The world of football is in mourning. Brazilian soccer legend Pelé has died at the age of 82. Due to his deteriorating state of health for the past few weeks, fans of the former footballer are scouring the city of Tres Coraçoes, a town of 75,000 inhabitants, in search of rare memories of Pelé. It was in this city that the “King” was born. He spent the first years of his life there.
It had been exactly a month since Pelé had been admitted to the Albert Einstein in Sao Paulo where he had been undergoing fertilization for colon cancer since the end of 2021. In its last bulletin eight days ago, the hospital mentioned the progression of Pelé’s cancer as well as “kidney and heart failure”.
In the footsteps of his birth
The small town of Tres Coraçoes (Three Hearts) is located at equal distance, about 250 kilometers, from the three major metropolises Belo Horizonte, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and is provided with coffee plantations. Its fame, it owes it to a single fact: the birth, in 1940, of Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pelé.
Very young, Pelé had changed town, before starting his career as a teenager at Santos FC, near Sao Paulo, where there is a Pelé museum, which presents the majority of his memories.
In Tres Coraçoes, the worsening of his illness had brought more visitors to the Pelé House, a replica of his first home, located on a steep street with low houses, and which bears his name.
Based on his mother’s memories
“I had never been to this house, which is already ten years old,” explains Neilor Henrique, a 41-year-old neighbor. “But the announcement of her hospitalization made me want to visit her”.
Built based on the memories of Pelé’s mother, Celeste Arantes do Nascimento, who is 100 years old today, the house shows the family’s humble origins: the bare minimum of wooden furniture, straw mattresses, an old radio, a framed portrait of the parents on a wall.
A few hundred meters away, the small Terra do Rei (King’s Land) museum exhibits Santo jerseys signed by the ex-footballer, a ball he played with and his birth certificate. But some Pelé fans were hoping to see more in his hometown.
Rafael Antunes made a detour on a family trip to get there, in search of souvenirs of the “King”. “I found few traces of him in the city, almost none,” said the 43-year-old entrepreneur, unimpressed by the huge statue of Pelé that sits at the entrance to Tres Coraçoes.
“I find it shows a certain lack of respect for the role he has played for football and our country,” he said of the only footballer to have never won the World Cup three times. But for Fernando Ortiz, family friend of the legendary number 10 of the Seleçao, the explanation comes from elsewhere.
“Many Brazilians can’t stand seeing their compatriots succeed. And when it comes to a black Brazilian, the rejection is even stronger”, explains this sixty-something man, who is behind the construction of the Pelé House. . “Alas, I think that if Pelé had been a light-eyed white man, he would have been accepted by all”.