Brazilian football legend’s goals, greatest achievements and most famous moments visually explained
By and published on February 2, 2023
Brazilian football icon Pelé (1940-2022) is the only player in football history to have won three World Cups, achievements that have earned him legendary status. Pelé, one of football’s most prolific goalscorers, has spent nearly two decades mesmerizing fans and dazzling opponents with his skills. Here’s a visual explainer of Pele’s greatest accomplishments and the ‘three hearts’ that ‘the king’ of football was known for.
The beautiful game of Pelé
Pelé personified “joga bonito”, an expression he popularized, meaning the beautiful game. Pelé’s style of samba and his fast, flowing style revolutionized football and fascinated players and fans alike. Here is what some footballers have said about him:
“Pelé was quick, agile, scored with his head and controlled the ball with both legs like no one else.”
Cesar Luis Menotti (former Santos FC teammate, former Argentina head coach)
“He’s the most complete player I’ve ever seen.”
Franz Beckenbauer (former New York Cosmos teammate)
“He had speed, power and strength; he played very well on both sides of the pitch, he had a fantastic header and he was able to stop the ball with his chest like no one else.
Milton “Tita” Queiroz (former teammate in Brazil)
“He used to stop the ball with his chest, then lower it to his feet and hit a shot that made the door shake.”
Alfio Basile (former Argentine player)
“When God created Pelé, he put everything into him: speed, strength, momentum, technique, shooting, heading, dribbling, everything.”
Zico (former Brazil player)
“Pelé has done incredible things on the pitch; the best goals with a header, he showed extraordinary energy. He did things I had never seen before. Moreover, it continued to evolve to show new skills.
Pepe Macia (former Brazil player, Santos FC)
The “three hearts” of Pelé
Pelé was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento on October 23, 1940 in the city of Tres Coracoes (Three Hearts) in southeastern Brazil. His father named him after Thomas Edison, the famous inventor who created light bulbs. Pelé won the World Cup three times, in 1958, 1962 and 1970, a football record that no other player has yet achieved. In 2000, Fifa named Pelé as the player of the century with the Argentinian Diego Maradona, who died in 2020 at the age of 60.
First Heart 1958 FIFA World Cup Sweden
Pele was 17 when he made his World Cup debut playing for Brazil, the youngest player in tournament history. He scored his first goal against Wales. However, it was in the semi-final against France that he showed offing brilliance by scoring three goals. In the final against Sweden, he scored twice in a 5-2 win to take home the trophy. The first time Pelé was hailed as “The King” was in Paris Match magazine in July 1958, after Brazil’s World Cup triumph. Second Heart 1962 FIFA World Cup Chile
Then 21, Pelé suffered a serious groin injury after attempting a left-footed shot against Czechoslovakia in the group stage. It’s an injury that “hurt the whole nation”, said an announcer of its impact on Brazilian fans. Pelé attempted to return, but 12 days later suffered another injury in training, forcing him to sit out the remainder of the World Cup. Despite Pelé’s injury, Brazil again won the World Cup. 1970 FIFA World Cup Third Heart, Mexico
Pelé promised he would never play in another World Cup again after Brazil were eliminated in the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England in the group stage for the first time. But in Mexico in 1970, Pelé, then 29, took his virtuosity to another level, achieving some of the most magical moments in football history. He scored four goals, including one in the final against Italy. Pelé’s best tricks
Pelé performed quick and unpredictable movements and could outplay his opponents on the court. Here are some of his famous pieces, variations of which have been adopted by players around the world.
A nutmeg is a skill used primarily in football and other sports. The object is to kick, roll, dribble, throw or push the ball between an opponent’s legs.
While controlling the ball with speed, he stops abruptly and changes direction to leave the opponent behind.
Controls the ball with the tip of the foot, passes it over the defender to mislead him and regain control of the ball. A one-two with himself, but through the air.
The step-over (bike)
Step-over is a dribbling game that involves wrapping the legs around the ball. Often this is done parallel to an opposing player, facing him before without knowing which direction the attacker can go with the ball.
The attacker quickly moves the ball from one foot to the other, before using the second foot to move away from the defender.
Pele was so famous that he briefly stopped a war in 1967. Factions in a civil war in Nigeria agreed to a brief ceasefire so the soccer star could play an exhibition match there. In 1997, Pelé was knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. Here is what some famous personalities said about him:
“Watching him play was seeing the fun of a child combined with the extraordinary grace of a whole man.”
“Pelé was one of the few to contradict my theory: instead of 15 minutes of fame, he will have 15 centuries.”
“I’m Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America. But you don’t have to introduce yourself because everyone knows who Pelé is.
“Everyone absolutely wanted to shake his hand, take a picture with him. Saying you partied with Pelé was the biggest badge of honor.
Pelé’s many goals
Pelé’s tally of goals is controversial. According to the Brazilian Football Association (CBF) and Santos, Pele scored 1,283 goals in 1,367 matches during his career. Fifa put their goalscoring record at 757 in 812 matches. Many statisticians claim that only official matches should be counted in the count.
three of the greatest
Pele, Maradona and Lionel Messi are widely regarded as the best in sport. Here is an overview of their career.
Age 11: Joined Santos youth team (1951)
15 years old: joined professional football club Santos (1956)
17 years old: won his first World Cup (1958)
20 years: Brazil declares Pelé a national treasure (1961)
21: Brazil won their second World Cup (1962)
25 years old: playing his third World Cup (1966)
29 years old: played in his fourth World Cup and won it (1970)
30 years old: Played his last international match (1971)
34 years old: joined the New York Cosmos (1975)
37: retired from football (1977)
38 years old: received the International Peace Prize (1978)
51 years old: Becomes UN Ambassador for Ecology and the Environment (1992)
56 years old: Becomes Minister of Sports in Brazil and is made an honorary knight by Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain (1997)
59 years old: Named best player of the century by Fifa (2000)
61 years old: Holder of an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh (2012)
73 years old: Awarded the honorary Ballon d’Or (2013)
82: dies after battling cancer (2022)
11 years old: joined Argentinos Juniors (1971)
15: made his professional debut (1976)
16: made his international debut (1977)
21 years old: played his first World Cup (1982)
25 years old: Plays his second World Cup and wins. The goal of “The Hand of God” is scored in a quarter-final against England (1986)
29 years old: playing in his third World Cup (1990)
30: fails drug test and is banned for 15 months (1991)
31 years old: made his big comeback in Seville, Spain (1992)
33 years old: Failed a doping control during his last World Cup (1994)
37: retires from football after failing another doping test (1997)
40 years old: collapse with heart problems (2000)
48 years old: became Argentina coach (2008)
60 years old: dies of a heart attack (2020)
5 years old: starts playing football for Grandoli, a small Argentinian club coached by his father (1992)
8: Moved to Newell’s Old Boys (Argentina) (1995)
12 years old: signs his first contract with Barcelona (2000)
16: made his official Barcelona debut (2003)
19 years old: playing his first World Cup (2006)
22: Receives FIFA World Player of the Year Award (2009)
23 years old: playing his second World Cup (2010)
25 years old: breaks the record for goals per year (91) (2012)
27 years old: competing in his third World Cup (2014)
31 years old: playing his fourth World Cup (2018)
35 years old: playing in his fifth World Cup and winning it (2022)
Associate Creative Director Marcelo Duhalde
Edited by Andrew London and Nicolas Atkin
Sources: FIFA, AP, EPA-EFE, ESPN, Getty Images, “Pelé: the autobiography” (Orlando Duarte and Alex Bellos), “Os Garotos do Brasil” Ruy Castro, Globo TV, Goal, Conmebol