Pelé, the Story in Pictures

He was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in the tiny Brazilian village of Três Corações, where he played soccer barefoot, using rolled-up rags for a ball. How a young man from such humble beginnings became Pelé, widely considered the greatest soccer player ever, is a story written on the hearts of generations of his compatriots and fans around the world.

It is a story told, too, in photographs that spanned decades — and that grew in luster and clarity as his legend did.

Pelé, who died Thursday at 82, burst onto the world soccer scene as a skinny 17-year-old, scoring two goals in the 1958 World Cup final to lead Brazil to victory over Sweden. He would go on to score 1,283 goals in his 21-year career, leading Brazil to three World Cup championships and becoming recognizable worldwide for his unmatched skill and captivating smile.

Pelé, second from left, scored Brazil’s third goal in its 5-2 victory over Sweden in the 1958 World Cup final in Stockholm. He was 17.Credit…Associated Press

Near the end of his playing career, he helped popularize soccer in the United States as a member of the New York Cosmos, leading the team to a North American Soccer League championship when he was a wily 36-year-old. His style of play was so inventive that his passes often seemed to surprise his teammates.

The origins and even the meaning of the name Pelé are lost to history. But in these images, his genius as a player and his indescribable appeal are frozen forever in time.

— Mike Wilson

Fans of Santos, Pelé’s club team, mobbed him when Santos won the São Paulo championship in 1961.Credit…Popperfoto, via Getty Images
Pelé also played on military teams as a part of his mandatory military service.Credit…Pele10/Sport 10 IP Limited, via Getty Images
Credit…Pele10/Sport 10 IP Limited, via Getty Images
Pelé on the ball against Czechoslovakia during the 1962 World Cup. He got hurt and could not play in the final, but Brazil won anyway.Credit…Popperfoto, via Getty Images
When Pelé, pictured in an undated photo, was injured in the group stage of the 1966 World Cup, Brazil failed to advance to the quarterfinals.Credit…Central Press/Getty Images
Pelé reveling after he scored his 1,000th goal in 1969.Credit…Associated Press
Hitting a bicycle kick in 1968.Credit…Associated Press
Pelé scored the first goal of Brazil’s four goals in the 1970 World Cup final against Italy in Mexico City.Credit…Rolls Press/Popperfot, via Getty Images
Pelé played at Randalls Island in New York as part of an exhibition between Santos and West Ham in September 1970.Credit…Larry C. Morris/The New York Times
During the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, Pelé, who famously loved music, relaxed with his guitar.Credit…Popperfoto, via Getty Images
Pelé with the World Cup trophy at a parade in Paris in 1971. Brazil’s victory in 1970 gave it permanent possession of the Jules Rimet Trophy.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Pelé spent the last years of his career promoting soccer in the United States. In 1973, he visited students at a community college in St. Louis.Credit…Associated Press
With young fans in 1975.Credit…Associated Press
Pelé came out of retirement to play for the New York Cosmos. Credit…Associated Press
Pelé celebrated a goal for the Cosmos in 1975. Credit…Paul Hosefros/The New York Times
At the White House with President Jimmy Carter in 1977.Credit…Associated Press
Pelé and Muhammad Ali, perhaps the two most famous sports stars of their time, embraced during a ceremony honoring Pelé at Giants Stadium.Credit…Associated Press
Pelé, carrying the flags of the United States and Brazil, was carried off the field after his final game in 1977. The Cosmos won 2-1 over Santos, with Pelé playing a half for each side.Credit…George Tiedemann/Sports Illustrated, via Getty Images

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