He retired as a player more than 30 years ago yet in the minds of many no one has surpassed Pele as the greatest in the game's history. On the eve of his 70th birthday this Saturday, the world's press is paying tribute to perhaps the most recognizable, and admired, men to ever play the game.
Tim Vickery writes that watching Pele at his finest, it is hard to believe there could be a more complete soccer machine. By Pele's own account, his best performance came at Benfica of Portugal in October 1962, when the champions of Europe and South America met home and away to decide the world club championship. In Brazil, Pele's Santos team won 3-2. The Portuguese were confident of overturning the margin in Lisbon -- until Pele ran roughshod and Santos won 5-2. In this most magnificent display of his art, Pele showed all of the attributes -- all-around technical excellence, pace, power, athleticism, vision, intelligence, coolness under pressure -- that he displayed in a career that ran from 1956-77.
So long after his retirement, Pele earns a fortune -- and provides value for the money -- creating an image of the always happy, always smiling representative of the world's most popular sport. But -- and it could hardly be otherwise -- the human being behind the smile is surely a more complex, more driven, more interesting character.