Pelé: the King of Football

Patrick Szymshek, via Flickr

Who is your favorite sports player? Liz Waid and Ryan Geertsma look at the most famous football player in the world, the Brazilian star Pelé.

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

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And I’m Ryan Geertsma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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The year was 1958. It was the first international broadcast of the World Cup football tournament. People from all over the world were watching this global sporting competition. Brazil was playing against Sweden in the final game. The game was tied at zero. Neither team was winning. But then a young man from Brazil ran down the field. He was only 17 years old. At the time, he was the youngest player ever to play in a World Cup game. The man guarding the goal, the defender, was standing very close to the young man. The young man stopped the ball with his chest. Another defender came in front of him. Amazingly, the young man kicked the ball over the defender's head. He quickly ran around the defender. Then he immediately kicked a strong shot into the goal.

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The crowd cheered wildly. The goal became one of the most famous goals in World Cup history. The young man was the youngest player ever to score in a World Cup game. His name was Pelé. And the World Cup of 1958 was the year Pelé became a legend. Today's Spotlight is on Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or Pelé - the most famous football player in the history of the world.

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Pelé grew up in São Paulo, Brazil. His family was poor. His father was a local football player. He taught Pelé to play at a very young age. The family did not have enough money for a real football. So Pelé would often play with a ball made from old clothes filled with paper, or even a piece of round fruit! As he got older, Pelé started to play for local teams. Waldemar de Brito was a former World Cup player. He coached a team for young people in São Paulo. De Brito brought Pelé to play for the football team Santos. At the time, de Brito said that 15-year-old Pelé would be the greatest football player in the world. And he was right.

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After the 1958 World Cup tournament, Pelé's fame as an amazing football player grew. In total, Pelé played four World Cup tournaments for Brazil. He led Brazil to victory in three of them. Unlike many other players, Pelé stayed in Brazil for most of his career. He says now that he had offers from big European teams. But the country of Brazil wanted him to stay.

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Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Pelé travelled the world with Brazilian teams. People say that one time, he even stopped a war. The year was 1967. The country of Nigeria was fighting the Biafran War. Pelé's team was supposed to play a football game in the city of Lagos. Many of the fighters wanted to watch the game. They wanted to see Pelé play. So they agreed on a two day ceasefire! Both sides officially stopped fighting. His skill was that famous, and that excellent. Clodoaldo, one of Pelé's teammates, said,

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"In some countries they wanted to touch him, in some they wanted to kiss him. In others they even kissed the ground he walked on."

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Pelé truly made Brazilians proud. On November 19th 1969, Pelé scored his 1,000th goal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This was something exciting for all Brazilians. They called it "O Melésimo," or "The Thousandth." When he scored this goal, hundreds of people ran onto the football field to celebrate. It took 30 minutes for the game to begin again. Carlos Drummond de Andrade is a famous Brazilian poet. He wrote that Pelé's skill was more than just in numbers. He said,

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"The difficulty, the amazing thing, is not to score 1,000 goals like Pelé. It is to score just one goal like Pelé."

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Pelé's last World Cup Championship in 1970 was the most famous. Many people agree that this World Cup team from Brazil was the absolute best football team in history. Pelé received the award for the best Player of the Tournament. For the final game, Brazil played Italy. Pelé scored the first goal of the game with his head. It was the 100th goal for Brazil in World Cup history. An Italian player, Tarcisio Burgnich, guarded Pelé during the game. ESPN sports news reports that Burgnich said,

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"I told myself before the game, 'He is made of skin and bones just like everyone else.' But I was wrong."

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The football players he played against often praised him the most. Bobby Moore, the captain of England's World Cup team in 1970, said,

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"Pelé was the most complete player I have ever seen. He had everything. ... He was the greatest because he could do anything and everything on a football field."

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Pelé was a skilled player. But he was also a good sport. He played fairly, and with respect. In a book about his life, Pelé writes about an experience in Senegal, Africa. This experience taught him to treat all players with respect. He wrote,

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"It was the first time I had played in Africa. ... I was emotional, and I wanted to put on a show. I scored two times in the first ten minutes. But after the second goal, I suddenly saw that the goalie was crying as if his heart would break. ... I had done more than score against him. I had made him look foolish in front of his own people."

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To this day, Pelé looks on that day with regret. But it taught him to consider all players, no matter who they are, and treat them with respect. Pelé won many great awards and achievements. But Pelé is not known just for these achievements. People know Pelé as an athlete who played his sport with amazing skill and also integrity.

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For this reason, in 1999, the International Olympic Committee awarded Pelé the award of the Athlete of the Century. And in the year 2000, South African President Nelson Mandela presented Pelé with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Mandela said,

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"To watch Pelé play was to the watch the joy of a child combined with the amazing grace of a man in full."

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The writer of this program was Jen Hawkins. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘Pelé: the King of Football’.

Voice 1 

You can also leave your comments on our website. Or you can email us at You can also find us on Facebook - just search for spotlightradio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye


Do you think Pelé is best football player to ever live?


Learning Everything's avatar
Learning Everything
said on June 26, 2014

GOD bless everybody. Thanks.

Avatar Spotlight
said on September 29, 2015


joaojk's avatar
said on October 09, 2015

They called it “O Melésimo,” or “The Thousandth.”

Correct in Portuguese: O Milésimo”

Avatar Spotlight
said on July 09, 2016

Hi Spotlight thanks for share this program and another

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Nguyen Cao Huy
said on May 11, 2017

yes, he is the best player to ever live