The King Of Soccer
In 1964, Pele scored only 60 goals, because most teams were playing six men back on defense against his team. At the end of the season, however, he scored eight goals in a game. In 1965, he bounced back and scored 101 goals. In 1966, Brazil played Bulgaria in the opening game of the World Cup, and Bulgaria fouled Pele brutally and repeatedly. He had to sit out a game to recover, and he returned to action as Brazil faced Portugal needing to win to stay alive in the tournament. With Portugal leading 2-0, a player tripped Pele and then stepped on his knee. No foul was called though Pele was severely injured, and Brazil lost the World Cup. He vowed never to play in another World Cup.
Later that year, Santos made the first of many tours of the United States and played several exhibition games in New York, drawing record crowds at a time when soccer was not popular in the United States. When the National Professional Soccer League was formed in 1967, its president Bob Hermann spoke of wanting to buy Pele, but the Brazilian star said he would never play for any team except Santos or the Brazilian national squad.
In 1969, Pele bowed to pressure and agreed to play in the World Cup in Mexico City, Mexico, in 1970. Brazil won every game, beating Italy in the finals, and Pele became the first person ever to play on three World Cup champions.
With his global notoriety and interest in humanitarian causes, Pele became a freelance goodwill ambassador. In 1967, both sides in Nigeria's civil war declared a cease-fire so they could together watch him play an exhibition game in Lagos. Pele toured throughout the world with his Santos club, adding to his all-time goal-scoring record and his reputation as the king of soccer. He also signed contracts to teach soccer to young children in 115 countries and made soccer training films for Pepsi, as well as doing endorsements for coffee and sporting-goods products. Pele was a multimillionaire and a hugely successful businessman, with interests in construction, rubber and coffee products. He was also a noted philanthropist who gave money especially to support children's causes.
Heeding his father's advice, Pele decided to retire while he was still a top player. In 1971, he retired from the national team, playing his 111th and last game for Brazil on July 18, even though the Brazilian government kept trying to persaude him to play in the 1974 World Cup. Pele later said he quit playing partly to protest human rights abuses by Brazil's military government. His 97 goals in international matches were an all-time record.
Signing a final two-year contract with Santos, Pele donated his final year's salary to children's charities. He retired at age 34, taking the ball and kneeling at midfield during his final game. Pele had scored 1,280 goals in 1,362 matches, second only to Brazil's Arthur Freidenreich.
Several European teams tried to talk him into playing for them. Instead, Pele, who was facing some financial problems, eventually agreed to play for the North American Soccer League (NASL), signing a contract with the New York Cosmos for at least $4.5 million for three years, plus incentives. In the off season, Pele learned English and studied business management, invested in
real estate, and gave soccer clinics. He also received many offers to coach in Europe and Brazil, "but there's no way I can stand on the side of the field," he admitted to Time magazine.
Pele's entrance into the struggling NASL boosted Americans' interest in soccer. Within two years, players registered in the U.S. Soccer Federation increased from slightly over 100,000 to nearly 400,000. NASL attendance soared, and by 1977 a Cosmos playoff match drew 77,000 fans. Pele retired again after that season, playing a final exhibition game before 75,000 fans broadcast to 38 nations. In a speech before the game, Pele pleaded for the world's children and made everyone shout in the stadium after him: "Love! Love! Love!" The game pitted Cosmos against Santos, with Pele playing for the Cosmos and scoring a goal in the first half, and then playing the second half for Santos.
After the 1977 season, Pele wrote in the New York Times: "It seems that God brought me to Earth with a mission to unite people, never to separate them." When a movie was made about his life in 1977, titled Pele, he composed the sound track.
After leaving Brazil, Pele wasn't always popular in his native country. In 1988, Brazil, Morocco and the United States were named as the finalists for the 1994 World Cup, and he endorsed the United States, inspiring wrath in Brazil but helping to earn the games for the U.S. In 1994, Pele became sports minister of Brazil, and he spoke out against corrupt practices in the country's football confederation.
Few athletes in any sport commanded global notoriety like Pele. In the 20th century, Pele's only athletic rival for worldwide fame was boxer Muhammad Ali. He was the most exciting and productive soccer player in history, and he brought the game vastly increased attention, especially in countries such as the United States that were not already soccer-crazy. Pele also epitomized joy in sport, because he showed emotion openly on the field and was never aloof or distant. He was loved, admired, and respected worldwide, and his genuine honesty and humility made him an appealing role model.