If people knew how the world’s greatest footballer trained when he was a boy, all the mangoes (specifically, the round variety) would be sold out in no time. In a recently released biopic about Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or Pele, as the world knows him to be – it’s revealed that his father used mangoes in place of a football to train little Pele in perfecting his football skills.

It obviously worked, since 17-year-old Pele went on to score the winning goal in Brazil’s first ever World Cup victory in 1958. Hailed for his unorthodox and authentic style, Pele’s success has inspired and changed a nation forever. Since 1958, Brazil has gone on to bring home the World Cup more times than any other team, clinching a total of five titles (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002).

Pele himself has helped win three of those games – the only player to have done so. Other than his first victory in 1958, he also scored winning goals in 1962 and 1970; he has scored a total of 1,281 goals in 1,363 matches, a world record that still stands. Now, at age 75, he has long retired from football, but still travels the world as an ambassador for the beautiful game, gracing major tournaments.

While Pele’s performance was spectacular, the world has seen other major football legends take centrestage too. Let’s take a look at four more of them.

1. Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona played in four FIFA World Cups, including the 1986 World Cup in Mexico where he captained Argentina's national team and led them to victory over West Germany. (Source: www.football-bible.com)

Diego Maradona played in four FIFA World Cups, including the 1986 World Cup in Mexico where he captained Argentina’s national team and led them to victory over West Germany. (Source: www.football-bible.com)

This Argentinian footballer is said to be the only man to win a World Cup virtually by himself.

Maradona was 10 when an Argentine newspaper ran a story about a prodigy named “Caradona.” At 17, in 1978, he was very nearly picked for the World Cup, but didn’t get to represent his country until 1982. He was sent off for kicking the Brazilian player Batista in the testicles, so he didn’t go home in glory that year.

Mexico in 1986 was to be his zenith. He was said to have dribbled a goal through the entire English defence in the quarter-final. “It was like stealing the wallet of the English,” he said.

However, drugs had plagued him since he became addicted to cocaine while playing for Napoli, and his career was marred by this ugly side of him.

2. Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi is a formidable dribbler who regains his balance faster than most people. (Source: www.espnfc.com)

Lionel Messi is a formidable dribbler who regains his balance faster than most people. (Source: www.espnfc.com)

Considered to be one of the best soccer players who ever lived, Messi, 28, is both an Argentine and an European player. His haul of club prizes is glittering, but he has yet to win a World Cup.

He almost didn’t get to become a professional football player. Born in Rosario to a steelworker father, he grew into the perfect example of the tiny Argentine ballplayer. At 13, he stood just 1.40 meters tall – not tall enough to be a professional football player at this rate. To reach a normal height, he would need hormone treatments too expensive for his parents. Luckily, Barcelona was persuaded to invite him for a trial game, in which Messi scored five goals. The whole family moved to Catalonia, where every night the boy injected hormones into his feet. He grew to 1.70 metres and made the cut.

Messi is unmatched in the dribble. He runs at top speed yet with three-quarter steps, allowing him to change direction quicker than any opponent. He somehow always manages to be the first to recover his balance after a tackle, therefore winning endless rebounds.

Since his senior career with Barcelona started in 2003, Messi has won two Champions Leagues, five Spanish titles, three Ballon d’Ors for world player of the year, and an Olympic gold with Argentina in 2008.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo is among a select few who has won the prestigious Ballon d'Or award thrice. (Source: www.goal.com)

Cristiano Ronaldo is among a select few who has won the prestigious Ballon d’Or award thrice. (Source: www.goal.com)

With his dashing good looks and passionate fan base, Cristiano Ronaldo, 31, is said to be the world’s most expensive player when he moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009 in a transfer worth £80 million (S$157.6 million). His buyout clause is valued at €1 billion (S$1.55 billion). It’s not hard to imagine why he’s often touted as the world’s biggest football star.

Ronaldo has countless accolades to his name, including three Premier League victories, two World Cups (for Portugal) and two UEFA Champions Leagues. He is also Real Madrid’s all-time leading goal-scorer, and is said to view Messi as a career rival.

4. Jamie Vardy

Jamie Vardy is one of the reasons that Leicester City has had a momentous season. (Source: thesun.co.uk)

Jamie Vardy is one of the reasons that Leicester City has had a momentous season. (Source: thesun.co.uk)

Some of you football afficionados out there might think that this entry is a little premature for Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, but no one ought to dare dispute that Leicester City is a different team now because of the likes of him. He’s just been crowned Premier League Player Of The Season, the first player from his club to have won this award.

This season, he has scored 24 goals in 35 Premier League appearances, while scoring some vital goals in the process. He has netted 11 consecutive Premier League games to surpass Manchester United great Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of 10.

To watch some mad football moves and find out more about how Pele immortalised the association of football with “the beautiful game”, catch Pele: Birth Of A Legend before it ends its run!

Sources: www.football-bible.comwww.askmen.com, www.lcfc.com, footballsgreatest.weebly.com, Wikipedia.org

End note: This article was not able to include all the great football players in the world due to length issues. Also, this article was written by a woman who considers brisk walking a sport.