On This Day in 1940

We Toast Pelé Footballer of the Century’s 70th

Pelé, a living legend who celebrates his 70th birthday today, could spend the rest of his life eating veal and starring in dodgy football films (admittedly, he’s been in a few) and still maintain his unparalleled status. One of the first ever footballers to become a true international superstar (a fact recognized by Andy Warhol, whose iconic portraits of the athlete we show today), Pelé scored over 1,000 goals in his 18-year career and won the World Cup with Brazil an unprecedented three times. He’s been named an ambassador for UNESCO, an honorary knight in the UK, and a special minister for sport in his home country. He has even halted conflict: in 1967 Nigeria called a 48-hour ceasefire to its civil war just so federal and rebel troops could watch Pelé play a match there. Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, he began his career at Santos FC in Brazil’s São Paulo state. Making his debut in 1956 aged 15, Pelé had everything––a blistering shot, unequaled skill with either foot and the ability to score goals with his feet and head. Add to that a formidable spatial intelligence (or “footballing brain” to the layman), and it’s no wonder that most discussions about him will feature the word “genius.” At 16 the youngster was called up to the Brazilian national team and made his World Cup debut the following year in Sweden. He was an integral part of the 1970 team that many consider to be the best of all time. His career came to an end with the New York Cosmos in 1977—as part of the team he helped establish football (or soccer) as a serious sport in the US—and this August was named honorary president of the newly revived team. This year, he added Louis Vuitton to the list of causes and brands he has represented, appearing in a campaign video alongside fellow greats Zinedine Zidane and Diego Maradona.  

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