Pelé with the Jules Rimet Trophy

Why Pelé

In recent years, most people will only remember Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, both of whom are awesome footballers. In the past, you may also remember Franz Beckenbauer, Michel Platini, Diego Maradona, or Ferenc Puskas.

But it is impossible for you to not remember this guy named Pelé.

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, this national treasure of Brazil is arguably the best football player that has ever graced this planet earth. More than 1,200 goals in some 1,300 games, you just can’t deny that he’s rightfully sitting on the pantheon of great footballers–if not sitting at the top of it.

On 13 January earlier this year, a honorary prize, the Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur was given to this legendary player for his past contribution and achievements in football, yet at the time when he couldn’t got the trophy (because he never played in Europe in the 1950s-1970s). It was a well-deserved trophy for him, and I have to say he might well received the Ballon d’Or multiple times if the standard involves players playing outside Europe.

Yet of course, such award may create debates. Especially to those who consider Pelé to be less than the greatest footballer ever lived. I remember after the award ceremony I read some comments circulating on the web. Most appreciate the fact that finally Pelé got the award he deserved, yet some questions the qualification of Pelé being the best player (some believing Maradona to be the best player), or claiming that Pelé is conveniently living under the wings of the global football organization (see this page’s comments for example).

Nevertheless, I can say that not only he deserves the award, as far as what we can see from Pelé, there are more reasons for us to love this amazing individual. And here’s why.

It’s due to his humility and grace, which is apparent practically every time he speaks. Consider the speech he made when he was awarded the Prix d’Honneur:

“First of all I have to thank God for giving me the health to play so many years… Of course I did not play alone. When we talk about my friends people remember the players but we don’t have to forget the guy who cleaned the shoes, the masseur – I had a lot of good people on my side. I have to share with them all this trophy.”

I was somewhat touched listening to those words. Thanking God alone is wonderful, yet he shared all his trophies to those who really meant to him — including the masseur. I guess it’s something we seldom see these days when a footballer accepts an award.

Indeed, if you see the way he shed tears during the awarding ceremony, it told how significant the award was for him. He said it himself, “I got so many trophies and prizes but I was jealous because all of those guys who got the Ballon d’Or, which I couldn’t get because I didn’t play in Europe. Now I thank God that I can complete my trophies at home.” Don’t get me wrong, he’s an outrageously decorated player: three FIFA World Cups (1958, 1962, 1970), two Copa Libertadores (1962, 1963), two Intercontinental Cups (1962, 1963), six Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, and ten Campeonato Paulista — among so many, many others. Yet if we see today, as the Ballon d’Or is one of the most prestigious individual award one footballer may receive, it does mean something for one living legend named Pelé.

And as we know now, Pelé is as amazing on the field as off the field. He’s a magician on the field, and compassionate off the field. He works in multiple humanitarian efforts, and indeed his works are recognized worldwide.

Certainly, don’t start on his footballing skills. So I take a brief look at both Pelé’s number of goals and Lionel Messi’s. On average, Pelé scored 1,088 goals in 1,115 appearances for Santos (including friendlies), at a rate of 0.975 goals per game. Lionel Messi, on the other hand, scores 343 goals in 434 games up to 2 February 2014 in Barcelona, at a rate of 0.79 goals per game. For the national team, Pelé scores 77 goals in 92 appearances (including official friendlies), at a rate of 0.837 goals per game. Lionel Messi with Argentina scores 37 goals in 83 appearances (including official friendlies), at a rate of 0.446 goals per game. If we to judge by numbers alone, the winner is pretty clear.

I guess there is no reason to hate this guy, or even to question or doubt his quality as the greatest footballer ever lived. It’s Pelé, and no matter how you look at it or put it, he deserves all the award and acclaim that he gets.

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