Pele and Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho both won awards at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show.
World Cup record: Appearances - four.
Wins - Three
World Cup goals: 12
Brazilian legend Pele received a lifetime achievement award, which Mourinho presented to him.
Mourinho was named Coach of the Year after guiding Chelsea to last season's Premiership title.
Former England midfielder Geoff Thomas won the Helen Rollason award after battling leukaemia and raising money for charity through cycling trips.
Pele made 92 appearances for Brazil, scoring 77 goals, and was a winner at the 1958, 1962 and 1970 World Cups.
Before receiving the award, recorded tributes were paid by football greats Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff and Sir Bobby Charlton.
"He was the best player in the history of football," said Beckenbauer.
And after receiving the award, Pele said: "I am very mellow. I am emotional. Thank you very much. I cry easily."
The 65-year-old described playing in his first World Cup as "a dream" and that "England have a chance" going into the tournament in Germany next summer.
Mourinho, when presenting the award, said of Pele: "I think he is football. You have the real special one - Mr Pele."
Mourinho guided Chelsea to the Premiership title last season - the first time they finished top of the English top flight since 1955 - crowning a triumphant first season for him at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea are currently leading the Premiership and have qualified for the knock-out phase of the Champions League - a competition from which they were eliminated at the semi-finals stage last season.
Mourinho was chosen ahead of contenders such as England cricket coach Duncan Fletcher, Liverpool football boss Rafael Benitez and Wales rugby chief Mike Ruddock.
"It is a great honour for me," said Mourinho after picking up his award.
"Of the other three contenders they also deserve it and I think the success of this last year belongs to my two families - the family I have at home and the family I have at Stamford Bridge."