Remembering Pelé: The legend who unified game and glory | In pics

Written By: Mukul Sharma | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 09:16 AM IST

He once played football barefoot in the small Brazilian village of Três Corações where he was born as Edson Arantes do Nascimento.

Pelé, the phenomenally admired and equally revered footballer came to be described as the greatest sportsperson of the 20th century at the sunset of the millennium.

At first, he did not have a conventional football to play with, using rolled-up rags for a ball.

Then, at 17, as a skinny countryside Brazilian boy with humble beginnings, Pelé burst onto the world football scene by scoring two goals in the 1958 World Cup final to lead Brazil to win over Sweden 5-2.  

Pelé's story ascended to the top of global sports during his 21-year career in which he would go on to score 1,283 goals. With a captivating smile, playing forward, Pelé symbolised the legend of being a legendary figure in the sport. Instead of being politically assertive like Mohammed Ali, Pelé understood the power of sports to bring people together. He was equally revered in the US and the USSR, symbolising the unitary power of sports during the most polarised moments of recent human history in the last century. 


Between Martin Luther King Jr. and Barak Obama, Pelé's is a story told, in photographs that spanned decades, melting borders with a recognisable smile to score the goalpost of indelible football greatness.

The three-time World Cup winner who masterminded the 'beautiful game', died on December 29, 2022, at the age of 82, after battling kidney problems and colon cancer.

Pelé in tears after Brazil's 1958 World Cup win against Sweden

The joy to Football was amplified in Sweden, when the world got introduced to Pelé during 1958 World Cup knockouts. Pelé went on to become the game's first global superstar during the moments that led Brazil to lift the World Cup. 

WIkimedia Commons


The 'most recognisable smile' of 20th century sports

Pelé's 'beautiful game' was symbolised in his equally recognisable smile that put humility at the forefront of greatness. In this file photo taken on June 13, 1961, Brazilian striker Pelé, wearing his Santos jersey, smiles before playing a friendly soccer match with his club against the French club of 'Racing', in Colombes, in the suburbs of Paris.


Pelé's name inscribed on Brazilian monument to honor 1958 and 1962 World Cup wins

Pelé was part of both 1958 and 1962 World Cup winning squads of Brazil. Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has the monument built in the honor of country's first two World Cup wins. 


Pelé in Paris

In this file photo taken on March 30, 1971, Pelé is surrounded by a huge crowd at the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Pelé was in Paris with club team Santos to play an exhibition match against a French All-Stars team in aid of cancer research.


Pelé with the US President Richard Nixon

From Richard Nixon to Barak Obama, Pelé witnessed the turning of times. While he was never perceived as a political figure like Mohammad Ali, his football greatness smashed the geopolitical binaries during and after his career.

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The 50th birthday forward strike

In this file photo taken on October 31, 1990, Pelé plays the ball during a friendly football match on his fiftieth birthday in Milan, Italy.


Pelé with his partner Maria das Graças Meneghel

Pelé was married thrice with Rosemeri dos Reis Cholbi (m. 1966; div.1982)​, Assíria Lemos Seixas (m.1994; div. 2008)​ and Marcia Aoki (m. 2016) respectively. 

But in pop culture, his most recognisable personal relationship remained with Brazilian singer and TV host Maria das Graças Meneghel aka Xuxa. In this picture, taken on May 14, 1983, Pelé is seen with 'Xuxa' at Cannes Film Festival in France.


Between Pelé, Messi and Neymar: The decades of South American football greatness

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi with Pelé and Brazilian forward Neymar after receiving for the third time the FIFA Ballon d'Or award in Zurich, Switzerland in January 2012.


With Putin and Maradona before 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Pelé and Argentina's former midfielder Diego Maradona pose for pictures ahead of the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup football tournament at the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow.


The inter-generational sports legend

Pelé gets emotional while acknowledging the roaring crowd of his fans before the African Cup of Nations (CAN 2012) semi-final football match Mali vs Ivory Coast in Liberville, the capital of Gabon.