Pelé: What I've Learned


Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pelé first played for the Brazilian national team when he was sixteen, and went on to win three World Cups between 1958 and 1970. He is considered the greatest soccer player of all time.

Let me take a moment to think about that. No…no, I have never been anywhere where people didn't know me.

The head talks to the heart and the heart talks to the feet.

I was born in a city called Três Corações, which means "three hearts," in the state of Minas Gerais. Just before I was born, we received electricity in our house. So my father said, "The electricity came when you were born, so I'm going to name you after Thomas Edison." But they took the i out, and that's how my name became Edson.

There are many athletes who have impressed me over the years. But the one who impressed me the most was my father. That's because I was looking at him through the eyes of a nine-year-old.

Rice and beans. That's the best food I've ever tasted. And it's good for your health.

Brazilians are welcome wherever they go in the world. Happiness and the music are the most important things that we have.

If you're honest and you want to work, America opens its doors.

When my father hurt the ligaments in his knee, he had to stop playing, and this brought my family many financial problems. I was about ten years old at the time. My mother had to go out and wash clothes to help support us. My mother told me, "Don't play, because your father played and then he got hurt and now he can't provide for the family. Get an education." It was a different time, but she was right. Finally, she said, "You were born to play soccer. You have the talent to play soccer. But you're never going to be a great man unless you go to school and study." That was one of the biggest lessons she ever gave me.


Courage can bring huge benefits to those who are prepared.

My father said, "Don't think you're a great player. You need to train hard. You need to be prepared. You need to respect your opponent. Only then will you be able to be a great player."

A friend is part of your family.

Was there a moment that I knew I had gone beyond my father? I had the luck to be chosen to play on the Brazilian national team when I was sixteen years old, and when I was seventeen I went to Sweden to play in the World Cup. We won and I was champion of the world. That never happened to my father.

The most important moment in my sporting career came in Africa in 1967. My club, Santos, was doing a tour across many continents, and we were invited to play in Nigeria. The club directors said, "How? Are you crazy! We can't play there. There's a civil war going on there." But the organizers said, "No, no, the people want to see Pelé play. We are going to stop the war to see Pelé play." So they stopped the war for forty-eight hours and they got to see Pelé play.

If I could do it over again, I wouldn't change many things. Not for myself.

When you marry for the second time, it's a renewal.

It's difficult to explain because it was something in the moment and I was feeling very emotional. It was my last game for the Cosmos. Everybody was standing and applauding. Poxa! So I said: I thank God for all the love that he's given me. And I took advantage of the moment and asked the American people not to forget this love. I asked them to repeat the word three times. Love. Love. Love. It's a coincidence—but I was born in a place called Three Hearts.

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You can't be scared.

My youngest children are twins. One boy and one girl. My son is playing soccer. He's not professional yet, but it's always emotional to see your son playing. I feel nervous that he might get hurt or not play very well. It's hard to watch. Sometimes I don't even go.

It's good on one hand to be so loved. But sometimes you want that tranquillity that comes with privacy.

With soccer, I traveled around the world. I was received in friendship and with affection all over. That is the best prize I ever won.

I hope to have your friendship, and that I never disappoint you.

This story was originally published in the May 2014 issue of Esquire.

From: Esquire US

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Cal Fussman
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