According to FIFA in 2012, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or more commonly known as Pelé, is the greatest footballer of all time.
Whilst it’s all subject to opinion, and with the way both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s careers have developed since then, you can’t get more official than confirmation from football’s governing body.
His life might not have been as controversial as fellow South American Diego Maradona, but in a footballing sense especially on the international scene, there have been few to none to rival his achievements.
Having been born in Três Coraçōes in October 1940, he got the nickname Pelé at school in tribute to his favourite footballer, the Vasco da Gama goalkeeper Bilé, having misspoke.
The start of his football career was a challenge, having grown up in poverty in Bauru, São Paulo.
He played for multiple amateur teams when growing up and even played for an indoor football team, leading him to compete in the first futsal competition in São Paulo, being part of the winning team.
When he was just 15, his amateur team coach Waldemar de Brito, took Pelé to Santos, arguably the biggest professional football club in Brazil, and claimed to them that he was the greatest football player in the world.
His encouragement must have worked because shortly after in September 1956, Pelé signed a contract with the club, and scored on his debut against Corinthians Santo Andre in a 7-1 victory.
By the time of 1957 Pelé was already the top scorer in the league aged just 16, and was called up to the Brazilian national side, a place where his achievements would transform him from national superstar, to a global icon.
Pelé’s Santos team won the 1958 Campeonato Paulista, the first major title of his career, finishing as the top scorer with 58 goals.
Having won his first championship, Pelé was called up for the Brazil squad in 1958 to compete in the World Cup in Sweden.
Despite having scored so many goals in Brazil, Pelé was an unknown quantity across the rest of the world, with no social media or any way of broadcasting his talents across the world at the time.
Having been injured for the start of the tournament, Pelé missed the first two matches of the competition, but was back in time for the third where he assisted Vavá’s second goal of the game.
He really broke on the scene in the semi-final against France, where he scored a second-half hat-trick, to secure a 5-2 win for the South American’s and a chance to secure a first ever World Cup title against hosts Sweden in the final.
As the youngest player to even compete in a World Cup final, at the age of 17 years and 249 days, Pelé scored a brace in another 5-2 victory, including a stunning goal in which he flicked the ball over a defender’s head before striking the ball into the bottom corner.
Brazil had won their first World Cup and their 17-year-old sensation came up clutch when it mattered, already cementing himself in Brazilian football folklore.
In the years following the World Cup, plenty of European club sides were vying for the signature of Pelé, but they were unable to secure the signature of the now superstar, due to the revolt from Santos’ fans.
Pelé’s biggest achievement of his club career came in 1962 and 1963 when Santos won two Copa Libertadores’ on the bounce, becoming South American champions twice, and being the first Brazilian side to lift South America’s biggest competition on Argentine soil in 1963.
Despite another triumph for Brazil, the 1962 World Cup in Chile was a disappointment for Pelé, who injured himself in the second match meaning he would miss Brazil’s eventual winning campaign.
The 1966 World Cup proved to be the most disappointing of Pelé’s career, who again was injured in Brazil’s first match against Bulgaria, missing the second game of the group against Hungary.
He was subjected to the same treatment in Brazil’s final group game against Portugal and with Brazil losing the game, Pelé and the national team crashed out at the group-stage, with England going on to claim that year’s World Cup.
At the age of 29, the 1970 World Cup in Mexico was widely expected to be Pelé’s last.
He had now been regarded as the best player in the world for the best part of a decade, and was desperate to bow out of the international stage on a high, and secure a permanent Jules Rimet trophy for Brazil.
The 1970 Brazil team did not disappoint and is now widely considered to be one of the greatest international sides of all time.
Pelé was at his stunning best throughout the tournament, contributing positively to every match with a goal or assist in every game in the run to the final.
Brazil would face Italy in Mexico City in sweltering heat in the final of the competition.
Pelé scored the opening goal of the game before setting up the third and fourth goal for Brazil, the latter often considered to be the greatest goal of all time, finished by right-back Carlos Alberto.
The game finished 4-1 to Brazil securing a third World Cup and the permanent ownership of the Jules Rimet trophy for Brazil, putting Pelé into footballing folklore.
After his career with Brazil and Santos came to a conclusion in 1971 and 1974 respectively, Pelé used the opportunity to join a US glamour project team in the New York Cosmos.
He was joined by a multitude of superstars at the time including Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer, and won a 1977 North American Soccer League Championship in 1977.
At the age of 36, Pelé played his final game in October 1977, in a game between Santos and Cosmos, a game played in his honour.
Despite never hitting the shores of Europe during his club career, Pelé’s goal record, despite often being disputed, speaks for itself.
There is no doubt that whatever people believe about the difference in standard between South American and European club football, three World Cup titles speak for themselves.
And in an era where global football was rarely on show barring the World Cup, it could be argued that Pelé really was football’s first superstar.