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Pelé, the Story in Pictures

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He was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento within the tiny Brazilian village of Três Corações, where he played soccer barefoot, using rolled-up rags for a ball. How a young man from such humble beginnings became Pelé, widely considered the best soccer player ever, is a story written on the hearts of generations of his compatriots and fans world wide.

It’s a story told, too, in photographs that spanned many years — and that grew in luster and clarity as his legend did.

Pelé, who died Thursday at 82, burst onto the world soccer scene as a thin 17-year-old, scoring two goals within the 1958 World Cup final to steer Brazil to victory over Sweden. He would go on to attain 1,283 goals in his 21-year profession, leading Brazil to a few World Cup championships and becoming recognizable worldwide for his unmatched skill and charming smile.

Near the top of his playing profession, he helped popularize soccer in the US as a member of the Latest York Cosmos, leading the team to a North American Soccer League championship when he was a wily 36-year-old. His variety of play was so inventive that his passes often appeared to surprise his teammates.

The origins and even the meaning of the name Pelé are lost to history. But in these images, his genius as a player and his indescribable appeal are frozen without end in time.

— Mike Wilson

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