Why did they call Pelé ‘O Rei’? Where did it originate? What does it mean?
In football, several players are referred to ‘The King’ - like Pelé, whose nickname is believed to have originated in Europe.
When it comes to football nobility, there are a small number of players who are regarded as Kings - nicknames given to star players either by supporters or journalists by which they have become synonymous. There will only ever be one player with royal status at Manchester United - Eric Cantona, King Eric. A few miles down the East Lancs Road, Liverpool have three kings - Kevin Keegan was dubbed King of the Kop in the 1970s, Mohamed Salah the Egyptian King and Kenny Dalglish, who they regard as The King. At Chelsea, it was Peter Osgood; there have been quite a few at Spurs - Alan Gilzean, Glenn Hoddle and the player who actually was a King - Ledley.
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Eusébio and Pelé - Os Reis
But in world football, only two players have the title, O Rei - Portuguese legend Eusébio and Pelé.
O Rei means The King in Portuguese, the mother tongue of both players (O being the definite article in Portuguese/Brazilian Portuguese - translated as The in English). Both were, and still are, considered the kings of the game during their own moment in time as players and of all-time, as two players without peers - the greatest players to have ever lived.
Eusébio was also known as the Pantera Negra (Black Panther) and La Perla Negra (Black Pearl). Pelé however has always been simply O Rei.
Pelé gets his nickname in France
The first instance of Pelé being hailed as The King was in edition No.484 of Paris Match magazine in July 1958, following Brazil’s World Cup triumph in Sweden - the team had thrashed France 5-2 in the semi-final with Pelé netting a hat trick, and the hosts by the same scoreline in the final. A double page spread with photos of the newly-crowned champions by correspondent Jean Manzon was titled, “Pelé, 17 ans, roi du Bresil” (”Pelé, 17 years old, king of Brazil”) - Roi being the French word for King, O Rei in Portuguese… So Pelé’s nickname originated in France, with Paris Match keenly spotting greatness before O Rei had celebrated his 18th birthday.