Pele is just one of several well-known footballing faces with a birthday to celebrate this week, as FIFA.com reveals in its regular Sunday feature.
23. Pele (71) occupies a very special place in the history of the game. The finest player of all time, he started his career by helping Brazil lift their first world title at the 1958 FIFA World Cup Sweden™ scoring twice in a final that memorably ended with the 17-year-old tyro bursting into tears. O Rei (The King), as he came to be known, continued his ascension by forming part of the squad that successfully defended the world crown at Chile 1962. The recipient of some rough treatment from opposing defenders at England 1966, he came back with a vengeance at Mexico 1970, producing his very best football en route to the Final at the Estadio Azteca, where Brazil turned in a glorious performance in beating Italy 4-1, a victory that led to A Seleção being awarded the Jules Rimet Trophy in perpetuity. The scorer of 12 goals in 14 FIFA World Cup matches, Pele was no less successful with his club side Santos, winning a succession of trophies, among them two Copa Libertadores, ten Sao Paulo state championships, five Brazilian Cups and two Intercontinental Cups. Eleven times a leading scorer in the league, Pele also finished top marksman in one Copa Libertadores and one Copa America, and later went on to win the NASL championship with New York Cosmos. During the course of his astounding 18-year career he scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 games, a world record that stands to this day, with 97 of those strikes coming in his 91 appearances for his country.
24. Wayne Rooney (26) has achieved much since breaking on to the scene as a teenage prodigy with Everton and becoming the Premier League’s youngest goalscorer with an unforgettable strike against Arsenal. Quickly earning an England call-up, at UEFA EURO 2004 he became the youngest player to score in the competition’s history, the prelude to a move to Manchester United. Rooney has won three league championships with the Old Trafford club so far, as well as two League Cups, three Community Shields, the 2008 UEFA Champions League and that year’s FIFA Club World Cup, where he also collected the adidas Golden Ball. The rampaging striker has fared less well on the FIFA World Cup stage, however, making eight goalless appearances at Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010. One of the Premier League’s star attractions, he won last year’s PFA Player of the Year award.
25. Oleg Salenko (42) completed a unique double in FIFA competitions when he top-scored at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Saudi Arabia 1989 with five goals and again at USA 1994™, where he scored six times, five of those goals coming in a 6-1 win for Russia against Cameroon in the group phase. Though the Russians failed to progress to the knockout phase on that occasion, Salenko shared the adidas Golden Shoe with Hristo Stoichkov, the greatest accolade of his career.
26. Cristian Chivu (31) is one of the finest players Romania has ever produced, and has collected more than his fair share of silverware with some of Europe’s biggest clubs. A Dutch league, cup and league cup treble winner with Ajax, the Romanian defender then went on to win a Coppa Italia for Roma against Inter Milan before joining I Nerazzurri. Three scudetti followed with the Milan giants along with two Coppa Italias and two Italian Super Cups, with Chivu securing a lasting place in the club’s history by forming part of the side that won the UEFA Champions League and then the FIFA Club World Cup in 2010, just two of five trophies they lifted last year. Despite reaching two UEFA EURO finals competitions with Romania, he never graced the FIFA World Cup and announced his retirement from international football after captaining the side during their failed bid to reach South Africa 2010.
27. Lee Young-Jin (48) was a member of the Korea Republic side that ran out at Italy 1990 and then impressed at USA 1994 with three fine performances against group rivals Spain, Germany and Bolivia. At club level Lee won the South Korean league title with Anyang and moved into coaching after hanging his boots up. He is currently in charge of K-League outfit Daegu.
28. Milan Baros (30) was a gifted member of the Czech Republic side that won the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in 2002, and was immediately rewarded with promotion to the full national team, appearing with them at UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal. Baros finished the tournament as joint top-scorer, with the impressive Czechs going all the way to the semi-finals. Personal disappointment would follow during their group-phase exit at Germany 2006, however, with Baros remaining on the bench throughout. On the domestic front he helped Liverpool regain the limelight in Europe with a dramatic defeat of AC Milan in the 2005 UEFA Champions League final. Also the winner of a League Cup during his time at Anfield, the Czech striker then joined Aston Villa, where he spent two seasons prior to decamping to Lyon. After collecting Ligue 1 and French Super Cup winners’ medals he returned to England to win the FA Cup with Portsmouth. The latest move of his career came in 2008, when he joined current club Galatasaray, ending his second season with the Istanbul giants as the leading scorer in the Turkish league.
29. Robert Pires (38) made a valuable contribution to France’s renaissance at the end of the last century, taking part in their triumphs at the 1998 FIFA World Cup France and UEFA EURO 2000, where he crossed for David Trezeguet to score the golden goal in the final against Italy. The French wide man, who also appeared in the 2001 and 2003 FIFA Confederation Cups, began his club career at Stade de Reims before signing for Metz, where he won a League Cup winners’ medal. He then formed part of a Marseille side that came within a point of lifting the French title and lost to Parma in the 1999 UEFA Cup final. It was then that Arsene Wenger drafted him into his new-look Arsenal, the switch paying off handsomely, with Pires helping the Gunners to two Premier League crowns - one of which during their unbeaten season in 2003/04, three FA Cups and two Community Shields, though he would finish on the losing side in the 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona. His next destination was Spain, where he brought his skills to bear for Villarreal for four seasons before making a further move to England for a spell with Aston Villa. Though currently without a club, the evergreen Pires has yet to call time on his illustrious career.