SAO PAULO, Dec 29 (Reuters) – Pelé, the legendary Brazilian footballer who rose from barefoot poverty to become one of the greatest and best-known athletes in modern history, died on Thursday at the age of 82 years old.
Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo, where Pelé was undergoing treatment, said he died at 3:27 p.m. “due to multiple organ failure resulting from the progression of colon cancer associated with his previous medical condition. “.
The death of the only man to have won the World Cup three times as a player has been confirmed on his Instagram account.
“Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pelé, who passed away peacefully today,” it read, adding that he had “enchanted the world with his genius in sport, stopped a war, fought social actions around the world and spread what he most considered the cure for all our problems: love.”
Tributes poured in from the worlds of sport, politics and popular culture for a figure who embodied Brazil’s dominance over the beautiful game.
The government of President Jair Bolsonaro, who leaves office on Sunday, declared three days of mourning and said in a statement that Pelé was “a great citizen and patriot, raising the name of Brazil wherever he went”.
Bolsonaro’s successor, President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, wrote on Twitter that “few Brazilians have carried our country’s name as far as he does.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said Pelé’s legacy will live on forever. “The game. The king. Eternity,” Macron tweeted.
Pelé had been undergoing chemotherapy since having a colon tumor removed in September 2021.
He also had difficulty walking unaided since unsuccessful hip surgery in 2012. In February 2020, on the eve of the coronavirus pandemic, his son Edinho said Pelé’s ailing physical condition had left him depressed .
On Monday, a 24-hour vigil will be held for Pele in the center of the pitch at the stadium of Santos, the hometown club where he started playing as a teenager and quickly rose to prominence.
The following day, a procession carrying his coffin will cross the streets of Santos, pass through the neighborhood where his 100-year-old mother lives, and end at the cemetery of the Ecumenical Memorial Necropolis, where he will be buried in a private ceremony. .
‘WHAT IS POSSIBLE’
US President Joe Biden said on his Twitter that Pele’s rise from humble beginnings to football legend was a story of “what is possible”.
Pelé, whose first name was Edson Arantes do Nascimento, joined Santos in 1956 and made the small coastal club one of the most famous names in football.
As well as a host of regional and national titles, Pelé has won two Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the Champions League, and two Intercontinental Cups, the annual tournament held between the best teams in Europe and Italy. South America.
He won three World Cup winners’ medals, the first time aged 17 in Sweden in 1958, the second in Chile four years later – although he missed most of the tournament through injury – and the third in Mexico in 1970, when he led what is considered one of the greatest teams to ever play.
He retired from Santos in 1974, but a year later made a surprise comeback, signing a lucrative contract to join the New York Cosmos in the then fledgling North American Football League.
In a glorious 21-year career, he scored between 1,281 and 1,283 goals, depending on how games are counted.
Pelé, however, transcended football like no player before or since and became one of the premier global icons of the 20th century.
With his winning smile and incredible humility that charmed legions of fans, he was better known than many Hollywood stars, popes or presidents – many, if not most, of whom he met during a career. six decades as a gamer and business starter. .
“I’m sad, but I’m also proud to be Brazilian, to be from the country of Pelé, a guy who was a great athlete,” said Ciro Campos, a 49-year-old biologist in Rio de Janeiro. “And also off the pitch he was a cool person, not an arrogant athlete.”
Pelé credited his unique blend of talent, creative genius and technical skill to a young past playing pick-and-place games in small-town Brazil, often using grapefruits or wadded rags because his family couldn’t get together. allow a real Ball.
Pelé was named “Athlete of the Century” by the International Olympic Committee, co-“Football Player of the Century” by world football body FIFA and “national treasure” by the Brazilian government.
His fame was often overwhelming. Grown adults would break down crying in his presence with regularity. When he was a player, fans in search of memorabilia would rush onto the pitch after games and rip off his shorts, socks and even his underwear.
His home in Brazil was less than a mile from a beach, but he didn’t go there for about two decades due to fear of crowds.
Yet even in unsupervised moments with friends, he rarely complained. He believed his talent was a divine gift, and he spoke fondly of how football had allowed him to travel the world, comfort cancer patients and survivors of wars and famine, and support to the needs of a family who, growing up, often did not know the source of their next meal.
“God gave me this ability for one reason: to make people happy,” he said in a 2013 interview with Reuters. “No matter what I did, I tried not to forget it.”
Brazilian football federation CBF said: “Pelé was much more than the greatest sportsman of all time…The king of football was the ultimate representative of a victorious Brazil.”
Kylian Mbappé, the French star who many consider the current best footballer in the world, also offered his condolences.
“The king of football has left us but his legacy will never be forgotten,” he wrote on Twitter. “RIP KING.”
Reporting by Andrew Downie and Gabriel Araujo; Additional reporting by Peter Frontini, Carolina Pulice and Sergio Queiroz; Editing by Gabriel Stargardter, Daniel Wallis and Rosalba O’Brien
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