When Pele was 15, de Brito brought him to the directors of Santos, a top club team, and told them, "This boy will be the greatest soccer player in the world." In an exhibition game on September 7, 1956, Pele entered the game in the second half for Santos and within a few minutes scored his first goal as a professional. He began earning about $60 a month playing for Santos. In his
second season Pele became a starter on the team and started scoring from everywhere on the field. He was the top scorer in the league and became a national hero by scoring three goals in a game pitting the top players from Santos and another Brazilian club against the Belenenses club from Portugal. Late in 1957, Pele was picked for the National Team
In 1958, between playing on Santos and on the national team, Pele scored 87 goals and assisted on at least another 100. He also brought Brazil glory. Though soccer was a national obsession in Brazil, the country had never won a World Cup. At 17, Pele was the youngest player in the World Cup tournament and a virtual unknown. He rode the bench for the first two games to recuperate from a knee injury he had suffered in a qualifying game. The doctors cleared Pele to play in the final game of the opening round, and he assisted on one goal and hit the goal post on a shot of his own as Brazil won 2-0. In the next match, a quarterfinal game against Wales, Pele scored the only goal.
In the semifinal game, Pele was the sparkplug of the team. After France scored a game-tying goal early in the first half, he snatched the ball out of the net and raced up-field, yelling at his teammates to get going. Pele went on to score three goals in Brazil's victory, a feat which made him famous worldwide. In the final game, he scored two goals and Brazil won the World Cup for the first time by beating Sweden, 5-2. One of his goals became legendary: he caught a long pass by trapping it in his chest, sent it into the air with his left foot without letting it touch the ground, flipped it over his shoulder, and then pivoted and kicked the ball while it was still in the air.
Pele, still a teenager, quickly cemented his reputation as the world's best player. While serving in the army, he played on the national team and on Santos and scored a record 127 goals in 1959. European teams started trying to lure Pele away with offers of more than a million dollars, though no team up until then had ever paid more than $100,000 for a player. Though he could have left Santos to play with an Italian club and still have played for the national team of Brazil, Santos refused to sell him. President Janio Quadros declared Pele "a national treasure" who could not be exported.
While Pele was on the team, Santos won 11 league championships. In 1960, he slipped to 78 goals because he was constantly being double- and triple-teamed by defenders. Pele was happy just to pass the ball off to teammates, making Santos even more successful. In 1961 he scored 110 goals. Pele scored more than 400 goals before he turned 20 years old.
In the 1962 World Cup, held in Chile, Brazil was a favorite to win, but Pele pulled a leg muscle in the second game and sat out all the games until his country reached the championships. Doctors refused him permission to play, but Brazil was so strong it won the cup without him. In 1962, Pele won the Brazil scoring championship for the fifth straight year.