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Reinaldo Coddou - Fußballwelten aus der Sicht eines Fotokünstlers

FALKE footprints

Pelé: King of dribbling

Pelé, who was named footballer of the century at the end of the last millennium, was an all-rounder. He combined power, elegance, an overview of the game, precision and determination. The story of a football legend.

Pelé

His skilful dribbling techniques kept spectators on the edge of their seats. His skill on the field was uncanny, with explosive acceleration and a powerful kick. He was also known for his perfectly timed headers – despite his small size.

He was a fighter and never stood down, often antagonised by the defence on the rough field of the ’60s, before yellow cards or substitutions were introduced.

He combined power, elegance, an overview of game, precision and determination.

1,281 goals in 1,363 matches, of which 77 were made in 92 international matches. Three times world champion, 26 titles under “his” FC Santos, for whom he played from 1956 to 1974. It was thanks to him that the team was brought into the big league of football, becoming the greatest team in South America for a time. His finest hours were in the World Cup championships in 1962 and 1963, particularly the 5:2 second leg match in October 1962 in Lisbon.

© Image: ARQUIVO/ESTADÃO CONTEÚDO/AE/Código

Even if he had wanted to change teams, he couldn’t have. He was viewed as a national treasure by the Brazilian government, and exporting him was not an option. But after a failed business venture, Pelé desperately needed money to pay his debts, so he left to join the New York Cosmos in 1975 for two seasons to earn some pocket change. In a country where football never really took off, he and Franz Beckenbauer managed to spark soccer fervour in the States.

His first star was won in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Despite facing racism from officials who wanted to limit the number of black players allowed on the field and being told he was mentally infantile by the team psychologist (Pelé’s strike partner Garrincha wouldn’t have even been able to become a bus driver according to the same test), the trainer Feola brought the 17-year-old wonder into his team.

With its new 4-2-4 system, Brazil entranced the football world, and Pelé, who looked like a ball boy, shot six goals in four games, securing the championship. In the deciding 3–1 match against the home team, he displayed artistic control of the ball, demonstrating his ability to make time stand still in the penalty box. From this moment on, the little street urchin who formerly worked as a shoe cleaner became a real sports icon.

If you believe the legend, his skill on the field even brought a war to a ceasefire, when FC Santos played in Nigeria in 1969 in the middle of the Biafran War. Both sides agreed to lay down their weapons for 48 hours in order to come together to watch Péle play.

He became one of the first athletes to become a global brand – only Coca Cola was more famous than him in the 1970s. After his thousandth goal, a penalty shot in 1969 in Maracaña, there was such an uproar that the game had to be paused for 20 minutes. Church bells were ringing all over the country and the post released a stamp celebrating the occasion.

During the World Cup in 1970, the Mexican spectators adopted the Brazilian team after their own team was eliminated. Posters around the country were seen saying: “We can’t work today. We have to see Pelé!” That World Cup was the high point of his career.

© Image: Picture-Alliance/ASA

© Image: Keystone Schweiz/laif

© Image: ARQUIVO/ESTADÃO CONTEÚDO/AE/Código

Not taking his success at the club level into consideration, after his supersonic advancement in 1958, the two following championships were not very successful. Seleção defended its title in 1962, but Pelé was injured early on, and his contribution to the triumph was modest. In 1966, football’s most talented play was quite literally kicked out of the competition by defenders in the group stage. Before the 1970 World Cup, the national trainer Saldanha believed the aging star to have myopia (to which Chris Taylor justly asked “what would he have been capable of if his vision were better?”) before putting him on the bench.

© Image: Joedson Alves/dpa

All and everything for "The Beautiful Game" "Today we'll take off, have to watch Pelé"

Was read on world cup posters in 1970

Three days after this affront, Saldanha was made redundant and was replaced by Mario Zagallo. Pelé then trained harder than ever and was in top form before the Cup. He didn’t only make some pivotal goals (like the lead goal in the final against Italy) but took control of the field with his team of skilled players, like Gerson, Tostão, Rivelino and Jairzinho. They entranced viewers around the world with their true passion for the game.

It was these two championships – 1958 and 1970 – that gave Brazil its reputation as homeland to the Jogo Bonito – the beautiful game. And Pelé, O Rei, was the king of football.