Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Brazilian Portuguese: ; born 23 October 1940), known as Pel (), is a Brazilian retired professional footballer who played as a forward. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. In 1999, he was voted World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS), and was one of the two joint winners of the FIFA Player of the Century award. That same year, Pel was elected Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee. According to the IFFHS, Pel is the most successful domestic league goal-scorer in football history scoring 650 goals in 694 League matches, and in total 1281 goals in 1363 games, which included unofficial friendlies and is a Guinness World Record. During his playing days, Pel was for a period the best-paid athlete in the world.

Pel began playing for Santos at age 15 and the Brazil national team at 16. During his international career, he won three FIFA World Cups: 1958, 1962 and 1970, being the only player ever to do so. Pel is the all-time leading goalscorer for Brazil with 77 goals in 92 games. At club level he is the record goalscorer for Santos, and led them to the 1962 and 1963 Copa Libertadores. Known for connecting the phrase “The Beautiful Game” with football, Pel’s “electrifying play and penchant for spectacular goals” made him a star around the world, and his teams toured internationally in order to take full advantage of his popularity. Since retiring in 1977, Pel has been a worldwide ambassador for football and has made many acting and commercial ventures. In 2010, he was named the Honorary President of the New York Cosmos.

Averaging almost a goal per game throughout his career, Pel was adept at striking the ball with either foot in addition to anticipating his opponents’ movements on the field. While predominantly a striker, he could also drop deep and take on a playmaking role, providing assists with his vision and passing ability, and he would also use his dribbling skills to go past opponents. In Brazil, he is hailed as a national hero for his accomplishments in football and for his outspoken support of policies that improve the social conditions of the poor. Throughout his career and in his retirement, Pel received several individual and team awards for his performance in the field, his record-breaking achievements, and legacy in the sport.


Early years

Born in Trs Coraes in 1940, Pel has a street named after him in the city – Rua Edson Arantes do Nascimento. A statue of Pel is also prominently placed in a plaza near downtown.

Pel was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento on 23 October 1940, in Trs Coraes, Minas Gerais, Brazil, the son of Fluminense footballer Dondinho (born Joo Ramos do Nascimento) and Celeste Arantes. He was the elder of two siblings.[1] He was named after the American inventor Thomas Edison.[2] His parents decided to remove the “i” and call him “Edson”, but there was a mistake on the birth certificate, leading many documents to show his name as “Edison”, not “Edson”, as he is called.[2][3] He was originally nicknamed “Dico” by his family.[1][4] He received the nickname “Pel” during his school days, when it is claimed he was given it because of his pronunciation of the name of his favorite player, local Vasco da Gama goalkeeper Bil, which he misspoke but the more he complained the more it stuck. In his autobiography, Pel stated he had no idea what the name means, nor did his old friends.[1] Apart from the assertion that the name is derived from that of Bil, and that it is Hebrew for “miracle” (), the word has no known meaning in Portuguese.[note 1][5]

Pel grew up in poverty in Bauru in the state of So Paulo. He earned extra money by working in tea shops as a servant. Taught to play by his father, he could not afford a proper football and usually played with either a sock stuffed with newspaper and tied with a string or a grapefruit.[6][1] He played for several amateur teams in his youth, including Sete de Setembro, Canto do Rio, So Paulinho, and Amriquinha.[7] Pel led Bauru Athletic Club juniors (coached by Waldemar de Brito) to two So Paulo state youth championships.[8] In his mid-teens, he played for an indoor football team called Radium. Indoor football had just become popular in Bauru when Pel began playing it. He was part of the first Futebol de Salo (indoor football) competition in the region. Pel and his team won the first championship and several others.[9]

According to Pel, indoor football presented difficult challenges; he said it was a lot quicker than football on the grass and that players were required to think faster because everyone is close to each other in the pitch. Pel accredits indoor football for helping him think better on the spot. In addition, indoor football allowed him to play with adults when he was about 14 years old. In one of the tournaments he participated, he was initially considered too young to play, but eventually went on to end up top scorer with fourteen or fifteen goals. “That gave me a lot of confidence”, Pel said, “I knew then not to be afraid of whatever might come”.[9]

Club career


In 1956, de Brito took Pel to Santos, an industrial and port city located near So Paulo, to try out for professional club Santos FC, telling the directors at Santos that the 15-year-old would be “the greatest football player in the world.”[10] Pel impressed Santos coach Lula during his trial at the Estdio Vila Belmiro, and he signed a professional contract with the club in June 1956.[11] Pel was highly promoted in the local media as a future superstar. He made his senior team debut on 7 September 1956 at the age of 15 against Corinthians Santo Andre and had an impressive performance in a 7-1 victory, scoring the first goal in his prolific career during the match.[12][13]

When the 1957 season started, Pel was given a starting place in the first team and, at the age of 16, became the top scorer in the league. Ten months after signing professionally, the teenager was called up to the Brazil national team. After the 1958 and the 1962 World Cup, wealthy European clubs, such as Real Madrid, Juventus and Manchester United,[14] tried to sign him in vain; in 1958 Inter Milan even managed to get him a regular contract, but Angelo Moratti was forced to tear the contract up at the request of Santos’ chairman following a revolt by Santos’ Brazilian fans.[15] However, in 1961 the government of Brazil under President Jnio Quadros declared Pel an “official national treasure” to prevent him from being transferred out of the country.[6][16]

Pel with Santos in the Netherlands, October 1962

Pel won his first major title with Santos in 1958 as the team won the Campeonato Paulista; Pel would finish the tournament as top scorer with 58 goals,[17] a record that stands today. A year later, he would help the team earn their first victory in the Torneio Rio-So Paulo with a 3-0 over Vasco da Gama.[18] However, Santos was unable to retain the Paulista title. In 1960, Pel scored 33 goals to help his team regain the Campeonato Paulista trophy but lost out on the Rio-So Paulo tournament after finishing in 8th place.[19] In the 1960 season, Pel scored 47 goals and helped Santos regain the Campeonato Paulista. The club went on to win the Taa Brasil that same year, beating Bahia in the finals; Pel finished as top scorer of the tournament with 9 goals. The victory allowed Santos to participate in the Copa Libertadores, the most prestigious club tournament in the Western hemisphere.[20]


Santos’s most successful Copa Libertadores season started in 1962;[22] the team was seeded in Group One alongside Cerro Porteo and Deportivo Municipal Bolivia, winning every match of their group but one (a 1-1 away tie versus Cerro). Santos defeated Universidad Catlica in the semi-finals and met defending champions Pearol in the finals. Pel scored twice in the playoff match to secure the first title for a Brazilian club.[23] Pel finished as the second top scorer of the competition with four goals. That same year, Santos would successfully defend the Campeonato Brasileiro (with 37 goals from Pel) and the Taa Brasil (Pel scoring four goals in the final series against Botafogo). Santos would also win the 1962 Intercontinental Cup against Benfica.[24] Wearing his number 10 shirt, Pel produced one of the best performances of his career, scoring a hat-trick in Lisbon as Santos won 5-2.[25][26] As the defending champions, Santos qualified automatically to the semi-final stage of the 1963 Copa Libertadores. The ballet blanco, the nickname given to Santos for Pel, managed to retain the title after victories over Botafogo and Boca Juniors. Pel helped Santos overcome a Botafogo team that contained Brazilian legends such as Garrincha and Jairzinho with a last-minute goal in the first leg of the semi-finals which made it 1-1. In the second leg, Pel scored a hat-trick in the Estdio do Maracan as Santos won, 0-4, in the second leg. Santos started the final series by winning, 3-2, in the first leg and defeating Boca Juniors 1-2, in La Bombonera. It was a rare feat in official competitions, with another goal from Pel.[27] Santos became the first (and to date the only) Brazilian team to lift the Copa Libertadores in Argentine soil. Pel finished the tournament with 5 goals. Santos lost the Campeonato Paulista after finishing in third place but went on to win the Rio-So Paulo tournament after a 0-3 win over Flamengo in the final, with Pel scoring one goal. Pel would also help Santos retain the Intercontinental Cup and the Taa Brasil against Milan and Bahia respectively.[24]

Pel (pictured in 1965) is the all-time leading goalscorer for Santos.

In the 1964 Copa Libertadores, Santos were beaten in both legs of the semi-finals by Independiente. The club won the Campeonato Paulista, with Pel netting 34 goals. Santos also shared the Rio-So Paulo title with Botafogo and won the Taa Brasil for the fourth consecutive year. In the 1965 Copa Libertadores, Santos reached the semi-finals and met Pearol in a rematch of the 1962 final. After two matches, a playoff was needed to break the tie.[28] Unlike 1962, Pearol came out on top and eliminated Santos 2-1.[28] Pel would, however, finish as the topscorer of the tournament with eight goals.[29] This proved to be the start of a decline as Santos failed to retain the Torneio Rio-So Paulo. In 1966, Pel and Santos also failed to retain the Taa Brasil as Pel’s goals were not enough to prevent a 9-4 defeat by Cruzeiro (led by Tosto) in the final series. The club did, however, win the Campeonato Paulista in 1967, 1968 and 1969. On 19 November 1969, Pel scored his 1000th goal in all competitions, in what was a highly anticipated moment in Brazil. The goal, popularly dubbed O Milsimo (The Thousandth), occurred in a match against Vasco da Gama, when Pel scored from a penalty kick, at the Maracan Stadium.[30]

Pel states that his most memorable goal was scored at Rua Javari stadium on a Campeonato Paulista match against So Paulo rival Clube Atltico Juventus on 2 August 1959. As there is no video footage of this match, Pel asked that a computer animation be made of this specific goal.[31] In March 1961, Pel scored the gol de placa (goal worthy of a plaque), against Fluminense at the Maracan.[32] Pel received the ball on the edge of his own penalty area, and ran the length of the field, eluding opposition players with feints, before striking the ball beyond the goalkeeper.[32] A plaque was commissioned with a dedication to “the most beautiful goal in the history of the Maracan”.[33]

In 1967, the two factions involved in the Nigerian Civil War agreed to a 48-hour ceasefire so they could watch Pel play an exhibition game in Lagos.[34] During his time at Santos, Pel played alongside many gifted players, including Zito, Pepe, and Coutinho; the latter partnered him in numerous one-two plays, attacks, and goals.[35]

New York Cosmos

Pel signing a football for U.S. President Richard Nixon at the White House in 1973, two years before joining the New York Cosmos

After the 1974 season (his 19th with Santos), Pel retired from Brazilian club football although he continued to occasionally play for Santos in official competitive matches. Two years later, he came out of semi-retirement to sign with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League (NASL) for the 1975 season.[36] Though well past his prime at this point, Pel was credited with significantly increasing public awareness and interest of the sport in the United States.[37] During his first public appearance in Boston, he was injured by a crowd of fans who had surrounded him and was evacuated on a stretcher.[38] Pel made his debut for the Cosmos on 15 June 1975 against the Dallas Tornado at Downing Stadium, scoring one goal in a 2-2 draw.[39]

Pel entering the field to play his first game with the Cosmos, 15 June 1975

In 1975, one week before the Lebanese Civil War, Pel played a friendly game for the Lebanese club Nejmeh against a team of Lebanese Premier League stars,[40] scoring two goals which were not included in his official tally.[41][42] On the day of the game, 40,000 spectators were at the stadium from early morning to watch the match.[40]

Hoping to fuel the same kind of awareness in the Dominican Republic, he and the Cosmos team played in an exhibition match against Haitian team, Violette AC, in the Santo Domingo Olympic Stadium on 3 June 1976, where over 25,000 fans watched him score a winning goal in the last seconds of the match, leading the Cosmos to a 2-1 victory.[43] He led the Cosmos to the 1977 NASL championship, in his third and final season with the club.[44]

On 1 October 1977, Pel closed out his career in an exhibition match between the Cosmos and Santos. Santos arrived in New York after previously defeating the Seattle Sounders in New Jersey, 2-0. The match was played in front of a sold-out crowd at Giants Stadium and was televised in the United States on ABC’s Wide World of Sports as well as throughout the world. Pel’s father and wife both attended the match, as well as Muhammad Ali and Bobby Moore.[45]

International career

Pel’s first international match was a 2-1 defeat against Argentina on 7 July 1957 at the Maracan.[46][47] In that match, he scored his first goal for Brazil aged 16 years and nine months, and he remains the youngest goalscorer for his country.[48][49]

1958 World Cup

Pel (number 10) dribbles past three Swedish players at the 1958 World Cup.

Pel arrived in Sweden sidelined by a knee injury but on his return from the treatment room, his colleagues stood together and insisted upon his selection.[50] His first match was against the USSR in the third match of the first round of the 1958 FIFA World Cup, where he gave the assist to Vav’s second goal.[51] He was the youngest player of that tournament, and at the time the youngest ever to play in the World Cup.[note 2][47] Against France in the semi-final, Brazil was leading 2-1 at halftime, and then Pel scored a hat-trick, becoming the youngest in World Cup history to do so.[53]

17-year-old Pel cries on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar after Brazil won the 1958 World Cup Final.

On 29 June 1958, Pel became the youngest player to play in a World Cup final match at 17 years and 249 days. He scored two goals in that final as Brazil beat Sweden 5-2 in Stockholm, the capital. His first goal where he flicked the ball over a defender before volleying into the corner of the net, was selected as one of the best goals in the history of the World Cup.[54] Following Pel’s second goal, Swedish player Sigvard Parling would later comment; “When Pel scored the fifth goal in that Final, I have to be honest and say I felt like applauding”.[55] When the match ended, Pel passed out on the field, and was revived by Garrincha.[56] He then recovered, and was compelled by the victory to weep as he was being congratulated by his teammates. He finished the tournament with six goals in four matches played, tied for second place, behind record-breaker Just Fontaine, and was named best young player of the tournament.[57]

It was in the 1958 World Cup that Pel began wearing a jersey with number 10. The event was the result of disorganization: the leaders of the Brazilian Federation did not send the shirt numbers of players and it was up to FIFA to choose the number 10 shirt to Pel who was a substitute on the occasion.[58] The press proclaimed Pel the greatest revelation of the 1958 World Cup, and he was also retroactively given the Silver Ball as the second best player of the tournament, behind Didi.[55]

South American Championship

Pel also played in the South American Championship. In the 1959 competition he was named best player of the tournament and was top scorer with 8 goals, as Brazil came second despite being unbeaten in the tournament.[55][59] He scored in five of Brazil’s six games, including two goals against Chile and a hat-trick against Paraguay.[60]

1962 World Cup

Pel with Brazil taking on Italy’s Giovanni Trapattoni at the San Siro, Milan in 1963

When the 1962 World Cup started, Pel was the best rated player in the world.[61] In the first match of the 1962 World Cup in Chile, against Mexico, Pel assisted the first goal and then scored the second one, after a run past four defenders, to go up 2-0.[62] He injured himself in the next game while attempting a long-range shot against Czechoslovakia.[63] This would keep him out of the rest of the tournament, and forced coach Aymor Moreira to make his only lineup change of the tournament. The substitute was Amarildo, who performed well for the rest of the tournament. However, it was Garrincha who would take the leading role and carry Brazil to their second World Cup title, after beating Czechoslovakia at the final in Santiago.[64]

1966 World Cup

Pel was the most famous footballer in the world during the 1966 World Cup in England, and Brazil fielded some world champions like Garrincha, Gilmar and Djalma Santos with the addition of other stars like Jairzinho, Tosto and Grson, leading to high expectations for them.[65] Brazil was eliminated in the first round, playing only three matches.[65] The World Cup was marked, among other things, for brutal fouls on Pel that left him injured by the Bulgarian and Portuguese defenders.[66]

Pel scored the first goal from a free kick against Bulgaria, becoming the first player to score in three successive FIFA World Cups, but due to his injury, a result of persistent fouling by the Bulgarians, he missed the second game against Hungary.[65] His coach stated that after the first game he felt “every team will take care of him in the same manner”.[66] Brazil lost that game and Pel, although still recovering, was brought back for the last crucial match against Portugal at Goodison Park in Liverpool by the Brazilian coach Vicente Feola. Feola changed the entire defense, including the goalkeeper, while in midfield he returned to the formation of the first match. During the game, Portugal defender Joo Morais fouled Pel, but was not sent off by referee George McCabe; a decision retrospectively viewed as being among the worst refereeing errors in World Cup history.[67] Pel had to stay on the field limping for the rest of the game, since substitutes were not allowed at that time.[67] After this game he vowed he would never again play in the World Cup, a decision he would later change.[61]

1970 World Cup

Pel trading card from the Mexico 70 series issued by Panini

Pel was called to the national team in early 1969, he refused at first, but then accepted and played in six World Cup qualifying matches, scoring six goals.[68] The 1970 World Cup in Mexico was expected to be Pel’s last. Brazil’s squad for the tournament featured major changes in relation to the 1966 squad. Players like Garrincha, Nilton Santos, Valdir Pereira, Djalma Santos and Gilmar had already retired. However, Brazil’s 1970 World Cup squad, which included players like Pel, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Grson, Carlos Alberto Torres, Tosto and Clodoaldo, is often considered to be the greatest football team in history.[69][70]

Mrio Zagallo (Brazil’s 1970 coach with Pel in 2008). Zagallo said of Pel: “A kid in Sweden gave signs of genius, and in Mexico he fulfilled all that promise and closed the book with a golden key. And I had the privilege to see it all from close up.”[71]

The front five of Jairzinho, Pel, Gerson, Tosto and Rivelino together created an attacking momentum, with Pel having a central role in Brazil’s way to the final.[72] All of Brazil’s matches in the tournament (except the final) were played in Guadalajara, and in the first match against Czechoslovakia, Pel gave Brazil a 2-1 lead, by controlling Gerson’s long pass with his chest and then scoring. In this match Pel attempted to lob goalkeeper Ivo Viktor from the half-way line, only narrowly missing the Czechoslovak goal.[73] Brazil went on to win the match, 4-1. In the first half of the match against England, Pel nearly scored with a header that was saved by the England goalkeeper Gordon Banks.[74] In the second half, he controlled a cross from Tosto before flicking the ball to Jairzinho who scored the only goal.[75]

Against Romania, Pel scored two goals, with Brazil winning by a final score of 3-2. In the quarterfinals against Peru, Brazil won 4-2, with Pel assisting Tosto for Brazil’s third goal. In their semi-final match, Brazil faced Uruguay for the first time since the 1950 World Cup final round match. Jairzinho put Brazil ahead 2-1, and Pel assisted Rivelino for the 3-1. During that match, Pel made one of his most famous plays.[73] Tosto passed the ball for Pel to collect which Uruguay’s goalkeeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz took notice of and ran off his line to get the ball before Pel. However, Pel got there first and fooled Mazurkiewicz with a feint by not touching the ball, causing it to roll to the goalkeepers left, while Pel went to the goalkeepers right. Pel ran around the goalkeeper to retrieve the ball and took a shot while turning towards the goal, but he turned in excess as he shot, and the ball drifted just wide of the far post.[76]

Brazil played Italy in the final at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.[77] Pel scored the opening goal with a header after outjumping Italian defender Tarcisio Burgnich. Brazil’s 100th World Cup goal, Pel’s leap of joy into the arms of teammate Jairzinho in celebrating the goal is regarded as one of the most iconic moments in World Cup history.[78] He then made assists on Brazil’s third goal, scored by Jairzinho, and the fourth finished by Carlos Alberto. The last goal of the game is often considered the greatest team goal of all time because it involved all but two of the team’s outfield players. The play culminated after Pel made a blind pass that went into Carlos Alberto’s running trajectory. He came running from behind and struck the ball to score.[79] Brazil won the match 4-1, keeping the Jules Rimet Trophy indefinitely, and Pel received the Golden Ball as player of the tournament.[55][80] Burgnich, who marked Pel during the final, was quoted saying “I told myself before the game, he’s made of skin and bones just like everyone else – but I was wrong”.[81]

Pel’s last international match was on 18 July 1971 against Yugoslavia in Rio de Janeiro. With Pel on the field, the Brazilian team’s record was 67 wins, 14 draws and 11 losses.[68] Brazil never lost a match while fielding both Pel and Garrincha.[82]

Style of play

Pel dribbling past a defender while playing for Brazil, May 1960

Pel has also been known for connecting the phrase “The Beautiful Game” with football.[83] A prolific goalscorer, he was known for his ability to anticipate opponents in the area and finish off chances with an accurate and powerful shot with either foot.[34][84][85] Pel was also a hard-working team-player, and a complete forward, with exceptional vision and intelligence, who was recognised for his precise passing, and ability to link-up with teammates and provide them with assists.[86][87][88]

In his early career, he played in a variety of attacking positions. Although he usually operated inside the penalty area as a main striker or centre forward, his wide range of skills also allowed him to play in a more withdrawn role, as an inside forward or second striker, or out wide.[73][86][89] In his later career, he took on more of a deeper playmaking role behind the strikers, often functioning as an attacking midfielder.[90][91] Pel’s unique playing style combined speed, creativity, and technical skill with physical power, stamina, and athleticism. His excellent technique, balance, flair, agility, and dribbling skills enabled him to beat opponents with the ball, and frequently saw him use sudden changes of direction and elaborate feints in order to get past players, such as his trademark move, the drible da vaca.[73][89][92] Another one of his signature moves was the paradinha, or little stop.[note 3][93]

Despite his relatively small stature, 5 feet 8 inches (1.73 m),[94] he excelled in the air, due to his heading accuracy, timing, and elevation.[84][87][92][95] Renowned for his bending shots, he was also an accurate free-kick taker, and penalty taker, although he often refrained from taking penalties, stating that he believed it to be a cowardly way to score.[96][97]

Pel was also known to be a fair and highly influential player, who stood out for his charismatic leadership and sportsmanship on the pitch. His warm embrace of Bobby Moore following the Brazil vs England game at the 1970 World Cup is viewed as the embodiment of sportsmanship, with The New York Times stating the image “captured the respect that two great players had for each other. As they exchanged jerseys, touches and looks, the sportsmanship between them is all in the image. No gloating, no fist-pumping from Pel. No despair, no defeatism from Bobby Moore.”[98] Pel also earned a reputation for often being a decisive player for his teams, due to his tendency to score crucial goals in important matches.[99][100][101]

Reception and legacy



Pel is one of the most lauded players in history and is frequently ranked the best player ever.[102][103][104] Among his contemporaries, Dutch star Johan Cruyff stated; “Pel was the only footballer who surpassed the boundaries of logic.”[21] Brazil’s 1970 FIFA World Cup-winning captain Carlos Alberto Torres opined; “His great secret was improvisation. Those things he did were in one moment. He had an extraordinary perception of the game.”[21]Tosto, his strike partner at the 1970 World Cup; “Pel was the greatest – he was simply flawless. And off the pitch he is always smiling and upbeat. You never see him bad-tempered. He loves being Pel.”[21] His Brazilian teammate Clodoaldo commented on the adulation he witnessed; “In some countries they wanted to touch him, in some they wanted to kiss him. In others they even kissed the ground he walked on. I thought it was beautiful, just beautiful.”[21]

Pel is the greatest player of all time. He reigned supreme for 20 years. There’s no one to compare with him.

West Germany’s 1974 World Cup-winning captain Franz Beckenbauer.[55]

Former Real Madrid and Hungary star Ferenc Pusks stated; “The greatest player in history was Di Stfano. I refuse to classify Pel as a player. He was above that.”[21]Just Fontaine, French striker and leading scorer at the 1958 World Cup; “When I saw Pel play, it made me feel I should hang up my boots.”[21] England’s 1966 FIFA World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore commented: “Pel was the most complete player I’ve ever seen, he had everything. Two good feet. Magic in the air. Quick. Powerful. Could beat people with skill. Could outrun people. Only five feet and eight inches tall, yet he seemed a giant of an athlete on the pitch. Perfect balance and impossible vision. He was the greatest because he could do anything and everything on a football pitch. I remember Saldanha the coach being asked by a Brazilian journalist who was the best goalkeeper in his squad. He said Pel. The man could play in any position”.[84] Former Manchester United striker and member of England’s 1966 FIFA World Cup-winning team Sir Bobby Charlton stated; “I sometimes feel as though football was invented for this magical player.”[21] During the 1970 World Cup, when Manchester United defender Paddy Crerand (who was part of the ITV panel) was asked; “How do you spell Pel?”, he replied with the response; “Easy: G-O-D.”[21]