The greatest player of all time
With his larger-than-life personality and extraordinary dribbling skills – a trademark of his game – Pele’s helped the Cosmos win the North American Soccer League championship in 1977 before officially retiring from football.
The league, which attracted further big names like Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer, wouldn’t last, ultimately folding in 1984. But around the world, Pelé’s influence endured.
He remained in the public eye through endorsement deals and as an outspoken political voice who championed the poor in Brazil. He served as a Goodwill UNICEF ambassador for many years, promoting peace and support for vulnerable children.
Debate will inevitably rage about whether Pelé is the greatest player of all time. Whether it is possible to compare Pelé’s achievements to those of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, who have rewritten soccer’s record books over the past 15 years, or to Diego Maradona, the late Argentinian star who captivated the footballing world in the 1980s and 90s.
In 2000, FIFA jointly named Maradona and Pelé as Player of the Century, but to some, the outright winner of the award should have been obvious.
“This debate about the player of the century is absurd,” said Zico, who represented Brazil in the decade after Pelé’s retirement. “There’s only one possible answer: Pelé. He’s the greatest player of all time, and by some distance, I might add.”
Exactly how many goals Pelé scored during his career is unclear, and his Guinness World Records tally has come under scrutiny with many scored in unofficial matches.
In March 2021, he congratulated Portugal’s Ronaldo for passing his “record of goals in official matches” – 767.
There is little doubt, however, that Pelé was, and always will be, football’s first global superstar.
“If I pass away one day, I am happy because I tried to do my best,” he told The Talks online magazine. “My sport allowed me to do so much because it’s the biggest sport in the world.”