Pele's iconic overhead kick against Belgium, 1965. (Alberto Ferreira)Pele's iconic overhead kick against Belgium, 1965. (Alberto Ferreira)
Hempstead, N.Y. – He could have been Dico, and the world may never have known the talent of the greatest soccer star and perhaps the greatest athlete of the 20th century. Now looking back on his storied career, Pele can muse and wonder about what his life would have been like if he was never discovered as a teenager and became the most famous athlete in the world.
Pele, originally named Edson Arantes do Nascimento, is now 73 years old and continues to be among the most famous names and faces in the world. And while the three-time World Cup winner looks back fondly on his career, he also can now look back and wonder what could have been had he not been the renowned soccer star. Life, to say the least, would have been very different.
Discovered in his teenage years, Pele played the entirety of his career with famed Brazilian club Santos before he finished with three years spent as a member of the New York Cosmos. But when asked if he hadn't developed into a professional athlete what his life would have become, his answer comes quickly and without hesitation.
The man who soared through the area with his famous bicycle kicks would have chosen another route for air travel.
“To be honest with you, when I was nine years old, I wanted to be an airplane pilot,” Pele told Yahoo Sports. “That is what I dreamed to do.
That was my dream, to be an airplane pilot. I wanted to fly.”
He now lives a life where he is beloved around the world. Just a week ago, Pele was part of a promotional tour to mark the kickoff of the reborn New York Cosmos and their second year in the alive-once-again North American Soccer League. The rebooted Cosmos won the NASL Championship last year in their inaugural season in the league and Pele served an ambassadorial role, granting interviews in the lead-up to the season.
He even received an honorary doctorate from Hofstra University, where the Cosmos play their home matches.
As he sits in a stately room in University Hall on Hofstra's campus, Pele still looks every bit like the soccer star who brought the sport to the United States nearly four decades ago. In his dark suit and a white shirt crisp and without a wrinkle, he looks young still. Clearly, the game still glimmers in his eyes when he talks.
He admits that the life of being Pele is a pressure-filled one. Every statement is scrutinized, his every prediction held up for praise or ridicule. He isn't just an athlete – he is the best to ever play in the world's most passionate and popular sport. As such, he is everything but normal.
Nearly 40 years removed from his playing days, he still demands a police escort around the Hofstra campus as hundreds of well-wishers wait outside University Hall to catch a glimpse of him, take a photo of him or perhaps simply touch him.
“Sometime I think that I grow with this. Since I was 18 years old – when I was little they called me Pele. I think my personality was made for this. I don't think it is bad or terrible. I wouldn't want to change this,” Pele said.
“I wouldn't want another life,” he later adds.
His eyes drift off for a moment. His hands, animated in conversation, are now folded and rest on his lap. He's away in thought, perhaps wondering if he was simply Edson and not Pele, if he didn't become an icon of the sports world, the most recognizable person and name on the planet.
He reveals that were he not Pele, not only would he have been an airplane pilot but he would have gone by the family nickname of 'Dico.'
“I start young. At 16 years old, I was at Santos. Shortly after that [was] the World Cup,” Pele said, referencing his debut on the world stage in 1958 at the World Cup as a 17-year-old. “I think my personality grew with this. I think Edson was the one who suffered. But this – being Pele – is better for my life.
I like being Pele.”
Kristian R. Dyer writes for Metro New York and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KDyerSoccer
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