The three-time World Cup winner is considered by many to be the greatest player of all time
Brazilian soccer legend Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, has died aged 82 in Sao Paulo.
Pelé’s death at Albert Einstein Hospital in Brazil’s largest city follows a long period of poor health and a battle with colon cancer.
The footballing icon had a colon tumor removed in September last year and was a regular visitor to hospital.
Fresh fears for his health emerged when he was readmitted for treatment in November.
Reports followed that Pelé had been transferred to hospice care due to chemotherapy treatment no longer having the required effect.
The worst was confirmed on Thursday as news of Pele’s passing sparked mourning for one of the most iconic figures to grace any sport.
Brazilian soccer icon Pelé dies aged 82
As a three-time World Cup winner, Pelé forged a legacy that established him among the greatest – if not the greatest – footballers of all time.
His death marks the end of a remarkable life and career; the one who lifted him from a humble background and propelled him to become the world’s first footballing superstar.
Here we look back on the life and career of a truly great sportsman.
Humble beginnings, Santos and professional teenage debut
Pelé was born on October 23, 1940 in the town of Tres Coracoes, Minas Gerais, but he grew up in poverty in Bauru about 330 km and four hours from Sao Paulo.
His family, led by former Fluminense soccer player Dondinho and his wife Celeste Arantes, first gave him the nickname “Dico”.
But the way he mispronounced the name of his favorite player – Vasco da Gama goalkeeper Bile – later earned him the name Pele.
A young Pelé helped his family by earning extra money working in tea shops, but couldn’t afford real football. Instead, he trained by playing with a sock stuffed with newspaper and then tied with string.
After playing for several amateur clubs, he led the Bauru Athletic Club junior team to two victories in the Sao Paulo State Youth Championship.
Pelé gained confidence playing futsal with adults when he was 15 years old. His coach at Bauru, Waldemar de Brito, took him on a trial at Santos in 1956 and told the coastal club leaders that Pelé would “the greatest footballer in the world”.
Pele impressed enough to receive his professional contract in June of that year and scored on his debut on September 7 when Santos beat Santo Andre’s Corinthians 7-1.
Tipped to become a future superstar by the media, he was a starter at the start of the 1957 season.
Call for Brazil national team, first World Cup victory
As the league’s top scorer in 1957, Pelé was called up to the Brazil national team just 10 months after turning professional. To this day, he remains the Selecao’s youngest debutant after playing against Argentina in a 2-1 loss at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro aged just 16.
Pelé stood out as the all-round striker, able to effortlessly transition from a goalscoring striker to a deeper playmaker who provided assists with his exceptional vision and precision passing.
Gifted with flawless dribbling and a repertoire of skill, he also possessed supreme mental strength and was unfazed by the constant kicking of the opposition.
Pele’s exploits for Santos saw him selected for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden despite a knee injury.
After recovering and his teammates demanded he be picked by Vicente Feola, Pele became the youngest player in World Cup history at the time. Brazil beat USSR 2-0 on their debut and Pele had an instant impact assisting Vava’s second goal in the third game of the first round.
Pele scored the first of eight career World Cup goals in the quarter-final against Wales in a 1-0 victory. In the semi-final against France, with the score at 2-1, Pelé scored a superb second-half hat-trick in 23 minutes, and then scored a brace in a 5-2 win over Sweden in the final .
Helping a nation heal after a shock 1950 final loss to Uruguay in their own World Cup on home soil, Pele instantly became a folk hero in Brazil thanks to his exploits.
He fulfilled a promise made to his father with the triumph, having sworn to him at the age of nine that he would avenge the heartbreaking defeat at the Maracanã.
European interest, success with Santos, two more World Cup wins
Santos had to fend off an approach from Inter Milan to sign Pele on his return amid a revolt from their fans, which proved a masterstroke as the Sao Paulo state club inaugurated his most successful era.
Santos won the Campeonato Paulista in 1958 and 1959, as well as the Torenio Rio-Sao Paulo tournament bringing together the biggest clubs from the country’s two biggest cities.
In 1961 Pelé won the Brazilian National League and 1962 became one of the best years of his career. Pele went to the World Cup in Chile, considered the best player on the planet, and started the tournament in fine form against Mexico with a goal and an assist in a 2-0 victory.
Pelé was injured in the following game against Czechoslovakia, forcing him to miss the rest of the tournament, but still picked up a winners’ medal as Garrincha played a starring role in Aymoré Moreira’s side and beat the Czechs in the final for Brazil to retain their title. .
Back at Santos, Pelé won the Brazilian national league, the Campeonato Paulista, the South American equivalent of the Champions League in the Copa Libertadores, and the Intercontinental Cup against Benfica in a two-way affair in Rio and Lisbon.
For football fans, Pelé’s hat-trick in the Portuguese capital in Santos’ 5-2 second leg win is considered the greatest individual performance in the historic competition between the European and American champions. from South.
Other European giants who tried and failed to sign Pele after the 1958 and 1962 World Cups include Real Madrid, Manchester United and Juventus.
The 1966 World Cup in England, won by the hosts, was unforgettable for Pelé and Brazil. Four years later, however, redemption was achieved in Mexico when he led them to a third title, after apparently being pressured by the then-ruling military regime to return to the international fold and add another star in the legendary yellow and- green jersey.
International retirement, leaving Santos, USA
Pelé retired from the Brazil national team in 1971 and left Santos in 1974 with six national titles, two Copa Libertadores, two Intercontinental Cups and 10 Campeonato Paulistas.
He joined the New York Cosmos in 1975 and won the Soccer Bowl in 1977 alongside German great Franz Beckenbauer.
Aged 36, Pele ended a 21-year playing career in October of the same year.
Pele is recognized by Guinness World Records as having scored 1,279 goals in 1,363 games, which includes friendlies and tours that Santos often took around the world.
His exploits have often been the source of social media chatter in the modern era of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi fandom, but even if Pele existed in an era of more relaxed record-keeping, his prolific accomplishments are undeniable.
Pele’s record for Brazil is unmistakable, with his 77 goals in 92 caps, a record recently equaled by Neymar.
By the time he retired, Pelé had already starred in a Brazilian telenovela about human contact with extraterrestrials in 1969. After hanging up his boots, he branched out into film, appearing in the 1981 cult classic ” Escape to Victory” with Sylvester Stallone, which detailed a World War II match between a German team and Allied POWs.
In 2001, he made an appearance in the popular British satirical film “Mike Bassett: England Manager”.
Perhaps Pelé’s most notable post-career contributions to society came from his work as an ambassador. He was appointed United Nations Ambassador for Ecology and the Environment in 1992 and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 1994.
In 1995 he was appointed Extraordinary Minister of Sports in Brazil.
A sign of his worldwide fame, he also received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth in 1997.
Pele’s public appearances have declined in recent years due to deteriorating health, but he was seen in the 2018 World Cup draw in Russia alongside President Vladimir Putin and Diego Maradona.
Pelé will be remembered as the greatest player of all time for many football fans, especially in Brazil.
Those of neighboring rival Argentina could put the late Diego Maradona above him, while younger fans could opt for Maradona’s compatriot Lionel Messi or Portuguese icon Ronaldo.
Cristiano Ronaldo himself would have said once: “Pelé is the greatest player in the history of football, and there will only be one Pelé.”
“The greatest player of all time?” Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano once wondered. “Pele. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are both great players with specific qualities, but Pelé was better.
Pele never won the Ballon d’Or during his playing days as football’s highest individual honor was previously bestowed only on Europeans.
France Football overhauled this policy in 1995, and 20 years later in 2015 awarded Pele seven Ballons d’Or, which would link him to Messi.
Further cementing his importance for the beautiful game, Pelé shared FIFA’s Player of the Century award with Maradona in December 2000 and was named in the Ballon d’Or Dream Team, which is the greatest XI of all time. in 2020.
Pelé is survived by his third wife Marcia Aoki and seven children.