Born into humble beginnings, Pele's grit and determination made him touch new heights in the history of football.

Pele had a typical story like almost every Brazilian player who was born in the 1940s: He grew up in a poor family in Sao Paulo and could not afford to buy his own football. So he learned to play football with a grapefruit and a sock stuffed with crumpled newspaper.  

As a 15-year-old he joined Santos FC, a Brazilian club, and scored a goal in his debut game. A year later, he became the top goalscorer in the league, which earned him a spot in the Brazilian national team.

The 1958 World Cup in Sweden was a turning point for Pele, who was only 17.

His six goals, including two that he scored in the final against Sweden, led Brazil to its maiden World Cup triumph. 

Pele became the youngest goal scorer in the history of World Cup final, gaining immense popularity worldwide. The rest is history.

Killer in the penalty area

Pele, who lifted six league titles for Santos, was the joint winner with Argentina's Diego Maradona for the Player of the Century by FIFA award in 2000. 

His Guinness record-breaking 1,279-goal performance (including unofficial matches) during his sensational career from 1956 and 1977 made him a legendary striker.

He is the only player to win three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970) and is the all-time leading scorer for the Brazilian national team, with 77 goals in 92 appearances.

Pele was a phenomenal striker inside the penalty area but he also had exceptional passing, crossing and dribbling abilities. He was able to score with both feet, good at headers and made defenders vulnerable against him.

In addition to his unique playing style, he was also a charismatic leader on the pitch and earned respect from his opponents. 

Above all, Pele has been an influence for a generation of players across the world.

READ MORE: Brazil football legend Pele dies at age 82

First global football figure

Pele’s influence was beyond the field. 

His sensational goals and assists in international tournaments against different countries significantly contributed to Brazil’s recognition outside the country after the 1950s. 

This period also marked the early time of football's globalisation. His outstanding performance in the World Cups was aired on television and therefore, seen by millions of people around the world.

While playing for Santos, he made appearances in more than 350 matches in five continents, helping his fame go beyond the country. It is safe to say that he became the first global football figure.

He was also more than a player for his nation. Following the first-ever World Cup triumph, Brazil declared Pele a national treasure in 1961, preventing him from being transferred outside of Brazil.

Pele was unstoppable on the field. Still, he came under heavy criticism for hesitating to speak out against Brazil's dictatorship.

Many people said Pele could take advantage of his popularity and use his platform to speak out against Brazil's military rule between 1964 and 1985. But he did not.

In a Netflix documentary of “Pele”, he was seen hugging leader Emilio Garrastazu Medici, who was the president of Brazil under military rule from 1969 to 1974.

During the 2013 protests in his country, he also asked citizens to leave the streets and focus on the football World Cup.

“Let’s forget all this commotion happening in Brazil, all these protests and let’s remember how the Brazilian squad is our country and our blood,” he said in remarks that received criticism from Brazilians.

'O Rei'

He ended his career in 1977 in the US, where he played professionally after leaving the Brazilian club football in 1974. 

His move to New York Cosmos also contributed to the game's popularity in the country during his three-season tenure. 

His debut match was broadcast to over 20 countries and 300 foreign journalists covered the game. Cosmos’ matches with Pele attracted a US record crowd at the stadiums.

He also starred in commercial and documentary films and was appointed UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 1994 and represented his country in different fields.

All of this success is why Pele's nickname is O Rei (The King), deservedly earning the title as the Greatest Of All Time.

READ MORE: 'He turned football into art': Reactions to death of football great Pele

At 17, Pele became the youngest goal scorer in the history of World Cup final, gaining immense popularity worldwide.
At 17, Pele became the youngest goal scorer in the history of World Cup final, gaining immense popularity worldwide. (AFP)

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