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The Story Behind the Pelé Soccer Ball

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Here's the story behind the Pelé Soccer Ball, one of the many funky finds from the Children's Museum collection!
By Tris Perkins, World Cultures Curator
This soccer ball was autographed by Pelé at his first-ever North American signing on April 7, 2005.  The signature is rare because it's signed with both his given name, Edson, and his nickname, Pelé.
Many believe that Pelé, the Brazilian soccer legend, is the greatest soccer player to ever play the game. But he started out with meager beginnings.  Born in Brazil in 1940, he was given the name Edson Arantes do Nascimento, named after the American inventor Thomas Edison. As a child, he played soccer in his impoverished neighborhood with grapefruits and socks stuffed with paper. At age six, he received his first soccer ball as a gift and was given the nickname Pelé. Mentored by former World Cup player Valdemar de Brito, he was playing for the professional club Santos by age 16.  At age seventeen he was recruited by the Brazilian National soccer team. In 1958 he became the youngest soccer player ever to win the World Cup at age 17 against Sweden. During his career he won the World Cup three times and recorded 1,281 goals in 1,363 matches, defining him as the highest goal scorer in the history of professional soccer. He traveled the world playing with the Santos and the Brazilian team. He had many signature moves, including the "bicycle kick.”
In 1974 he retired from Brazilian soccer to join the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. He played his last professional soccer game in 1977, but continues to be an important world figure through his work with UNICEF and involvement with the United Nations. In 1999, he was voted the athlete of the century by the International Olympic Committee. He's accomplished many "firsts" throughout his life, including being the first sports figure on a video game with the Atari 2600 "Pelé's soccer" and being the only soccer player ever to play on three World Cup winning teams. Brazil has defined him as a "national treasure."