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7 Interesting Pele Facts You Probably Didn't Know

Updated: 1 day ago

Full Name: Edson Arantes Do Nascimento

Date of Birth: 23 October 1940

Death: 29 December 2022

Place of Birth: Minas Gerais, Brazil

Height: 1.73 m (5 ft 8 in)

Position: Forward/Attacking Midfielder

Teams: Santos, New York Cosmos, and Brazil

7 Interesting Pele Facts You Probably Didn't Know [GETTY]
7 Interesting Pele Facts You Probably Didn't Know [GETTY]

Pele is without question the most legendary footballer to have ever played the game. Whether you believe the Brazilian is the greatest football player in history is clearly a hotly debated topic.

Yet as a true icon of the game with undisputed historical significance, epic records, and endless accolades, it's hard to deny his superiority in this regard. With such monumental status and fame, there are few things that your average football fan won’t already know about the late Brazilian including his well-publicised life and renowned achievements.

However, away from triple World Cup glory and a landslide of goals, some fascinating things about his life and career are largely unknown.

Here are 7 Interesting Pele Facts You Probably Didn't Know

  • His Name Is Still A Mystery

  • He Was From A Very Poor Background

  • He Scored Over 1000 Goals (Or Did He?)

  • He Nearly Played In Europe

  • He Couldn't Afford To Stop Playing

  • He Did Not Like Maradona

  • He Retired From International Football…Twice

1. His Name Is Still A Mystery

Even long after his death - the origins of Pele's name will forever be up for debate. With no reliable source to confirm the truth, numerous tales will remain of how Edson Arantes Do Nascimento came to be known and adored by a single four-letter word.

Pele’s first name is Edson. It is believed his Father named him after American inventor Thomas Edison. But when a spelling error accidentally removed the ‘I’ from his birth certificate it was simply never corrected. One of the most popular theories about his name derives from childhood. As a youngster, Pele played in goal with his handling style often compared to a local Goalkeeper called Bile.

Pronounced ‘Bellay,’ rumour has it he was handed the nickname but it was mispronounced, sounding like “Pellay” instead and this seemed to stick. Apparently, Pele grew to dislike his name and often said it sounded like ‘baby talk.’

Coincidentally, the word ‘Bile’ in Hebrew means miracle. Although fitting to describe his evident brilliance, Pele’s family were devout Catholics and there is little evidence to support such a theory. Pele is referred to as the goddess of volcanoes and fire in the Hawaiian religion.

2. He Was From A Very Poor Background

The story of Pele’s humble beginnings is often forgotten in favour of his famous exploits and lasting image as a global celebrity sportsman. Pele actually grew up in relative poverty. He was raised in the deprived areas of Bauru, a state of Sao Paulo, spending his days grappling for extra money by working as a servant in local tea shops.

He could not afford basic luxuries such as a football and would instead stuff a sock with paper to kick around. Pele decided to form his first football team with a group of friends from the local neighbourhood and even named themselves ‘the shoeless ones’.

Fortunately, his life would be forever changed after being asked to trial for Brazilian side Santos and seemed to impress their Coach Lula. Pele went on to sign his first professional contract for Santos aged just 15.

3. He Scored Over 1000 Goals (Or Did He?)

Pele famously scored a record total of 1,283 career goals for club sides Santos, New York Cosmos, and seventy-seven times for Brazil. Across his career, he netted 92 separate hat-tricks. He scored four goals in one game an impressive 31 times, struck five times in a single match on six separate occasions, and once even hit eight in a 90-minute spell. Unbelievably, Pele scored three or more goals on 129 different occasions throughout his unrivalled and prolific scoring career.

Or did he?

With the formation of the IFFHS (International Federation of Football History and Statistics) in 1984, his goal record has come under severe attack and the overall tally is disputed. The organisation claims that many of the games in which Pele scored were non-competitive and often a level beneath recognised standards of your average Friendly match. With a range of matches therefore void - his new statistics look very different from the ones fans thought they knew.

His total decreases by nearly 500 to 762 goals overall. That puts him in third place on the all-time football goalscorers list behind Lionel Messi with 793 and Cristiano Ronaldo with 819 strikes. Under the new system, Pele registered 604 league goals, scored 49 times in cup matches, and had 26 strikes in continental competition. Oddly his international record improved by five giving him a total of 83 goals for Brazil.

4. He Nearly Played In Europe

Pelé famously spent the majority of his career in his native Brazil. The conversation over why he never chose to move into European football still rages on to this day. But in reality, he quite easily could have.

Real Madrid and Inter Milan had been long-term admirers. In fact, Los Blancos' president Santiago Bernabeu visited Pele on three separate occasions in 1959, 1961, and 1963. Bernabeu was so keen that he attempted to conduct negotiations in person each time.

So-called experts scoff at Pele's apparent cowardice for deciding to remain in Brazil, maybe unwilling to challenge himself in more demanding surroundings or perhaps a lack of adventure to try something new. But in truth - at the time, elite players didn't feel the need to explore European Football, unlike many South American stars playing today who seem to crave the switch.

The Brazilian government even declared Pelé an official national treasure in 1961 in an effort to block any potential transfer out of the country.

5. He Couldn't Afford To Stop Playing

Pele represented Santos over the course of eighteen glittering years before finally announcing his retirement from club football in 1974. Yet despite nearly two decades of professional football and holding many lucrative endorsement deals, reports had begun to circulate that Pele was experiencing 'financial troubles' and 'business losses.'

Within a year the Brazilian legend stated his intention to come out of retirement and sign for US side New York Cosmos. Tellingly, he penned a three-year deal worth an astronomical $7 million or the equivalent of $38 million today, making him the highest-paid athlete ever at the time. "Don't go to Italy or Spain. All you can do is win a championship," insisted Cosmos manager Clive Toye. "Come to the U.S. and you can win a country."

6. He Did Not Like Maradona

For some time, it was largely accepted that Pele and Argentina legend Maradona were the two greatest players of all time - with football fans typically unable to choose their definitive number one. Football organisations such as FIFA and UEFA have celebrated each man equally and seemingly been unwilling to separate them.

On the surface, there has been little hint of rivalry, yet Pele has shown on occasion that whilst he might respect Maradona to a degree, there is a deeper annoyance concerning his fellow footballing great.

"For 20 years they have asked me the same question, who is the greatest - Pele or Maradona?” the Brazilian said back in 2006. “I reply that all you have to do is look at the facts - how many goals did he score with his right foot or with his head?

“Who cares what Pele says?” Maradona responded bluntly. “He belongs in a museum.”

7. He Retired From International Football...Twice

Following the 1970 World Cup, Pele's international career began to wind down and by the following year, he'd played what was thought to be his final game for Brazil. Most statistics suggest his last international game was a 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia on July 18, 1971.

Pele scored 77 goals for Brazil, which remains a joint-record tally at the time of publishing, in just 92 appearances - that's a ratio of 0.84 goals per game. During that time, he won an unmatched three World Cup titles in 1958, 1962, and 1970. But what isn't so well-known is that Pele actually came out of international retirement to play one last game for Brazil.

On October 6, 1976, he featured in a one-off match against club side Flamengo - who went on to defeat Brazil 2-0.

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