brazilian star’s achievements and a little about his life and career.

Pelé's life is full of epic episodes and life lessons. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, had an enormous career in the world of soccer, but he also did great things off the field.

Pelé's life

Edson Arantes was born in Minas Gerais, Brazil, in 1940. His parents were fellow soccer player João Ramos do Nascimento, known as Dondinho and Maria Celeste Arantes. It is said, by the way, that his mother was key to Pelé's perseverance and success because she was adamantly opposed to his soccer career. He did everything to prove to her that he would make it and be the best in the world.


Pelé's wives and children

As for his love life, Pelé married for the first time Rosemeri Cholbi, a marriage that would end in 1978. The reason would be the priority that the soccer star always gave to his work. From this union, he had four children named: Kelly, Christina, Edinho, and Jennifer.

Later, in 1994, Edson married again, this time to Assiria Seixas Lemos, a marriage that ended in 2008. He had twins Joshua and Celeste with her. In 2016, Pelé married for a third time to businesswoman Marcia Aoki, with whom he began a formal relationship in 2010.


Pelé, the king

As a child, Pelé struggled to make his debut in a soccer team in Brazil. It is said that many clubs rejected him, and in fact, before becoming a soccer player, he earned his living as a shoeshine boy. After tireless attempts, Pelé managed to make his debut in secondary teams in 1956.

When he was 16 years old, Santos de São Paulo would be the club that would sign him. It was on this team that the player showed his talent in soccer and earned the nickname of the “Black Pearl.” At Santos de São Paulo, Pelé was the top scorer in the 11 tournaments he played in, and led the club to victory for 10 years. He also won:

  • Five Rio-São Paulo Tournaments
  • Twice in the Copa Libertadores
  • Twice in the Intercontinental Cup (1962 and 1963)
  • The first World Club Championship was in 1962

Pelé, at almost 17 years old, made his debut in the Brazilian national team in 1958, for the World Cup in Sweden, where he was a key player along with his teammate Mané Garrincha.

Pele and the ‘jogo bonito’ style

Pele and Garrincha made history together; they had a way of playing that the chroniclers of the time described as artistic and beautiful. Their style was very fluid and dominant and thus was born the “Jogo bonito” or “beautiful game” style in English.


This style would be the antithesis of other World Cup teams, as the English, for example, had a more brute style, with a lot of power and ball playing. Meanwhile, the Mediterranean teams did not have a defined style, and they were mostly known for improvising.

King Pelé

Pelé was consecrated as the best player in the world of his time with three World Cup triumphs, including the World Cup in Mexico in 1970. After years in soccer and have won as many titles as possible, in 1974 he announced his retirement... at least in Brazil because shortly after he was signed by an American team, in one of the first attempts of the United States to push soccer.


That was how Pelé arrived in New York, to the New York Cosmos, a team formed by several star players of that time, such as Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer, and Carlos Alberto. Finally, in 1977, Pelé officially retired for good.

Pelé Statistics

  • Official games played: 1,363
  • Goals scored: 1,284
  • Yellow cards received: 0
  • Red cards received: 0

Why was he nicknamed Pelé?

Maybe you didn’t know, but his lifelong nickname, the one his family gave him, was Dico, that’s what they called him when he was a child.


When he came to professional soccer, he was nicknamed Pelé and he emerged in his brief role as a goalkeeper. He reminded the fans and journalists of the time of his father’s rivalry with another goalkeeper nicknamed Bilé. That was what he was originally called until he became Pelé.

By the way, he hated the nickname. In an interview, he mentioned that his name “Edson” was given to him after the famous inventor “Thomas Alba Edison” and that being called Pelé was something he never quite liked. He preferred the nickname “Black Pearl.”


Pelé in pop culture

In addition to being one of the greatest soccer players, Pelé had a facet as a singer-songwriter and also as an actor. During his time as a singer, Pelé released “Tabelinha” in 1969, a song he sang together with Elis Regina, a prominent singer of that time. Here you can listen to the song:

As an actor, Pelé stood out for his leading role in a movie called “Escape to Victory” (O Victory), directed by John Huston, and released in 1981. In that movie, he acted with industry legends like Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine, and other soccer stars like Bobby Morre and Paul Van Himst. This feature film is based on real events.


Pelé also made appearances in television series, documentaries, and feature films that chronicled his life and his time in soccer. For example, he was in The Simpsons.

Pelé's health problems

As the years have gone by, Pelé's health has naturally faced different problems. In 2021, he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his colon, which required an operation to remove it. As a result, Pelé has been in and out of medical check-ups periodically.


Let’s also remember that in 2018, Pelé appeared in a wheelchair during the World Cup draw gala. The reason? He underwent hip surgery, which caused him a lot of pain and problems walking without assistance.

More recently, in early December 2022, Pelé was rushed to the hospital. According to his wife Marcia Aoki, she noticed an unusual swelling. Once in the hospital, specialists mentioned that he was suffering from decompensated heart failure. Although hospitalized, he was reported out of danger.


Titles and other appointments

Yes, Pelé had other official appointments and recognitions, beyond those obtained as a player. For example, in 1995 he was appointed Minister of Sports in Brazil, where he promulgated the “Pelé Law,” which sought to modify the legislation of sports contracts between club and player.

In 1977 he was named “Citizen of the World,” and this was not the only title that the UN would give Pelé. In 1992 he was appointed Ambassador for Ecology and the Environment.


How much did you know about Pelé? This man put the name of Brazil and soccer in the region on high. He will go down in history for his charisma, talent, and emotion that made generations of fans feel.

Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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