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Pele
Born: 23 October, 1940. Tres Coracoes, Brazil

International Caps 92
International Goals 77
Teams Santos, New York Cosmos
Team Honours World Cup (1958, 62, 70)
World Club Championship (1962, 63)
Sao Paulo State Championship (1956, 58, 60, 61, 62, 64, 56, 67, 68)
Individual Honours South American Player of the Year (1973)
"I was born for soccer, just as Beethoven was born for music." Arrogant, pompous words. Except when they are spoken by Edson Arantes do Nascimento, the Brazilian genius known throughout the football world as Pele.

A veteran of four World Cups, scorer of 1,283 first-class goals - 12 of them in World Cup final tournaments - a member of those magical Brazilian squads that won soccer's greatest prize in 1958, 1962 and 1970.

But just as a collection of notes do not make a Beethoven symphony, statistics cannot capture the majesty of those glorious Brazilian sides. This was football played to a samba beat. Beautiful skills, astonishing speed and ball control - and of all those great players in the yellow and green shirts, Pele was the greatest of them all.

He was lithe, agile, strong and seemed to be able to make the ball do as he pleased. Blessed with a stunning shot and an ability to soar above defences, he was expected to perform some astonishing feat of trickery every time he was in possession.

And Brazil played such adventurous football, always attacking, constantly looking to score. Who can forget the rythmic chanting of their deliriously happy supporters? "Bra-zil, cha cha cha, Bra-zil, cha cha cha."

It was the 1962 World Cup in Chile when those chants were heard for the first time in Europe on TV and British fans were quick to copy. First club names were shouted out, followed by a burst of clapping. Soon the strains of "ee-ay-addeo" echoed round Football League grounds.

Three decades on, the chants may be different. But it was the Brazil of Pele which gave them to the world.

Pele was born in the poor district of Tres Coracoes in 1940. His father, known as Dondhino, was a footballer too, but an undistinguished one.

Pele was in love with football from the time he learned to kick a ball. But his mother was not so keen. Dondhino earned little money from the game and she wanted something better for her son. Had she got her way, football would have been denied one of its greatest talents.

Pele's precocious skill came to the attention of de Brito, a former Brazilian international who began to coach him. In 1954, aged 14, he joined Bauru Athletic Club juniors in Sao Paulo. At 16, despite a knee injury which was to trouble him throughout his career, he moved to Santos where he remained until 1974.

Together, Pele and Santos were to become legends, touring Europe and playing friendly matches. One of the British sides to entertain them was Sheffield Wednesday. As late as 1972, Pele turned out in his club's famous all-white strip to play one half in a goodwill visit to Hillsborough.

It was the World Cup of 1958 in Sweden which was to create the stage for Pele's genius. He was 17 and had won his first cap the previous year. He arrived in Sweden with an injury and was held back until Brazil's third and final group match against the Soviet Union in Gothenburg.

Brazil won 2-0, Pele hit the post, laid on the second goal for Vava and a star had been born. The quarter-final was against Wales. Brazil only won 1-0. The scorer was Pele, his shot deflecting off Stuart Williams. It was his first World Cup goal - and he was to score six in a sequence of three games by the time the final was over.

A hat-trick against France in the semi-final was followed by two goals against Sweden in the final. One of them, a breathtaking effort, was described by the football authority Brian Glanville in his book, The Story of the World Cup.

"Catching a high ball in the thick of the penalty area on his thigh," wrote Glanville, "he hooked it over his head, whirled round and volleyed mightily past Svensson." Pele also hit the post as the Swedes went down 5-2 in front of their home crowd. Brazil had won the World Cup for the first time and a teenage prodigy was on his way to international fame and fortune.

By 1962 Brazil were the undisputed kings of football and Pele was rated the best player in the world. He was just 21. But the Chile finals were to be shortlived for him as Brazil sought to retain their crown.

Their opening match was against Mexico. Brazil won 2-0, Pele scoring a brilliant goal in which he beat four men before putting the ball past the keeper. But in the next game, a 0-0 draw with Czechoslovakia, Pele tore a thigh muscle which put him out of the tournament. Brazil became double world champions, beating Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the final. But if 1962 was bad for Pele, 1966 was worse. This time for him and his country. The year of England's greatest football triumph saw Brazil lose their first World Cup match for 12 years and then they crashed out of the tournament in the first round as Pele was literally kicked off the park by the butchers of Portugal.

Brazil played just three games in the 1966 World Cup, all of them at Everton's Goodison Park. They got off to a reasonable start beating Bulgaria 2-0, Pele scoring from a free kick. But in the second game, with Pele missing through injury, they were given a football lesson by the mighty Magyars of Hungary, going down 3-1.

Pele was back for the crucial tie with Portugal, but it was soon obvious he was far from full fitness. Brazil had made seven changes after that shock defeat by Hungary, but it made no difference as Portugal quickly let it be known they were taking no prisoners. Morais cynically chopped down Pele in brutal fashion and was amazingly allowed to stay on the pitch by English referee George McCabe. Pele was forced off and, though Brazil were merely a shadow of the sides that had ruled the world, football won few friends by the manner of Portugal's 3-1 victory.

Pele vowed never to appear in another World Cup, but by 1970 he had changed his mind. This time the tournament was held in sunny Mexico and this Brazilian team was probably the greatest of them all.

Pele, the boy who had played alongside Zito and Garrincha, the young man who had traded passes with Amarildo and Didi, was now a 29-year-old veteran lining-up in an attack that included Rivelino, Tostao and the incomparable Jairzinho.

And in the heat of Guadalajara he was to take part in one of the finest World Cup matches - the clash of champions against World Cup holders England.

Brazil's opening match was against Czechoslovakia who they tore apart 4-1. However, playing fabulous attacking football, Brazil left themselves open at the back and went a goal down. They soon equalised through a scintillating, swerving free kick from Rivelino. After that, it was one-way traffic, Pele getting the second and Jairzinho the last two.

Now it was England's turn. And what a match it was. This England team was regarded by many as technically superior to the side that had won the World Cup at Wembley in 1966. Alan Mullery was deputed to mark Pele and did a terrific job. But how do you mark genius? By the tenth minute, Pele was stealing in at the far post, towering above England's defence to drive down a Jairzinho cross with a ferocious header.

If ever a goal looked a certainty, this was it. As the ball screamed towards its destination inside the post, somehow, miraculously, Gordon Banks got a hand to it and flicked it up over the bar.

The save of the century? Probably. Pele could only stand and stare in amazement - along with several million incredulous TV viewers around the world.

The game, often branded the "real" final, was a classic. England defended brilliantly, Alan Ball hit the bar, but a Jairzinho goal - laid on by who else but Pele - was enough to give Brazil a 1-0 victory.

Afterwards, a picture of one of the great moments of sportsmanship flashed round the world. It was of Pele and England's captain Bobby Moore, stripped to the waist, swapping shirts and embracing each other, both recognising that the other was a master of his trade. Pele scored twice in Brazil's final group match in a 3-2 defeat of Romania before they disposed of Peru 4-2 and Uruguay 3-1 to reach the final.

Brazil's opponents were Italy and, as both teams had won the World Cup twice, it meant the victors would keep the Jules Rimet Trophy permanently.

Pele, in his World Cup swansong, scored with a spectacular header and made two other goals as Brazil, playing football which seemed on another level to anything the game had seen before, crushed Italy 4-1.

Brazil had become the first nation to win a hat-trick of World Cups. Pele retired from international football soon afterwards, but continued to play for Santos for a further four years. When he finally called it a day at the age of 34, Santos marked his passing by removing the No.10 shirt from their line-up. It was an admission that no-one could compare with The Master.

Then, in 1975, Pele surprised everyone by coming out of retirement to play for the New York Cosmos in America's fledgling soccer league. The price probably helped - a small matter of $4.5 million.

He stayed for two years and in 1976 played for Team America in the Bicentennial Tournament against England. His Yankee team-mate that day was none other than Bobby Moore appearing against his old colleagues!

The end of a supreme career finally came in 1977 when Pele hung up his boots for good and settled for a role as a sporting ambassador, later becoming Brazil's Minister for Sport. He also popped up from time to time endorsing the virtues of Pespi Cola.

But even now, 20 years on, such was his greatness that whenever Brazil are mentioned, the name that comes first to football fans' lips everywhere is Pele . . . the one and only.

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