He had won three World Cups, scored goals galore and become a global icon, but Pele wasn’t done yet, so he moved to the United States and helped transform football in North America.
The Brazilian great was convinced to come out of retirement, signing in 1975 for the New York Cosmos for three more seasons.
Pele had apparently played his last professional game months before joining the North American Soccer League (NASL) team, hanging up his boots after making 638 appearances for his boyhood club Santos.
It was almost unfathomable that Pele would ever play for another club besides Santos, but he joined the Cosmos midway through the 1975 season on a $1.67 million a year deal, despite football having a hard time. struggling to generate much interest in North America at the time.
Pelé came, saw and conquered and when ‘O Rei’ (“The King”) left in 1977, he was an NASL champion who helped spark a football boom.
“During three seasons with the Cosmos, Pelé helped transform the national landscape for the sport of football,” the Cosmos said in a statement after his death this week.
“Where there used to be baseball diamonds, now there were also football fields.
“The Cosmos and its King not only sparked a sports revolution in America, but they also traveled the world spreading the Gospel of the Beautiful Game.”
Even now, after almost 50 years, Pelé’s influence is still felt in the men’s and women’s games in North America.
Her time at Cosmos paved the way for other big names, such as Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer, and although the NASL eventually folded in 1984, she laid out a plan for Major League Soccer (MLS) when its creation in 1993.
Superstars such as David Beckham, Gareth Bale, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have all followed in Pele’s footsteps by helping to develop the sport in North America by playing in MLS.
Soccer in the United States is now in full swing, with the United States Men’s National Team impressing at the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Scouts around the world are now looking to North America to discover new talent, as the sport is ingrained in the fabric of society and passed down naturally from generation to generation.
Much of the early work was done in the 1970s thanks to Pelé’s natural ability and contagious smile.
CNN’s Don Riddell spoke with supporters of Pelé during Qatar 2022, with one American saying the legend changed his life.
“Watching it was the first professional game I ever saw in 1975 and because of that, one of the reasons it’s my 11th World Cup,” Clifton Broumand told CNN.
“Watching him and his ability got me hooked to come and watch football and the World Cup.”
In the season before Pelé joined Santos in 1975, the Cosmos’ highest attendance for a game was just over 8,000.
During its last and most successful season in 1977, the average crowd was 42,689 for home games, including three occasions when attendance exceeded 70,000, according to the Society for American Soccer History.
When Pelé joined the Cosmos he was 34 years old and he scored a total of 37 goals in 64 NASL games.
“Pelé’s decision to bring his art to the United States with the New York Cosmos in the 1970s was a transformative moment for the sport in this country,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. communicated.
“As Pelé captivated fans across the United States and Canada, it demonstrated the power of the game and the limitless possibilities of sport.”
Pelé’s life in pictures
The Cosmos’ first chief executive, Clive Toye, played a key role in bringing the sport’s biggest superstar at the time to join the Cosmos.
A former journalist heavily involved in the creation of the NASL, Toye had a vision for the future of football in the United States and believed that Pelé was the man who would make that dream a reality.
However, Toye and the Cosmos faced stiff opposition from around the world for signing Pele.
A heavy political intervention was even put to use, with Pelé saying then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had helped convince him to join the Cosmos.
“At that time I had a lot of offers to play in England, Italy, Spain, Mexico but I said no. After 18 years I want to rest because I’m going to retire,” said Pelé at CNN in 2011.
“Then came the proposal to go to New York because they want to grow football in the United States. That was the reason. I started my mission.
Suddenly it was cool to watch football.
The matches were broadcast around the world and the star-studded Cosmos team was the hottest ticket in town. The Comsos and Pelé have even begun to tour the world.
“No matter where we went, anywhere in the world, Asia, Australia, Europe, all they wanted was Pele,” said former Cosmos player Dennis Tueart, who was signed for replace Pelé, although he has played a few exhibition matches with the Brazilian star. Sky sports.
“He had extraordinary vision, extraordinary athleticism […] he was without a doubt, in my opinion, the best.
Pelé is still present in New York today. The ‘Pelé Soccer’ store was opened in 2019 and is located in the iconic Times Square, a place many fans flocked to following news of his death.
After the Cosmos won the NASL title in 1977, a farewell match against Pelé’s former team Santos was arranged, with the Brazilian playing half time for both teams in what would be his last official game. .
After the testimony, he addressed more than 70,000 people in a crowded New York Giants stadium, leading the crowd into a chant of “Love, love, love.”
A fitting end, perhaps, for a man who spread joy wherever he went and helped make soccer a way of life in North America.