There can't be a discussion about who is the best soccer player ever without Pelé's name being brought up. The Brazilian attacker has made his mark by being a scoring machine who produced incredible highlights, with a remarkably victorious career that spanned from the mid 1950s to the late 1970s.
At a time where it was uncommon for South American players to play abroad, Pelé played most of his career at Brazilian team Santos. During the 1960s Santos' squad, of which Pelé was the central piece and star, won everything in the regional, national, and continental levels. The team is still known as one of the best squads in Brazilian soccer. Nonetheless, what made Pelé globally famous was his play for Brazil's National Soccer Team, with whom he won three World Cups out of Brazil's five overall. Pelé also played a big role in popularizing soccer in the United States, moving to the NY Cosmos toward the end of his career.
To this day, Pelé is known for his accomplishments from over 50 years ago; his name and his brand go beyond just soccer. He is unquestionably one of the best athletes ever.
Pelé began his professional career playing for Brazilian club Santos at the age of 16. While in Brazil Pelé's potential was well known, the rest of the world got introduced to the kid who would become the "King of Soccer" during the 1958 World Cup, held in Sweden, when he was only 17. While only making his debut in the third match played by Brazil, Pelé showed who he was; he scored 6 goals in 4 matches and led Brazil to its first World Cup title.
By the next World Cup in 1962, he was unquestionably the best player in the world, and had already won two Brazillian Leagues and one Copa Libertadores. Pelé helped Brazil achieve another win in 1962, however, he got injured early in the tournament, and only played two games, scoring two goals. It was in 1970 when Pelé and Brazil would have their most memorable World Cup. The 1970 Brazil squad had some kind of magic that captivated people, and is widely regarded as the best and most dominant National Soccer Team ever. Pelé and Brazil won their third World Cup in four editions. He retired from Brazil's National Team only a year later, having only lost 11 out of 93 games.
After unofficially retiring in 1974, Pelé signed a deal with the NY Cosmos for the 1975 season, which made him the highest paid athlete in the world at the time . Pelé and other soccer stars who were toward the end of their careers helped popularize soccer in the United States. Pelé's last game was in 1977, in a friendly between the Cosmos and Santos. Pelé played one half on each side.
As one of the all time best soccer players, it is natural that Pelé has won many trophies and individual awards during his career. In fact, he won a World Cup just two years into his career; he was the youngest athlete to score in a World Cup final and to win a World Cup. He has a total of three World Cup wins, more than any other player.
Pelé has also won many individual awards. In addition to having several top scorer trophies, he was presented with very important awards such as the FIFA Athlete of the Century and the Olympic Order by the IOC. Notably, Pelé never won a Ballon D'Or, which rewards the best soccer player in the world during the year. Being Brazilian, he would normally not be eligible to receive it, as during his playing time only European players could win the Ballon D'Or. Nonetheless, in 2014 he was awarded an honorary Ballon D'Or by FIFA.
Pelé was born in Tres Coraçoes, a small town in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil, to a very poor family. His father was also a soccer player. The King was not born Pelé, his real name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento, and he got his nickname while watching one of his dad's games. The team's goalkeeper was called "Bilé," and was young Edson's favorite player, who could not really say his name, and would call him "Pilé" instead. Edson started being called Pilé by his family, which evolved into Pelé, the name the world would come to know.
Pelé has been involved with many women throughout his life, being officially married three times. He has 8 children. One of his sons followed his father's footsteps and was a goalkeeper for Santos during the 1990s.
Today, Pelé is not the young man he once was. He has difficulty moving due to a hip replacement, and thus spends more time sitting in a wheelchair. That doesn't stop him from doing commercials and appearances every once in a while, in addition to taking care of his many businesses and brands.
Pelé's goal scoring numbers are quite high. The man himself and many of his fans celebrate his incredible 1,283 goals throughout his career. However, many of those came in friendlies and in less important matches. Nonetheless, Pelé played in different times, where friendlies were more common, teams didn't have schedules as busy as they do today. In official matches, he has 757 in 812 matches.
It is truly impossible to pinpoint who is the actual best soccer player ever. With such a rich and global history, the sport has had many players who are in that conversation, including Pelé. Each fan has their own biases and preferences; while Argentinians have no doubt in their minds that Maradona is the best ever, and the Portuguese know for a fact that Cristiano Ronaldo is the best ever, there is no doubt in the Brazilians' minds that there has never been anyone better than Pelé.
The answer is both yes and no. They never played against each other, Pelé retired in 1977 and Maradona started his career in 1976. They also don't dislike each other; Pelé even appeared in Maradona's TV Show in 2005. However, the dispute over who is the actual greatest player ever mixes with the soccer rivalry between Brazil and Argentina, which generates some kind of rivalry between both soccer geniuses.
Throughout his whole career Pelé wore the number 10 jersey in soccer for every team he played for. It is not part of soccer's traditions to retire jersey numbers, so Pelé's number 10 is not retired by Santos nor Brazil. However, the number 10 jersey is retired for the NY Cosmos, as it is part of American culture to do so.