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Pele: 5 Best Seasons of His Career

At the back end of 2022, the world of soccer lost one of its most iconic legends, the great Brazilian trickster Pele.

Most of you reading this will never have had the chance to witness the exploits of the former New York Cosmos forward in the flesh (myself included), but from the stories and videos, we have all undoubtedly heard and seen it is clear that Pele was some player in his prime. 

Today we will be focussing on the playing career of Pele, by looking at the 5 best seasons from his long and storied career in soccer.

The Brazilian is known for dazzling fans with his quick feet and impressive shooting, with many still believing that he is one of the greatest soccer players of all time.

While this is a subject of great debate among soccer fans, there is no doubt that Pele was a revolution that changed the game forever and that he will be sorely missed by fans around the globe. 

5. 1959/1960 Season

After starting his career with Santos at such a young age Pele was already becoming a global star by the early 1960s.

Having shone at the 1958 World Cup in which his country became champions of the world, the forward was beginning to attract potential suitors from across Europe.

Clubs such as Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Liverpool were all swarming around the talented youngster, but Pele stayed loyal to Santos. 

Pele let his soccer do the talking by having one of the best years of his career in 1960 as he helped Santos claim the Brazilian league title thanks to an impressive 47-goal haul.

This massive pile of goals won Pele the golden boot award for being the top goal scorer in the competition, it also qualified Santos for the famous Copa Libertadores (the South American equivalent to the Champions League) tournament the following seasons. 

This competition was one in which Pele shone throughout his career, but it took a couple of attempts for him to truly establish himself as the continent’s greatest player. 

4. 1958/1959 Season 

As we touched upon earlier, the young Pele was a global phenomenon from the very start of his career.

At just 17 he was called up to the Brazilian national team after impressing with his club Santos in the youth ranks and Brazilian Premier League, this call-up alone would make him the youngest ever player to appear at a World Cup (providing he made it onto the field at some point during the tournament). 

Given the talent that Pele possessed it was no surprise that he featured and subsequently starred for his country as they became World Cup winners for the first time. In the semi-final of the competition, Pele scored a hat-trick to send his country to the final against hosts Sweden.

For a 17 to have managed this feat on the global stage was unheard of at the time and is still considered to be a generational occurrence to this day.  

It was in the latter stages that Pele became an icon though. Wearing his now legendary number 10 jersey Pele went on to score a further four goals throughout the competition, making him the joint top scorer with six to his name.

Most famously though, this era of Pele’s career was defined by him collapsing after the final whistle having to be brought around by a teammate before the celebrations could truly begin with Pele in streams of tears. 

3. 1961/1962 Season

Returning to the World Cup as reigning champions is never easy and defending your title is even harder to do (just ask France), but this is what Pele and his Brazilian teammates set out to do in 1992.

Now maturing into the greatest player on the planet, Pele was the focus of the world’s media ahead of his second World Cup campaign as many asked if he could repeat his exploits from four years earlier. 

Lining up for the first game against Mexico, Pele shone as brightly as ever as he scored one and assisted one on Brazil’s way to a comfortable 2-0 victory.

In the second match against Czechoslovakia, disaster struck Brazil as their star man picked up an injury attempting a speculative long-range effort. This injury would keep Pele out of the tournament; however this did not stop the mighty Brazil from lifting the trophy anyway. 

At the time FIFA did not award a winners medal to players that did not appear in the final and as such it took until the 1970s for Pele to receive it for the outstanding role he played in the qualification and early stages of the campaign. 

2. 1969/1970 Season

Given that Pele never appeared for a European club throughout his playing career, the most famous years of his time on the field featured a World Cup tournament, as this allowed the world to witness the majesty of the greatest talent that Brazil had to offer.

Pele came to the 1970 World Cup with a point to prove, having failed to deliver the trophy in 1966 (thanks to the exploits of English defender Bobby Moore) his country was crying out for more success. 

The team that Brazil took to the tournament is considered by some to the best to have ever stepped foot on a soccer field as it featured a plethora of legendary stars including Pele, Rivelino, and Carlos Torres.

Having initially stepped away from international duty prior to the qualification process for the 1970 World Cup, Pele returned for one last attempt at winning his third trophy. 

By this point in his career some of Pele’s raw pace and trickery had begun to dissipate slightly but he was still a force to be reckoned with at his best. The forward was still a vital cog in the Brazilian team and helped guide them to yet another final against Italy in Mexico City.

This match was characterized by one of the most famous moments in Pele’s life and perhaps one of the greatest moments in the history of soccer, Pele scoring and jumping into the arms of Jairzinho in a fit of happiness as he sent his country on their way to another triumph. 

1. 1976/1977 Season

As Pele’s career began to near its conclusion he decided to finally leave Brazil in search of a new challenge.

While many in the world of soccer wanted him to cross the Atlantic to play for the host of top clubs in Europe, Pele decided to move north as he joined the New York Cosmos.

Playing in the now defunct NASL competition, Pele enjoyed a brilliant few years in the league, but it was his third with the Cosmos that delivered the most success. 

Pele was the star of the show as he valiantly led his team to the 1977 Soccer Bowl against the mighty Seattle Sounders, it was a hard-fought affair, but the aging Pele was able to overcome the obstacles to lift the NASL title with the once great club.

At the time the attendance at the Soccer Bowl was the largest ever seen in the US for a soccer match as over 60,000 people crammed into the Civic Stadium in Portland. 

Soon after this Pele announced his retirement from the game, later playing in a friendly match between the New York Cosmos and his former club Santos. Pele duly scored an impressive free-kick as the rain poured down on the final act of the great man’s career. 

With that our rundown of the 5 best seasons of Pele’s career comes to an end. What a brilliant life the Brazilian had both on and off the soccer field. It is such a shame that we have had to say goodbye to him recently, but one thing is for sure, his legacy and impact on the sport of soccer will never be forgotten. 

I listed the best seasons of some other all-time greats in these articles: