Pele | Photo: Getty Images
When Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci drew his iconic painting 'Mona Lisa,' he knew little that it would become "the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world."
Well, it was the feeling Waldemar de Brito, a former Brazilian International, might have had in 1954 when he spotted a kid named Edson Arantes do Nascimento playing with kids in a poor suburb in Brazil. Despite all odds, he took him to Santos FC, predicting that he would become the greatest footballer in the world. In Santos, the world watched in awe as the teenager blossomed into a marvellous flower, exhibiting qualities that the footballing world had never experienced before. He was 16 when he wore the number 10 jersey for Brazil, and the name Deco and Nascimento became Pele, which in Hebrew means Miracle or Wonder.
The young Pele grew up in poverty in Bauru in the state of Sao Paulo. His father, João Ramos do Nascimento, was a former footballer better known as Dondinho. He retired from the game when he injured his leg. Those were days when football was the only remedy that kept young Pele from starving out of poverty. Dondinho was his first coach during his free time when Pele was not polishing shoes to help contribute to the family income. On other occasions, Nascimento played football with his peers, with bare feet, kicking around a ball stuffed with socks in the streets and showing off incredible skills. However, becoming a footballer was not exactly the wealthiest option Brazilians had in their country. For instance, Pele mentioned in his autobiography that he dreamed of becoming a pilot one day.
He used to go down to an aviation club nearby to watch the pilots doing stunts and manoeuvres in the air.
"I was desperate to be a pilot and whenever I could I would scoot off, even skip school, to head down to the airfield and marvel at the planes being readied for take-off or coming into land and the pilots going about their business," he remarked in his autobiography, 'Pele: The Autobiography.
However, he decided to leave his ambition of becoming a pilot when he saw the body of a dead pilot in a morgue who had been killed in a crash. The sight of blood gushing out from the injured arm of the corpse scared Pele. He added that the sight continued to haunt him in his later years, even in his senior years at Santos. Fortunately, Pele's decision to opt for football ended up being the right decision despite his having to go through a lot of sacrifices and hard work to achieve the tag of being the 'greatest.'
It was the period when Pele, under the tutelage of his father and Waldemar de Brito, started to shape his style of play by joining Bauru Athletic Club juniors. Coach de Brito recognized his ability and polished the rough diamond into a shiny and beautiful one. It is said that it was Brito who taught Pele the incredible bicycle kicks that went on to become one of the most iconic techniques used by Brazilian for his country.
However, when Brito introduced his 15-year-old wizard before the sceptical directors of Santos FC, little did he know what the world was about to witness. Young Pele proved himself at his new club after signing a professional contract in June 1956 and scoring in his first major match against Corinthians FC. After scoring on his Santos debut, Pelé burst onto the world stage in 1958 when he lifted World Cup with Brazil, just a year after he left home to pursue an obscure future as a footballer. The Brazilian government honoured him as the "national treasure," which elevated his status nationally and internationally.