Brazilian soccer legend Pelé passes away at 82

SAO PAULO — Pelé, the Brazilian soccer king who won a record three World Cups and became a legendary sports figure, died Thursday at the age of 82.

Pelé had been undergoing treatment for colon cancer since 2021. He had been hospitalized for a month for multiple ailments.

His death was confirmed by his agent Joe Fraga.

A funeral is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday and his coffin will be carried through the streets of Santos, the coastal town where his career began, ahead of his burial.

Widely regarded as one of soccer’s greatest players, Pelé spent nearly two decades enchanting audiences and dazzling the opposition.

He became his sport’s most prolific goalscorer, playing for Brazilian club Santos and the Brazil national team.

His grace, athleticism and mesmerizing movements captivated players and fans alike. He displayed a fast, flowing style that revolutionized the sport – a samba style that personified his country’s elegance on the pitch.

He took Brazil to the heights of soccer and became a global ambassador for his sport. His journey began in the streets of the state of Sao Paulo, where he kicked a sock stuffed with newspapers or rags.

“Like all fans of our sport, we mourn the death of a legend who marked the spirits. Obrigado, Pelé,” wrote CF Montreal on Twitter.

In conversations about the greatest player in history, only Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and the late Diego Maradona are mentioned alongside Pele.

Different sources, counting different sets of games, list Pele’s goal tallies between 650 (league games) and 1281 (all senior games, some against low-level competitions.)

His first major showcase, at age 17, was the 1958 World Cup in Sweden; he then became the youngest player in the history of the tournament. After the final, he was carried off the pitch on his teammates’ shoulders after scoring twice in Brazil’s 5-2 win over the hosts.

Injury limited him to two matches when Brazil retained the title in 1962, but Pelé was the symbol of his country’s triumph at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

In the final match, he scored in the final and took part in Carlos Alberto’s net with a nonchalant pass for the final goal in a 4-1 win over Italy.

The image of Pelé in a bright yellow Brazil jersey, with the No.10, lives on with fans around the world. Just like his classic way of celebrating a goal – a high-fisted jump.

Such was Pele’s fame that in 1967 factions in a civil war in Nigeria agreed to a brief ceasefire so he could play a friendly game in the country.

He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997.

When he traveled to Washington to promote soccer in North America, it was the American president who reached out first.

“My name is Ronald Reagan, I am the President of the United States of America, declared the host to his visitor. But you don’t need to introduce yourself, because everyone knows who Pelé is. »

Pelé was Brazil’s first modern black national hero, but rarely spoke about racism in a country where the wealthy and powerful are generally drawn from the white minority.

Some supporters of opposing clubs taunted Pele with monkey chants at home and around the world.

« He said he would never play if he had to stop every time he heard these chants, » said Angelica Basthi, one of Pelé’s biographers. He is the key to black pride in Brazil, but never wanted to be a standard bearer.

Pele’s life after football took many forms. He was a politician – Brazil’s extraordinary sports minister – a wealthy businessman and an ambassador for UNESCO and the United Nations.

He had roles in movies, soap operas and even composed songs and recorded CDs of popular Brazilian music.

As his health deteriorated, his travels and appearances became less frequent. He has often been seen in a wheelchair in recent years and did not attend a ceremony to unveil a statue of him representing Brazil’s 1970 World Cup squad.

Pelé spent his 80th birthday in isolation with a few family members at a beach house.

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, in the small town of Tres Coracoes (State of Minas Gerais) on October 23, 1940, Pelé grew up shining shoes to buy his modest soccer equipment.

Pelé’s talent caught the eye at the age of 11; a local professional player then brought him into the Santos youth teams. It didn’t take long for him to join the senior team.

Despite his youth and 5-foot-8 height, he scored against grown men with the same ease he had against friends. He made his debut for the Brazilian club aged 16 in 1956, and the club quickly gained worldwide recognition.

The name Pelé comes from the fact that he mispronounced the name of a player called Bilé.

He went to the 1958 World Cup as a reserve but became a key player for his country’s championship team.

His first goal, coming from a lob to himself, over a defender, was voted one of the best in World Cup history.

The 1966 World Cup in England – won by the hosts – was bittersweet for Pelé, then already considered the best player in the world. Brazil were knocked out in the group stage and Pelé, angry at the rough treatment, swore it was his last World Cup.

He changed his mind and looked reinvigorated at the 1970 World Cup. In a game against England, he headed in a header that was sure to hit the mark, but goalkeeper Gordon Banks sent the ball over bar. Pele likened the save – one of the best in World Cup history – to a “salmon climbing a waterfall”. Later, he scored the opening goal in the final against Italy, his last World Cup game.

In all, Pelé made 114 appearances for Brazil, scoring a record 95 goals, 77 of them in official matches.

His stay with Santos spanned three decades until he went into semi-retirement after the 1972 season.

Wealthy European clubs tried to sign him, but the Brazilian government intervened to prevent him from being sold, declaring him a national treasure.

In 1975, he joined the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. Although he is 34 years old and past his prime, Pelé has given soccer greater exposure in North America. He led Cosmos to the 1977 league title and scored 64 goals in three seasons.

Pelé ended his career on October 1, 1977, in an exhibition game between the Cosmos and the Santos in front of an estimated 77,000, in New Jersey. He played half the match with each club. Among the dignitaries present was Muhammad Ali – perhaps the only other athlete whose fame extended comparable.

Pelé would go through difficult times in his personal life, especially when his son Edinho was arrested on drug-related charges.

Pelé had two daughters out of wedlock and five children from his first two marriages, with Rosemeri dos Reis Cholbi and Assiria Seixas Lemos.

He then married businesswoman Marcia Cibele Aoki.

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