Biography, Football

Pelé: The star who briefly halted Biafra War – and 9 other things you may not know about him

Pelé: The star who briefly halted Biafra War - and 9 other things you may not about him

The football world is in mourning as “the beautiful game” has lost, perhaps, its greatest exponent and player ever, Pelé. The iconic Brazilian football legend died on Thursday, 29 December 2022, at the age of 82.

According to a statement issued by the Albert Einstein hospital in São Paulo, Brazil, Pelé died at 3:27 pm local time “due to the failure of multiple organs, a result of the progression of colon cancer associated with his previous clinical condition”.

“The King”, as he was fondly called, was one of the greatest footballers and goal-scoring machines the world has ever seen on the field of play. He was the “classic number 10”, an inside forward and playmaker who dashed between the opposing lines, used his speed to cause maximum damage, utilised his dribbling skills to outmanoeuvre defenders and had a powerful shot wrapped around his feet, especially his right feet. He was the focal point of attack for his club and country and is credited with connecting the phrase “The Beautiful Game” with football.

To honour this footballer extraordinaire, Skabash, therefore, presents 10 things that readers may not have known about Pelé.

He was named after Thomas Edison

Many people who watched him play and millions of others who were too young to watch him play live but have viewed clips of him after his retirement simply knew this iconic footballer as Pelé. However, he was named Edson Arantes do Nascimento by his parents at his birth.

Edson, his first name, was given to him by his parents – father João Ramos (a.k.a. Dondinho) and mother Dona Celeste – to pay homage to Thomas Edison, the inventor of the lightbulb. In an interview with the UK Guardian in 2006, he said he “was really proud that I was named after Thomas Edison and wanted to be called Edson”. In a subsequent tweet in 2014, he reiterated that his parents named him Edson in honour of the prolific inventor as electricity had just been introduced to his hometown in Brazil when he was born.

He learnt how to play football using socks

Pelé was born into poverty, to the extent that his footballer, although being a footballer, could not afford to purchase him a proper football.

He, therefore, learnt how to play football by kicking socks padded with rags and newspapers and tied with string or with a grapefruit. He also played barefoot in his teenage years as he and his parents lacked the purchasing power to purchase actual football boots.

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He scored four goals on his debut

It was rare for professional football clubs in the 1950s to sign footballers at the age of 15, unlike what happens today. Well, Pelé was a different individual as he was so talented, to the extent that the Sao Paulo-based club signed him up immediately after a trial.

He subsequently made his debut for the club on 7 September 1956 at the age of 15 against Corinthians and instantly began to activate into fruition the words of Waldemar de Brito, his coach at his amateur club, Bauru Athletic Club juniors, who bragged to the Santos’ directors that the 15-year-old would be “the greatest football player in the world”. He dazzled in his debut game, scoring four goals.

He was declared a national treasure to prevent European clubs from buying him

Pele celebrating a goal

Having sparkled at the 1958 World Cup as a teenager and destroyed defences in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, Copa Libertadores and the Intercontinental Cups, many European clubs ranging from Real Madrid to Inter Milan to Juventus jostled to sign Pele.

Noticing the European (and global) attention towards their star footballer, the government of Brazil under President Jânio Quadros declared Pelé an “official national treasure” in 1961. This declaration made it practically impossible for the footballer to leave his country and he could not be sold to European teams. That was why he was a one-club man for much of his career, starting for Santos at the age of 15 and remaining for nearly two decades.

He remains the only player to have won three World Cups

Pele holding 3 world cup trophies

Pelé may have transited to the great beyond, but he was (and remains) the only player to have won three editions of the FIFA World Cup, the most coveted trophy in international football. He won the World Cup in 1958, 1962 and 1970.

He was the fulcrum of the Brazilian team in two out of the three triumphs: the 1958 World Cup (as a 17-year-old teenager) and the 1970 World Cup (his final international competition). The Santos-based attacker was largely injured throughout the 1962 World Cup, but he received a winner’s medal.

Pelé and his teammates briefly ensured a ceasefire during the Nigerian Civil War

Nigeria was in the midst of a calamitous war, known as the Nigerian Civil War or the Biafra War. The war, which started in 1967, had left many dead, several others injured and numerous people displaced.

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While the war was ravaging, Pelé and his Santos team landed in Nigeria in January 1969 to play an exhibition game. The Brazilian’s club base in the country was Lagos, the country’s then capital, and it was there that the club played a 2-2 draw against a local side, with the stadium full.

A ceasefire was reportedly reached and observed by the warring factions for 48 hours, courtesy of Pele and the Santos team.

He holds a world record for the number of goals scored

Pelé reportedly scored a total of 1,283 goals in his career and was presented with a Guinness World Record plaque for the most goals scored by an individual. however, there is some debate over the actual number of goals scored by the Brazilian wizard.

He is said to have scored 732 official goals for both his club and country, while the other goals were reportedly scored during “unofficial friendlies and tour games” of club sides. However, his record continues to be recognised by the GWR team.

He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II

Although he was not a citizen of Britain, the late Pelé was bestowed with the honorary title of Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) by the late Queen Elizabeth II in 1999. The British monarchy recognised him for his humanitarian work and activism.

He was named player of the century

He was named player of the century with Maradona

The late Pelé was made the FIFA Player of the Century alongside his rival, the now-deceased Diego Maradona, in 2000. The award was decided by the “Family of Football” committee of FIFA members, alongside votes cast via a web poll.

He was convinced by the US government to play in the American League

Henry Kissinger, the then-US Secretary of State, with the permission of President Richard Nixon, travelled to Sao Paulo to meet with Pelé to convince him to play in the North American Soccer League. This reportedly occurred in 1975, a year after he retired from playing for Santos.

Pelé subsequently signed a reported three-year contract worth $7 million with the New York Cosmos. He played for the club for two seasons and finally hung his boots in 1977.

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Gabriel is a trained political scientist, and a qualified and versatile communications professional who has worked as a journalist and Public Relations executive. He has a knack for content creation and development and is a keen digital native interested in all things good.
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