1975. Now in the twilight of his career, Pelé still created a tidal wave of interest wherever he went, and attracted a sizeable throng of paying punters only too willing to hand over a buck or two for a glimpse of the black pearl. The marketing potential of Pelé was not lost on Warner Brothers president Steve Ross, a director of New York Cosmos, who was responsible for much of the funding of the club at the time. Ross was not a soccer man, but having learned that the Brazilian’s level of popularity was akin to that of the pope, he spent years attempting to persuade the mercurial Santos star to head north.
On 10 June 1975 the Cosmos completed what English journalist Gavin Newsham described as "the transfer coup of the century". Having witnessed the Brazilian government rebuff offers from Europe for his entire playing career to remain at Santos, Pelé finally upped sticks and pitched up in New York.
Pelé joined the Cosmos on a salary of $1.4 million per year, an enormous wage for an athlete at that time, equal to about $6 million in today's money. A number of contracts – only one of which mentioned soccer – were set up for Pelé to ensure that he paid the lowest amount of tax possible. His job description was not listed as soccer player, but as a "recording artist" with Warner subsidiary Atlantic Records.
Pelé’s primary role was always to raise interest in soccer in the US and help develop the NASL and Cosmos brands. To that end, with average attendances for the Cosmos exceeding 40,000 - the highest in the league - the Brazilian certainly met his objective. That said he was still able to score an impressive 37 goals from 64 games during his time in New York and led the Cosmos to the first of three NASL titles in 1977.
On 1 October 1977, following two years in New York, Pelé brought the curtain down on his legendary career in an exhibition match between his two club sides, Cosmos and Santos. The match was played in front of a capacity crowd at the Giants Stadium and was televised around the world. Pelé's father and wife both attended the match, as well as a number of his friends in sport such as Muhammad Ali and Bobby Moore.
Playing the first half for his current team and the second for Santos, Pelé scored his final goal for the Cosmos direct from a free kick. At half time, the Cosmos retired his number 10 shirt.
We’re running an amazing picture gallery courtesy of Colorsport featuring Pelé’s final game which you can view by clicking here. It really is excellent.
As always, the images included, plus hundreds of other iconic photographs, are available to buy as high quality prints directly from Colorsport and you can do that by following this link.