- Pele celebrates his 80th birthday today
- His achievements in the game have never been matched
- O Rei’s fame made him a global superstar
There are very few names that are truly known the world over. These include some historical figures, a small number of film or music icons, as well as an exclusive group of sportspeople – of which Pele is unquestionably one. Regardless of their generation, country of origin or knowledge of football, people everywhere know of the famous Brazilian striker.
The reason for that is, first and foremost, his incredible on-field achievements. Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, he went on to score more than 1,000 goals in a career that also saw him become the only player in history to have won the FIFA World Cup™ three times. Video footage of his wondrous goals, dribbles and other skills have been seen around the world, such as his famous dummy and miss against Uruguay at the 1970 World Cup.
Pele’s fame also owes much to his charisma and the aura that surrounded him on and off the pitch. Giuseppe Meazza, Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas may have been among the game’s early icons, but Pele was its first superstar. In places as far apart as Lima, Bangalore and Lusaka, marble plaques can be found at the entrance to stadiums proudly proclaiming that “Pele played here”. In 1961, the then Brazil President Janio Quadros even passed a law making the player a “National Treasure”.
Two decades later, John Huston cast him in his 1981 blockbuster Escape to Victory alongside Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone. Then in 2000, the French sports daily L’Équipe named him ‘Champion of the Century’ with the following summation: “We should consult Pele as we would an oracle so that he can solve all of life’s little problems, foresee the future and, while he’s at it, rid the world of all its miseries and ills.”
Small wonder then that, in his heyday, his fame was on par with that of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. In a society that had nothing like the cult of celebrity we see today, Pele was still followed everywhere he went. As with the Beatles, fans would chase him for an autograph and he was permanently surrounded by photographers, who captured and immortalised every phase of his life. These photos, whether in black and white or colour, give us a glimpse of life behind the scenes of one of football’s greatest legends and the chance to experience what he represented.