What's the story?
Brazilian legend Pele has confirmed that he nearly joined Real Madrid during his playing career. In a lengthy interview with Spanish news outlet, Marca, Pele explained his decision to reject Real Madrid. When asked if he regretted never playing in Europe and thus missing out on winning the Ballon d'Or, Pele said "No, no, no. I didn't play outside of Brazil because I was very, very happy at Santos, I had the best 15-20 years of my life there. I had plenty of other proposals and not just from Real Madrid either, but I was ok where I was."
In case you didn't know...
In his entire career, Pele played for only two clubs - Santos and the New York Cosmos. From 1956 to 1974, Pele made 638 appearances for the Brazilian club, scoring a staggering 619 goals in that time. The Brazilian legend then ended his career with a payday in the United States of America, turning out 56 times for the New York Cosmos, and scoring an impressive 31 goals in that spell.
The heart of the matter
To most football fans of the current generation, Pele's rejection of Real Madrid might come as a huge surprise. However, Santos were a fairly great team of their own accord, as Pele confirmed. He noted that he had rejected other top clubs as well, saying "One offer came from Juventus, another from Napoli and even from Germany to play alongside Beckenbauer at Bayern Munich. I wavered a little bit but I was enjoying my best moments at Santos, who, let's not forget, were also a great team."
In the same interview, Pele explained why he is completely fine with young players such as Vinicius Junior making the move to Europe at an early age, in stark contrast to his generation, which had players such as Rivellino, Garrincha and himself never moving to Europe. The Brazilian said, "As I mentioned before we have a lot of good players, and going to Europe is considered normal because they want a better life."
Had Pele joined Real Madrid in the 60s at his peak, he would be walking into a side featuring the likes of Alfredo di Stefano, Raymond Kopa, Ferenc Puskas, Gento et al. The mind boggles at the thought of the football they could have produced, but since Real Madrid dominated Europe and Spain at that time anyway, it may not have made much of an improvement in their trophy count.