The greatest soccer player in history was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, but everyone else knows him as Pelé. Despite not appearing on the pitch in many decades, Pelé enjoys a near-mythical reputation as the best player in the most popular sport in the world. Thanks to his lasting legacy and inclusion in modern sets, Pelé cards and autographs remain at the forefront of the hobby and many of the key Pelé cards are in high demand.
The Brazilian-born Pelé spent nearly his entire career making headlines for the Brazilian National Team and the Brazilian professional team, Santos FC. Similar to modern soccer talents, Pelé came to the United States at the end of his career. He joined the now-defunct New York Cosmos in 1975, and was responsible for a brief stateside surge of interest in soccer.
Outside of the past few years, there are not a ton of mainstream cards available for Pelé. The following list details some of the best options for Pelé card collectors across many budgets.
Top Pelé Soccer Cards to Collect
While it is hard to definitively name one Pelé card as his true rookie card, the 1958 Alifabolaget is arguably the best of the bunch. Several regional cards with low production lay claim to the Pele rookie card title, so it really just boils down to personal preference, budget and card availability. With a full-color image and appealing look, the Italian-made Alifabolaget is a great card, if you can find one.
Released the same year, the Brazilian Titulares set features a few key rookie options, as well. Top choices include card #50 with a background action shot, along with the #86 card, which features a better image of the global icon. There is also a Selecao Brasileira team card with Pelé (#88).
This early Pelé card remains popular despite oddball origins. The dual "card" is actually cut from a Swedish magazine and normally includes Manoel Francisco Santos, although some are cut further to present the Pelé card solo. Due to its thin magazine stock and the fact that it is literally cut from a magazine, this is generally considered the least preferred of the options vying for rookie card status.
One interesting note is that this card appears to feature Pelé's full name. However, upon closer examination, the card is attributed to "Edvaldo Alves Santarosa." Edvaldo Alves de Santa Rosa is actually the official name for the original Dida, a former Brazilian soccer star, who passed away in 2002.
Another early card for the soccer superstar, the Quigol Pelé is also made in Brazil, which does boost its appeal to many collectors. Several other cards printed in Brazil have emerged from around the same time, so again, it is hard to designate one as the true rookie.
Despite some debate about when this card was actually printed and released, the Heinerle card remains a popular option among Pelé cards. This German-made card was either released in late-1958 or early-1959. The deep-colored image shows a young Pelé going up for a header. The card back showcases a soccer figure watermark design in the background.
The first option from a manufacturer that is familiar to most collectors, Panini released this Pelé card in 1964. With the full colors of Brazil on display, this is one of the more affordable early cards for Pelé, but it's hardly cheap. Panini released several other Pelé cards in the 1960s and 1970s.
It was not until 2008 that collectors were treated to certified pack-pulled Pelé autographs. The former soccer great appeared in Sportkings Series B and C. Although the overall design is okay, the nondescript feel and small image of Pelé leaves much to be desired. The large on-card signature is a nice positive, however.
There are six different base silver autographed versions. The first three, from Series B, are numbered to 25, and the last three, from Series C, are numbered to 20. There are also gold parallels of each card, which are all limited to 10 copies.
Issued in 2013 Topps Allen & Ginter Baseball, many have questioned why a soccer star is pushed in MLB products. Superstar athletes tend to transcend their individual sports, and a strong design, on-card signature, and Topps brand power, make for a great Pelé collectible.
Those looking to spend quite a bit less can find Pelé in the base set with mini parallels.
Also from 2013 Topps Allen & Ginter Baseball, the distinct A&G design is paired with a small jersey piece from Pelé. This is the best and most affordable option for collectors to obtain a piece, however small, from something that was worn by the greatest soccer player in the world.
A&G is just one of several Pelé autographs produced by Topps over the years. Still, overall supply remains low despite multiple sets featuring the superstar's signature.
Showcasing the former great in his familiar Brazilian jersey, this 2014 Panini Prizm World Cup Pelé card is appealing for many reasons and has added significance since Brazil was the home country for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Pelé autographs were also featured in 2018 Prizm World Cup and Panini revealed that Pelé is one of the short prints that combine to average 1:19 cases.
Of course, Prizm is not the only Panini brand with Pelé autographs. Out the various choices, 2016 Flawless Soccer is arguably the top option thanks to the high-end elements and limited run. Another popular signed card is found in 2017 Nobility Soccer and shown below.
Yes, most of the multi-player Pelé autographs have sticker signatures, but man, what an awesome collectible. Offering the signature of the greatest of all-time with signatures for some of the other top players in the game, it is really hard to go wrong. Top pairings include Cristiano Ronaldo as well as fellow countryman Neymar.