Hail to the King: The Immortal Pelé Passes


In a year mired by the deaths of some of the sports world’s greatest legends, the announcement of Pelé’s passing on December 29, 2022, felt like the unfortunate tip of the iceberg.

The announcement came, dually in Spanish and English, on Pelé’s own Twitter account: “Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pelé, who peacefully passed away today,” the post said. “Love, love and love, forever.”

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Possibly the single-best soccer player in history: Pelé.

Many consider Pelé as soccer’s single-best player in history. While the feats of Ronaldo, Messi, Mbappé, and others in recent years are those of generational talents, their accomplishments merely challenge Pelé’s spot as the king of the pitch. The fact that the bicycle kick is named after the Brazilian legend speaks volumes of how deeply he is respected.


Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pelé was a three-time FIFA World Cup winner, co-holder of Brazil’s international goal record, and owner of such accolades as the International Olympic Committee’s Athlete of the Century in 1999. Several other national, league, and international records are Pelé’s and will likely never be eclipsed.

Off the pitch, Pelé was an incredible humanitarian. He was a UNESCO goodwill ambassador and fought hard against corruption in Brazil’s soccer system. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and was instrumental in Brazil’s successful bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

So revered was Pelé in his home country that there was a declared three days of mourning in Brazil. In a prepared statement, President Jair Bolsonaro stated that Pelé was “a great citizen and patriot, raising the name of Brazil wherever he went.”


Pelé’s earliest collectibles come from the 1950s when, as a teenager, he showed signs of greatness. He played in two professional games in Brazil’s top league in 1956—as a 15-year-old—and scored twice. The promise he showed was enough to garner a spot in the 1957 Balas Futebol miniature trading card series. An SGC-graded copy of the card received a sales price of $489,000 in 2022, a startling figure that could be surpassed should another example reach the auction floor.

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While many do not consider this 1957 piece to be Pelé’s true rookie card, it has garnered the most money at auction.

The piece, however, is not considered Pelé’s rookie card, as most collectors cite 1958 as the year of his official RC. These include card #635 in the Alifabolaget series and #10 in the Editora Aquarela product, both of which feature photos of the then very young star. A third, in the Monty Gum International Footballers Red series, features an artist’s rendition (a poor one at that), while a fourth from the Swedish Rekord Journal pairs him with Manoel Francisco dos Santos.

Of these cards, the Alifabolaget card commanded the highest dollar. As reported by ESPN earlier this year, fractional ownership company Rally Rd sold a high-grade copy of the card for $1.33 million.

While sports memorabilia was regionalized in the pre-global market days, Pelé was in countless card sets from across the globe. Browse through searches for football cards and stickers of Pelé, and you’ll see various products appear with titles in multiple languages.

Despite this, options for card collectors are minimal for a player of Pelé’s stature. The total count of Pelé cards and stickers—the entry point for many hobbyists and investors—is relatively scarce, particularly when compared to the likes of Messi and Ronaldo. The easiest to snag today are recent issues from the likes of Leaf, Futera, and Panini, but you’ll have to lay down some serious cash, as less than four hundred pieces have been produced of the legend.


Instead, other collectibles should be on your search list as a starting point, one of which is the only piece that currently sits in my collection: a video game.

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While Atari game cartridges don’t command big dollars in most situations, this autographed version of the Pelé soccer game sold for nearly $250 in an August 2021 eBay auction.

As a youngster in the 1980s, I learned about Pelé through my Atari 2600. In one of the first athlete-endorsed titles in home video game history, Pelé lent his name and considerable bravado to Pelé’s Soccer in 1981. This release was long before Wayne Gretzky, Ken Griffey Jr., or Mike Tyson endorsed video games, so there was a different air when the legend’s face was prominent on the box art and the cartridge itself.

Your next stop should be one of the many books on Pelé. There is a broad expanse of titles available, including autobiographies. Perhaps the best-known of these tomes is Why Soccer Matters, which Pelé and Brian Winter co-authored and published in 2014. The book also appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. The bonus here is that it’s pretty easy to find autographed copies of his work or tributes by other authors.

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Selling for nearly $26,000 in 2006, this autographed photo book was limited to just 150 copies.

Autographs are a big part of the equation for any collector, and Pelé enthusiasts are no exception. From the aforementioned books to photos to just about anything else under the sun, Pelé was a generous signer. Finding his John Hancock isn’t hard, whether you’re seeking an entry-level piece or a high-end sample. What shines is how elegant Pelé was with his penmanship. While modern players are slagged for their lack of attentiveness in their signatures, Pelé’s is consistently legible and looks remarkable, more than frame-worthy.

On top of these collectibles are a variety of game-used items from Pelé. Though not common, his jerseys, cleats, and balls from his games have appeared on the secondary market. Souvenir versions of these items are easy to find and become beautiful display items.

Pelé’s legacy will not be forgotten, and with tribute pieces likely to roll in over the coming months, collectors can expect to have more options available to honor The King in their own way.

Jon Waldman is a Winnipeg-based writer. He has written for Beckett, Go GTS, Canadian Sports Collector, and several other hobby outlets over his two decades in the hobby. His experience also includes two books on sports cards and memorabilia. Connect with Jon on Twitter at @jonwaldman.

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