“HIS NICKNAME MEANS nothing in any language but evokes images of genius and gentility in them all,” wrote Hank Hersch of Sports Illustrated in 1999. On this date in 1958, the seventeen-year-old soccer virtuoso known as Pelé scored two goals as Brazil defeated Sweden 5-2 for the first of the nation’s five World Cup championships.
The youngest player in the 1958 World Cup, Pele´ would be declared a national treasure by Brazil’s president in 1961. His world popularity became so profound that the two sides in the Nigeria-Biafra war agreed to a cease-fire when he came to Africa in 1968. In soccer, where 400 career goals is considered a terrific feat, Pelé scored 1,280, then came out of retirement in 1975 to play for the New York Cosmos, where his presence brought big crowds to the North American Soccer League.
Many insist that Pele, not Michael Jordan or Muhammad Ali, is the greatest world athlete of all time.