He won three World Cups, scored tons of goals and became a global icon, but Pele wasn’t quite done yet, so he moved to the United States and helped transform the game of soccer in North America.
The Brazilian great was determined to come out of retirement in 1975, signing for the New York Cosmos for three more seasons.
Pele apparently played his last professional game months before joining the North American Soccer League (NASL) side, hanging up his boots after 638 games for his boyhood club Santos.
It was almost unthinkable that Pele would play for any club other than Santos, but despite struggling to generate interest in soccer in North America, he joined the Cosmos on a $1.67-million-a-year deal midway through the 1975 season. the time
Pele came, saw and conquered and by then’O king (“The King”) passed away in 1977, an NASL champion who helped spark a soccer boom.
“In three seasons with the Cosmos, Pele helped transform the domestic landscape of football,” the Cosmos said in a statement following his death this week.
“Where once there were baseball diamonds, there are now football pitches.
“The Cosmos and their King not only started a sports revolution in America, they traveled the world spreading the gospel of the beautiful game.”
Even now, nearly 50 years later, Pele’s influence is still felt in both men’s and women’s sports in North America.
His departure to the Cosmos paved the way for other greats, such as Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer, to follow, and although the NASL eventually folded in 1984, it was a blueprint for Major League Soccer (MLS) when it was founded in 1993. by setting
Superstars such as David Beckham, Gareth Bale, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have followed in Pele’s footsteps, helping to develop the sport in North America by playing in MLS.
Soccer in the U.S. is thriving as the U.S. men’s national team impresses at the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Scouts from around the world now look to North America to discover new talent, cementing the sport into the fabric of society and naturally passing through generations.
Much of Pele’s early work in the 1970s was due to her natural ability and infectious laugh.
CNN’s Don Riddell spoke to supporters about Pele during Qatar 2022, an American who said the legend changed his life.
“Watching him was the first professional game I saw in 1975 and because of that, it’s one of the reasons for my 11th World Cup,” Clifton Brummond told CNN.
“Watching him and his ability attracted me to watch football and the World Cup.”
The season before Pele joined Santos in 1975, the Cosmos’ highest attendance for a match was just over 8,000.
According to the Society for American Soccer History, in its final and most successful season in 1977, the average crowd for home games was 42,689, including three occasions when attendance exceeded 70,000.
Pele was 34 when he joined the Cosmos and scored a total of 37 goals in 64 NASL matches.
“Pele’s decision to bring his artistry to the United States in the 1970s with the New York Cosmos was a transformative moment for the sport in this country,” MLS Commissioner Don Gerber said in a statement.
“As Pele captivated fans across the United States and Canada, it demonstrated the power of play and the limitless potential for the game.”
The Cosmos’ first general manager, Clive Toye, was instrumental in getting the sport’s biggest superstar at the time to join the Cosmos.
A former journalist who was heavily involved in the creation of the NASL, Toye had a vision for the future of soccer in the United States and believed Pele was the man to make that dream a reality.
However, Toye and the Cosmos faced some stiff opposition from around the world for Pele’s signature.
Even heavyweight political interference with Pele was tolerated saying Then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger helped convince him to join Cosmos.
“At that time, I had many 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,” Pele told CNN in 2011.
“Then came the offer to go to New York because they want to grow soccer in the United States. That was the reason. I have begun my mission.”
Suddenly watching football became cool.
Matches were broadcast worldwide and the star-studded Cosmos team was the hottest ticket in town. Comsos and Pele even began traveling around the world.
“Everywhere we went, all over the world, Asia, Australia, Europe, they just wanted Pele,” former Cosmos player Denis Tuert, who was signed to replace Pele, although he played some exhibition matches with the Brazilian star, told Sky Sports.
“He had great vision, great athleticism […] Undoubtedly he was the best in my eyes.
Pele still has a presence in New York City today. The ‘Pele Soccer’ store opened in 2019 and sits in the iconic Times Square, where many fans flocked after the news of his death.
After the Cosmos won the NASL title in 1977, a farewell match against Pele’s former team Santos was arranged, with the Brazilian playing one half for both sides in what would be his final official game.
After the testimonial, he addressed a crowd of more than 70,000 inside New York’s Giants Stadium, leading the crowd in chants of “love, love, love”.
A fitting end, perhaps, for a man who spread joy wherever he went and who helped establish soccer as a way of life in North America.