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One of the super clubs in South America has always been Santos.

Santos is known for the great players they have put into the sport. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s there wasn’t any better club than Santos in Brazil. In a successful period, they famously won back-to-back Copa Libertadores titles in the ‘60s. There’s not enough written on this time period for the club. This was the era of a player named Edson Arantes de Nasicmento or as we know him Pelé.

The story starts with Pelé. More importantly it starts with an ex-player who was scouting talent for the clubs. Waldemar de Brito played in Brazil for 20 years before retiring in 1946. He found Pelé, took him to Santos in 1956 from Bauru, and told the directors at the club that the kid will be the best player ever. Shortly after Pelé left Bauru, it folded. You cannot blame Pelé, he was just 15 at the time. In no short order the youngster was signed, called up to the first team, and scoring. On September 7, he scored a goal in a 7-1 blowout of Corinthians de Santo Andre. It did not take Pelé long to show his class. Still only 15, he had a regular place in the first team, and he was leading the league in scoring. That was something the other clubs would have to get used to, as Pelé would keep scoring bucket loads of goals.

The youngster didn’t stop there, within ten months he was also called up to the Brazilian National Team. His reputation was growing so much that the big clubs in Europe were calling for him. In short order Real Madrid, Juventus, and Manchester United tried to sign him. To this end, to keep Pelé from leaving the government named the footballer an official national treasure.That would keep him in Brazil for the balance of his career. It took Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger to negotiate with the government to get Pelé to sign for the Cosmos. In 1958, the club won the Campeonato Paulista, and Pelé scored a record 58 goals that season. That record still stands.

By the time we get into the 1960s, Lula, the manager since the 1954 season, had made his club into a well-oiled machine. 1960 was a great year for the club, Pelé put 33 goals in the back of the net to help the club win the Campeonato Paulista, and win the Taca Brasil. Winning the Taca Brasil let them into the Copa Libertadores of 1962. Santos made it all the way to the final where they played the two time defending champions in Peñarol. This is the Peñarol with Alberto Spencer, whom Pelé rated very highly.

The first leg of the match, which was at Peñarol’s home ground of Estadio Centenario in Montevideo on August 28. Future Peñarol legend Alberto Spencer put a ball past Gilmar in the 18th minute to start the scoring. Coutinho would have a brace by the 70th to win the match for Santos 2-1. The return leg, would be played days later on September 2 at Santos’ home ground  of Estadio Urbano Caldeira. Peñarol would take it 3-2 with a brace by Spencer and a goal by Jose Sasia. The Santos goals would be scored by Dorval and Mengalvio. That would cause a playoff for the title and at the end of September on the 30th in River Plate’s home stadium, El Monumental. Santos won 3-0. Pelé scored a second half brace after and own goal in the first half by Omar Caeteno.

That put Santos through to the 1962 Intercontinental Cup against European Cup winner Benfica, with Eusebio. This would be one of the three times they’d play each other – the others being in 1966 at Goodison Park and the final time in 1975 in Boston. When they played in the Intercontinental Cup, Santos couldn’t use their own stadium, the Estadio Vila Belmiro because it only held 30,000 and this tie had captured the mind of the Brazilians. To the populous the best club in the world is Real Madrid, and at the time they were. The nation wanted to see the club that beat their favorite European team, and since that happened the match was moved to Maracanã, the national stadium. A reported crowd of over 85,000 came to not only see the biggest match in Santos history, but Brazil’s history.

Benfica had been under the guidance of Bela Guttmann until he walked out on them in 1966. His leaving and the circumstances around the curse he put on the club are up for much debate. They were, however, now under the management of Fernando Riera, who had in the previous World Cup, led Chile to third place. Benfica was riding high after beating Real Madrid, and with talents like Eusébio and Mário Coluna in the side, they were a handful for any club in the world. However, Santos wasn’t a pushover.

Pelé proved that the club, and the player were worth the price of admission. He was also the conductor of all the play for Santos. He was even so good that at 31 minutes into the match scored the first goal. Santos was able to keep the lead going into half. This was something they could tip their hats to. After the interval, Benfica was able to strike back with a goal off of Santana in the 58th minute. This made the fans happy, and kept the match on front foot. Just six minutes later, Coutinho put Santos ahead. Unfortunately for Santos they took their foot off the gas and Santana was able to slot the ball home two minutes later.

Of course, there had to be a second leg because of this, and Benfica went into the match full of confidence. On October 11, 73,00 fans jammed into Estádio da Luz in Lisbon. Pelé was known in Europe because of his prowess in South America. Again in the match, Santos were dominant and the play was dictated by Pelé. In the span of five minutes Pelé had put the European giants down 2-0. The Brazilian forward was sure to make his name in the match, to show that he wasn’t a flash in the pan.

Right after the start of the match Pelé was out to make this another special night for himself and beat four defenders, to send a pass to Coutinho for the third goal. This would put Benfica out of the match. However, Pelé wasn’t done, because he nutmegged Eusébio and charged for the hat-trick. Pepe would then add a fifth later. Santos then wished to save the legs of their players took their feet off the gas and Benfica scored two goals, one by Eusébio. The domination was complete, Santos was the king of the world.

Into 1963, Santos got the chance to defend their Copa Libertadores title. This time they raced to the final against Boca Juniors. In the first leg in the Maracanã on September 3rd, Coutinho scored a brace, and Lima had one all in the first half, cruising to a 3-2 win. The second leg, eight days later in La Bombonera, Pelé and Coutinho put two goals past Néstor Errea to win their second consecutive Libertadores. Unfortunately, they ran into a buzzsaw in AC Milan, and lost the Intercontinental Cup that year.

1964 was a rather hard year for the club. On the plus side, Pelé netted 34 goals, and they won the Taca Brasil for the fourth year running, shared the title in the Torneo Rio-Sao Paulo with Botafogo, and won the Campeonato Paulista. That’s where the good times ended, however. They weren’t able to follow up their Libertadores championship. Independiente beat them in both legs. Much was the same in 1965, as Santos made it through to the semifinals, but lost to Peñarol in a playoff after two great matches.

This is when the wheels started falling apart on the club. They failed to retain the Taca Brasil in 1966, with Pelé becoming less and less a part of the club like he was before. They did keep winning the Campeonato Paulista from 1966 through to 1969. Though 1969 was a momentus year for their star forward as it was marked by Pelé scoring his 1000th goal, which was in a match against Vasco da Gama. It was on a penalty kick at the Maracanã on November 19 of that year.

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Santos had always traveled the world taking on clubs everywhere. They made four separate trips to England. In 1962, they came over to play Sheffield Wednesday with Santos winning 4-2, with Coutinho getting a hatrick, and Pelé scoring a penalty kick. Pelé never liked to take penalties. In 1969, they showed up to play Stoke, winning 3-2, with Pelé getting a goal and Edu getting the other two. Three years later they’d come over for a third time losing to Aston Villa 2-1, and playing Sheffield Wednesday again. Finally a year later they came back in Pelé’s farewell tour to play Fulham and Plymouth Argyle.

There also was a unique place they went to it was in 1969, was Nigeria, with a bloody Civil War happening in the country, which was putting the friendly in danger. A ceasefire was arranged, with checkpoints to allow the match to go on. But there’s a lot of mystery surrounding it, even Pelé doubting it later in his life.

The break up of this side would happen in the late ‘60s. The legendary goalkeeper Gilmar would retire after the 1969 season, as would Pepe, one of their fiery wingers. Coutinho would leave in 1968, and come back for a the 1970 season before leaving again. Pelé retired from the club in 1973, and only come out of retirement years later for the Cosmos.

These weren’t the only great players on the club. There were many other amazing players in the side like Zito, Carlos Alberto, Pepe and Coutinho would come back to the club and manage the club for spells on their own. The great manager during this time Lula would leave after the treble in 1966 for Corinthians. After he left, Antoninho came in and presided over the club until 1971.

Santos’ fame around the world has been due to this group. There’s many academies around the world that bear its name. In fact they have one in Orlando, Florida. Their squad worth and overall value has from time to time surpassed the worth of clubs in more well known leagues in Europe. In 2013, Pelé came back to Santos becoming a lifetime ambassador for the club, but his legendary status was cemented in his golden playing years.