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Pele: The Greatest Ever to Grace the Sport - Never to Be Surpassed

08/04/2014 15:00 BST | Updated 07/06/2014 10:59 BST

It's the evening of 16th July 1950, and as the bustling city of Sao Paulo, Brazil comes to a standstill, Joao Ramos do Nascimento is frantically tuning an old, crackling radio.

His country, hosting the World Cup for the first time in their history, are playing out a fierce encounter against their South American neighbours Uruguay in front of 173,850 spectators at the Maracana - and the rest of the country is shouting for every ball, and hanging on every word spilling out over the fuzzy airwaves.

His nine year old son, Edson, is eager and excitable, kicking and flicking anything slightly spherical - either a sock stuffed with newspaper, or a grapefruit - around in the background, completely unaware that in just a few years it would be his own name being called out over the airwaves.

They would dub him 'Pele' - and, incredibly, that is a name that still resonates with the same weight now as it did during his heyday in the sixties and seventies.

Unfortunately for Brazil, it didn't end well that night. Two late goals from La Celeste consigned the hosts to a 2-1 loss - and they were subsequently eliminated from the tournament being played out in their own backyard.

But, fast forward 64 years, and we find ourselves just a matter of weeks away from the beginning of only the second ever World Cup finals, in a country which is more passionate about the game than any other.

It certainly promises to be an incredibly colourful and vibrant spectacle. The samba nation has long been a bright, shining beacon of how to play football the right way, and no one player sums of those qualities than their most famous son, Pele.

Over five decades since the fresh faced, 17 year old first burst onto the global stage at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, much has changed within the game, both good and bad - but he has remained as humble and classy as ever, and his constant presence has always been a comfort.

His rise to stardom came at a key time for his country. After their elimination from the 1954 World Cup at the Quarter Final stage to Hungary, Brazil, led by Vicente Feola, were desperate for the injection of youthful exuberance that their latest prodigy provided in abundance.

He was introduced to the world for the first time in a substitute appearance against the USSR, where he set up a goal for Vava, and then followed up that impaced in the next round against Wales, when he notched one for himself - becoming the youngest ever scorer at a World Cup finals.

The Brazilians went on to get their hands on the trophy that year - and that was the beginning of an international dominance which stretched for nearly two decades, and despite fading somewhat of late, still remains.

So iconic and exciting was the Brazilian team of 1970 that I could still name every single player in that squad from memory - and they quickly became every football fan's second team due to their incredible flair and free-flowing approach to the game.

Skipper of that side was marauding full back Carlos Alberto, but there is no doubt that Pele was the real poster boy, and despite the combined abilities of the Seleçao XI, it was almost certainly his influence which spurred them onto the World Cup that year.

That was his third time lifting the famous trophy, a quite incredible feat when you consider that many great players of the modern era would simply be happy to appear at three World Cups, never mind win them.

I am lucky enough to have met Pele on several occasions, and I have always found him to be a total class act, with humility, friendliness and patience in abundance.

It is testament to those qualities that other iconic, world class players such as Diego Maradona, Eusebio and Franz Beckenbauer, despite being hugely respected figures in the game, just don't attract the same level of wide-eyed, eager interest as the Brazilian.

Similarly, I would wager that, in 50 years, modern stars such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney won't either.

In fact, I don't think that we will ever again see a player make such an impact and unite nations like Pele. The truth is that he was simply on another level to the other stars of his day.

But what is most incredible is that, as we approach nearly four whole decades since Pele last kicked a football competitively, his star shows no signs of dimming.

I was in the States last week, and, as Pele arrived in New York to sign copies of his new book, the turnout was unbelievable.

In the most diverse city in the world, fans queued around the blocks all day just for the chance to meet the legend - and the story of his rise from impoverished favela to international football superstar is so incredible that Hollywood director Ron Howard is also in the process of making a biopic of the player.

Pele arrived on the world stage at a time when there was much more admiration towards professional footballers, a kind of magic - and no one had more tricks up their sleeve than the boy from Sao Paulo.

I think that, apart from his supreme on-field talents, much of the lasting admiration and love for Pele is due to his friendly, humble personality, and the way that he always approaches everything he does with such drive and intensity.

There is a real hard-working authenticity about the man, and, as football transformed from the working man's game into an increasingly transient and mercenary multi-billion pound global enterprise before our eyes, Pele's unrivalled enthusiasm and passion for the sport remained as infectious as ever.

He has never opted for the easy route, as perhaps a move into football management might have been. Perhaps trying to teach what came so naturally to him would have proven too frustrating.

Nor has he become embroiled in football politics - the back-slapping, power and ego boosts that we have seen so many other ex-players crave apparently not for him.

Instead, he has chosen to use his profile and enthusiasm to give back, not only to his country, or even football, but the wider world - throwing himself into ambassadorial roles with the United Nations and numerous charities.

He has also recently played pivotal roles in both promoting the 2014 World Cup, and securing the 2016 Olympic Games to Rio, in what is set to be an incredible couple of years for sport in Brazil.

It is not his first foray into other sports. Back in 1999, Pele was elected as 'Athlete of the Century' by the International Olympics Committee - and I think that his influence, talent and dedication is only really equalled by Muhammed Ali, who is another hero of mine.

Sadly, the ill health of the boxer has prevented him from having the same influence as the Brazilian in recent years.

And ultimately, as the most popular player, playing in the world's most popular sport, it is difficult to question the outcome of that award.

One thing's for sure, I have never seen a more complete player than Pele. Of course, the likes of Eusebio and Diego Maradona, and more recently Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, have all displayed their elite skills, but in his pomp, the Brazilian was simply unstoppable.

How often do we see a player display incredible dominance domestically, or on the European stage, yet consistently fail to replicate that influence at major international tournaments?

It perhaps puts Pele's achievements into context when you consider that Lionel Messi is widely regarded to be the best player in the world, probably even of this century, yet he hasn't lifted the World Cup yet.

In fact, in the two tournaments that he has been involved in, his country hasn't progressed past the Quarter Final stage, and for me, despite his obvious talent and impressive record, he can only begin to be held in the same esteem as Pele once he has matched his record of three World Cups.

Even with the diminutive number 10 in tow, the likelihood of Argentina suddenly enjoying a purple patch like that is extremely slim.

They would first, of course, have to beat the host nation this summer, which, according to a confident Pele, will be no mean feat - and all eyes are on Brazil as they prepare to welcome the tournament back to the country for the first time since that summer in 1950.

To do so is long overdue, and a fitting tribute to their hero. After all, he is not just a man of football - he is Mr. Football.