Widely regarded as the best player to ever lace-up a pair of boots, Pelé remains one of the most recognised faces in world football – despite playing his last game back in 1977.
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, on October 23 1940, in Três Corações, Brazil, Pelé burst onto the world scene as a teenager with his impressive showing at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden – where he picked up his first winner’s medal. The 17-year-old was instrumental in Brazil’s triumph, finding the net three times in an emphatic 5-2 semi-final win over France. He also scored twice in the final during the 5-2 demolition of Sweden. That would be the start of a long love affair with the tournament as he went on to lift the trophy twice more – in 1962 and 1970 – during a glittering career.
His journey started in 1956 when he joined Santos, a club he stayed with for nearly two decades before signing for the New York Cosmos later in his career. By the age of 16 he was already banging in the goals for Santos, and an impressive first season with Santos saw him quickly called up to the national side.
The young superstar received lucrative offers to play for European clubs but Brazilian President Jânio Quadros had Pelé declared a national treasure, making it legally difficult for him to play in another country.
Pelé aggravated a groin injury two games into the 1962 World Cup in Chile, and had to watch the rest of the tournament from the sidelines as Brazil went on to claim a second straight title. The 1970 World Cup in Mexico marked a triumphant return to glory for both Pelé and Brazil. He scored four goals in the tournament, including one in the final to give Brazil a 4-1 victory over Italy.
Pelé’s star shone so bright during his playing days he famously caused a 48-hour ceasefire in 1969 between two factions in the Nigerian Civil War. As mentioned his 2007 book: Pelé: The Autobiography, the sides called a temporary halt to their feud to watch the great man play in a friendly match in Lagos.
The Brazilian announced his retirement from football in 1974, but was lured back into action soon after by the New York Cosmos, to help raise the profile of the North American Soccer League.
He played his final game in an exhibition between New York and Santos in October 1977, where he turned out for both teams. His incredible career ended with a record of 1,281 goals in 1,363 games.
Pelé became a Hublot ambassador 2013, speaking of the partnership the Brazilian said, “It is an honour for me to represent Hublot, a brand that stands for innovation and watchmaking tradition. They share my same commitment to the sport of football”.
The footballing icon was recently in Dubai for the Hublot Match of Friendship – a thrilling game of football, played in front of the Burj Khalifa, which ended 11-11. The match also featured ex-AC Milan and Brazil goalkeeper Dida, regular club-mate Serginho, Republic of Ireland record goal scorer Robbie Keane, Real Madrid and Spain stalwart Michel Salgado plus Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club and UAE battler Majed Hassan.
The Red Devils won their first meeting emphatically, back in 1994, 4-0 – but the Blues gained revenge 13 years later as a then Jose Mourinho-managed Chelsea clinched a 1-0 win in 2007 in the first final contested at the newly built Home of English Football.
This weekend, there are key battlegrounds all over the pitch that will go some way to deciding the outcome of this one.
Here, we compare some of the key protagonists:
OLIVIER GIROUD vs ALEXIS SANCHEZ
Wind the clock back to the 2017 final and the Chilean was the absolute star of the show. He led Arsenal to victory against Chelsea, scoring in the fourth minute in a man-of-the match display which we haven’t seen him produce with any kind of consistency yet for the Red Devils.
But, if last year is anything to go by, that should be a lucky omen in turn with the fact Sanchez has scored eight goals in as many appearances at Wembley during his career. Two of them came in finals for the Gunners while he has scored in his past five outings at the historic venue.
The 29-year-old, who began to find some rhythm at the end of the Premier League season, will start to the right of a 70 per cent fit Romelu Lukaku and should buzz around the penalty box – keeping N’Golo Kante occupied in the midfield.
Meanwhile, fresh from his call-up to France’s World Cup squad, another former Gunner – Giroud – will look to end a difficult Stamford Bridge debut campaign on a high.
Like Sanchez, he has plenty of history of performing well in this fixture. In the 2014 final, he assisted Aaron Ramsey for Arsenal’s winner against Hull City, scored in the 4-0 drubbing of Aston Villa a season later and last year laid the ball on for Ramsey to net again against the team he currently plies his trade for.
Hold-up play and awareness of that ilk will be crucial on Saturday – giving Eden Hazard the chance to roam and find a supply line to Giroud, who has netted just five times all season.
THE BATTLE IN THE MIDDLE
CESC FABREGAS vs PAUL POGBA
The French star has had a turbulent campaign, increasing speculation he could leave Old Trafford for Paris Saint-Germain this summer, but regardless, the 25-year-old needs to boss this game like he did when he netted a brace during the 3-2 win against Manchester City last month.
In a week when Chelsea legend Frank Lampard claimed that Pogba needs to start doing his business in the opposition’s half of the pitch more often than his own, what better way to silence the critics than producing a wonder show at Wembley. To do that, he does need some help from Mourinho in giving him license to roam, with Nemanja Matic holding.
When Pogba does play with more freedom, naturally, United improve and he has more of an impact. Ten Premier League assists, 39 chances created, 75 take-ons completed and six goals tell part of the story – though there is room for sufficient improvement in that last stat.
Effectively his opposite number in the middle of the pitch, Cesc Fabregas, is at a different stage during his illustrious career – but not a comfortable juncture. At 31, the Spaniard has appeared devoid of his famed invention this term and openly admitted the forward line ahead of him, singling out Alvaro Morata, has not fired.
An excuse? Not quite, but he hasn’t been helped by those around him. Meanwhile, for the ex-Barcelona star, three goals and just five assists in all competitions this season has been a poor return but, on his day, he is still capable of producing a moment of magic.
With no World Cup to look forward to this summer, this is definitely Fabregas’ last chance to add a touch of sheen to a miserable season as he comes up against a powerful and energetic United midfield.
THE FIRST LINE OF DEFENCE
GARY CAHILL vs PHIL JONES
The clash between two men who are battling for a berth at the heart of Gareth Southgate’s England side this summer. It’s not out of the question that both could start in a 3-5-2 formation occupied by the Three Lions, but even so, this is a last-minute audition with Southgate sure to be in attendance in greater London.
The 32-year-old Cahill’s last international call-up came seven months ago and after a wretched season for his club, it may have come as a surprise he was selected earlier this week. Russia will be the last thing on the centre-back’s mind at the moment though as he does his best as captain to try and repair a campaign that will be in complete tatters should Chelsea lose.
Cahill has looked a shadow of his old self at times, his woeful display in the home defeat against Bournemouth back in February being proof of that, but he is the utmost professional and will still give everything to the cause.
Jones, on the other hand, has grown in stature under Mourinho and silenced any doubters he had. United are simply a better defensive outfit when he is the side and have kept 15 clean sheets in 23 Premier League matches in which he was part of the backline – equating to 85 per cent of United’s season.
Without him, there were just three shutouts in 15 games. He looks increasingly comfortable alongside Chris Smalling or Eric Bailly. If Jones and his colleagues can hold it together against a Chelsea attack lacking in terms of both confidence and goals, then the Red Devils have reason to believe they can lift a 13th FA Cup.
The clinical France forward produced an expert finish in each half against sorry Marseille to hand Diego Simeone’s men a third Europa League trophy since 2009/10. This defining turn during the 3-0 triumph comes amid repeated links to Barcelona in an €100 million (Dh433.7m) summer deal.
Here, we analyse the performance of the coveted star.
Goals – 2
Assists – 0
Shots – 3
Shots on target – 2
Touches – 65
Passes – 43
Key passes – 3
Dribbles – 1
Dispossessed – 1
3 - Marseille have now lost all three of their UEFA Cup/Europa League finals without scoring a single goal in any of those matches. Halted. pic.twitter.com/OOa52JNsk9— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 16, 2018
Griezmann lit up a damp night at Lyon’s Groupama Stadium.
A woeful first touch from defensive midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa was played into Griezmann’s grateful path by Gabi on 21 minutes. The 27-year-old did the rest, planting France No2 Steve Mandanda with a shimmy and then rolling the ball home.
Even better followed when he dinked in his 29th goal of the campaign to seal it shortly after the break.
His all-round performance is shown by the fact only Spain midfielder Koke (67) had more touches than Griezmann (65).
Unnerving accuracy – Griezmann only had three shots in this tight game. Yet whenever an opening appeared, he struck without any mercy. Both finishes were delightful exhibitions of one of Europe’s great forwards at his lethal best.
Commitment to the end – Atleti president Enrique Cerezo gave hope pre-match that Griezmann will spurn Barca’s advances. But even if he still goes, the fans cannot question his service. Griezmann relentlessly sought the ball out and tracked back with diligence when required.
Not on a wavelength – Diego Costa was sold to Chelsea in July 2014, paving the way for Griezmann’s recruitment from Real Sociedad. The pair have been cast together since the former’s, belated, winter return.
But just like in both semi-finals against Arsenal, a noticeable lack of chemistry was apparent until a fine 89th-minute pass eventually led to Gabi’s third.
This gains pertinence if Griezmann does move to Barca. If he is unable to regularly link up with Argentina icon Lionel Messi, admittedly a contrasting player, then his stay will be a short one – just ask Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
21st min GOAL: Zambo Anguissa’s error was lapped upon by club stalwart Gabi. His instant touch played Griezmann clean through to convert his first shot of the match.
44th min POOR PASS: Costa raced around the back of the Marseille defence as Griezmann headed towards the edge of the penalty box. But a slack pass was intercepted by right-back Bouna Sarr.
49th min GOAL: This was Griezmann and Atleti at their best. A loose ball in midfield was pounced upon and within seconds Koke teed up the onrushing Griezmann. The forward burned off left-back Jordan Amavi and then clipped the ball delightfully over Mandanda.
89th min EXCELLENT PASS: Griezmann had struggled to partner with Costa, but a wonderful pass with the outside of his boot set the Spain international into the clear. The move culminated with Gabi finding the bottom corner for the first time in three years.
Griezmann earned all the applause granted to him when he was hooked at the death.
The hunger in his belly to secure a first major trophy since 2014’s Supercopa de Espana was apparent from the off.
His elevated status is underlined by the fact he struck in every round of the Europa and is the first Frenchman to score twice in a European final.
Atleti, for now, have a superstar on their hands.
All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com.