Sao Paulo, Brazil
Pelé, the Brazilian soccer legend who won three World Cups and became the sport’s first global icon, has died aged 82.
“All we are is because of you,” his daughter Kely Nascimento wrote in an Instagram post, alongside an image of family members holding Pelé’s hands. “We love you infinitely. Rest in peace.”
Pelé was admitted to a hospital in São Paulo in late November for a respiratory infection and complications from colon cancer. Last week, the hospital said his condition had deteriorated as his cancer progressed. He died Thursday of multi-organ failure due to the progression of colon cancer, according to a statement from Albert Einstein Hospital.
For more than 60 years, the name Pelé has been synonymous with football. He has played in four World Cups and is the only player in history to win three, but his legacy extends far beyond his trophy and remarkable goalscoring record.
“I was born to play football, just like Beethoven was born to write music and Michelangelo was born to paint,” Pelé said.
Pelé’s life in pictures
Tributes poured in for the footballing legend. Pele’s first club, Santos FC, responded to the news on Twitter with the words “eternal” shared alongside a picture of a crown.
Brazilian footballer Neymar said Pelé “changed everything”. In an Instagram post, he wrote: “He turned football into art, into entertainment. He gave a voice to the poor, to blacks and above all: He gave visibility to Brazil. Football and Brazil have raised their status thanks to the King! he added.
Kylian Mbappé of Paris Saint-Germain said of Pelé’s death: “The king of football has left us but his legacy will never be forgotten.”
Pelé’s funeral wake will be held in Vila Belmiro, the home of Santos FC in São Paulo state, a spokesperson told CNN. The time and date of the event have yet to be announced.
Pelé was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in Três Corações – an inland city about 250 km northwest of Rio de Janeiro – in 1940, before his family moved to the city of Bauru in São Paulo.
As a child, his first taste of football was playing barefoot in socks and balled up rags – a humble beginning that would become a long and successful career.
But in his early days in the game, his ambitions were modest.
“My dad was a good soccer player, he scored a lot of goals,” Pelé told CNN in 2015. “His name was Dondinho; I wanted to be like him.
“He was famous in Brazil, in Minas Gerais. He was my role model. I always wanted to be like him, but what happened, to this day, only God can explain.
As a teenager, Pelé left home and started training with Santos, scoring his first goal for the club before his 16th birthday. He would go on to score 619 times in 638 appearances for the club, but it is his exploits in Brazil’s iconic yellow shirt that he is best remembered for.
The world first got a glimpse of Pelé’s dazzling abilities in 1958, when he made his World Cup debut aged 17. He scored Brazil’s only goal in the country’s quarter-final victory over Wales, then netted a hat-trick in the semi-final against France and two in the final against hosts Sweden.
“When Pelé scored the fifth goal in this final, I have to be honest and say I felt like applauding,” said Sweden’s Sigvard Parling.
For Pelé, the defining memory of the tournament was putting his country on the sporting map.
“When we won the World Cup, everyone knew Brazil,” he told CNN’s Don Riddell in 2016. “I think that’s the most important thing I gave to my country because we were well known after this World Cup.”
Another World Cup victory came in 1962, although injury sidelined Pelé for the final stages of the tournament. Further injuries hampered his next campaign in 1966 when Brazil left the competition after the group stage, but redemption came in 1970.
“Pelé said we were going to win, and if Pelé said that, then we were going to win the World Cup,” Brazilian co-captain Carlos Alberto said of the tournament.
This team – made up of Jairzinho, Gerson, Tostão, Rivellino and, of course, Pelé – is considered one of the greatest ever.
IIn the final – a 4-1 victory over Italy – Brazil scored arguably the most famous World Cup goal of all time, a sweeping move down the length of the pitch involving nine of the 10 outfield players of the team.
It ended with Pelé off the tee from Alberto, who drilled the ball into the bottom corner of the net. The Brazilian mantra of jogo bonito (the beautiful game) has never been better summed up.
Pelé, who had considered retiring before the 1970 World Cup, scored his own goal in the final and a total of four during the tournament.
“Before the game, I thought to myself that Pele was just flesh and bones like all of us,” Italian defender Tarcisio Burgnich said after his side’s defeat in the final. “Later I realized I was wrong.”
The tournament capped Pele’s World Cup career, but not his time in the spotlight. In 1975, he signed a $1.67 million per year contract in the United States with the New York Cosmos.
With his larger-than-life personality and extraordinary dribbling skills – a hallmark of his game – Pelé helped the Cosmos win the North American Soccer League championship in 1977 before officially retiring from football.
The league, which attracted other big names like Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer, did not last and eventually folded in 1984. But around the world, Pelé’s influence endured.
He remained in the public eye through sponsorship deals and as an outspoken political voice who stood up for the poor in Brazil. He was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for many years, promoting peace and support for vulnerable children.
The health problems persisted for much of Pelé’s later life. He moved around with the support of a walker – an object he was filmed disdainfully jostling in a documentary released last year – and in September 2021 he underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his body. his right colon.
Pele’s cancer treatment has continued over the past year. He was hospitalized in Sao Paulo in November as the 2022 World Cup was played in Qatar, prompting an outpouring of support from the global football community and beyond.
Debate will inevitably rage over whether Pele is the greatest player of all time – whether Pele’s achievements can be compared to those of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, who rewrote football’s record books over the of the past 15 years, or to Diego Maradona, the late Argentinian star who captivated the world of football in the 80s and 90s.
In 2000, FIFA jointly named Maradona and Pelé as Player of the Century, but for some the absolute winner of the award should have been obvious.
“This player of the century debate is absurd,” said Zico, who represented Brazil in the decade after Pele’s retirement. “There is only one possible answer: Pelé. He’s the greatest player of all time, by far, I might add.
The exact number of goals Pele scored during his career is unclear, and his Guinness World Records tally has come under scrutiny, with many goals scored in unofficial matches.
In March 2021, he praised Portugal’s Ronaldo for surpassing his “official match goals record” – 767.
There is no doubt, however, that Pelé was, and always will be, the world’s first footballing superstar.
“If I ever die, I’m happy because I tried to do my best,” he told online magazine The Talks. “My sport has allowed me to do so many things because it’s the biggest sport in the world.”