Edson Arantes do Nascimento by his real name, the first superstar of the king sport, bowed out at the age of 82 years in the Albert-Einstein Hospital of São Paulo, in his native Brazil.In recent months, Pele’s return trips to this health facility were more frequent and the duration of hospitalizations longer since the diagnosis of colon cancer in September 2021.
The medical bulletins of the legend, a real soap opera, were a source of anxiety in the soccer world. This Thursday, December 29, the dreaded news fell: King Pele died, “peacefully” according to his entourage.
From the northern to the southern hemisphere, a shower of tributes fell to salute the majestic career of a player who revolutionized his sport. “Before Pele, 10 was just a number. I read this sentence somewhere, at some point in my life. But this beautiful sentence is incomplete. I would say that before Pelé, soccer was just a sport. Pelé turned soccer into an art, into entertainment. Pelé changed everything. He gave a voice to the poor, to the blacks and especially to Brazil. He is gone, but his magic will remain,” said Neymar, one of the many announced heirs of the three-time world champion.
A precocious talent, Pele made his professional debut at the age of 16 with Santos FC, a famous club in the state of Sao Paulo. A year later, at the 1958 World Cup hosted by Sweden, the native of Três Corações (Three Hearts) scored twice against the host country for the der. That day, in the first final broadcast live on television, he became the youngest player to win the title. More than sixty years later, that record still stands.
Pele is “an inspiration to so many millions of people, a reference for yesterday, today, and always. The affection he always showed me was reciprocal in all the moments we shared, even from a distance. He will never be forgotten and his memory will always be engraved in the memory of all of us soccer lovers,” said Cristiano Ronaldo.
His illustrious Brazilian namesake did not disagree: “What a privilege to succeed you, my friend. Your talent is a school that every player should go through. Your legacy transcends generations. And so it will live on. Today and always, we will celebrate you.”
At the 1962 World Cup, Pele matured. He wanted to leave his mark on the most beautiful of competitions. In the first match, against Mexico, he scored a fantastic goal to help the Seleção win (2-0). In the second game, against Czechoslovakia (0-0), he suffered a torn adductor muscle in his left leg. His tournament is over, but the Auriverde keep the trophy.
“Football has lost the greatest in its history today – and I have lost a unique friend. Soccer will be yours forever,” said former German libero Franz Beckenbauer, Pele’s partner at the New York Cosmos in the twilight of their respective careers.
In 1970, in the first World Cup broadcast in color, the son of Dona Celeste, who turned 100 years old last November, again stood atop the podium. His vertical rebound in the final against Italy, on the opening goal with his head, is a pure wonder. So far, Pele is the only footballer to win the quadrennial tournament three times.
“The game. The king. Eternity. O jogo. O rei. A eternidade.” In three words, in French and then in Portuguese, President Emmanuel Macron magnified the greatness of the one who, according to the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), scored throughout his 21-year career 1281 goals, including 92 hat-tricks and 30 quadruplets in 1363 games.
“I didn’t see him play. I was not so lucky, but I was always taught and told that he was the king of soccer,” wrote the Spaniard Rafael Nadal, a renowned tennis player with a record of achievements as long as the arm.
Lula Da Silva had that privilege. “I saw Pele play. Play, no, I saw Pele give a show. When he received the ball, he always did something special that often ended with a goal,” said the current Brazilian president on Twitter.
The best of all time?
Soccer is certainly a collective sport, but the genius of individuals is also its charm. There have always been passionate discussions about the best player in the history of the game.
Fast, physical and technical, Pele, nicknamed so during childhood by his classmates because of his difficulty in pronouncing correctly the name of the Vasco de Gama goalkeeper of the time, Bile, which became Pile, was elected in 2000 by Fifa the best player of the 20th century; the athlete of these hundred years according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
With a lot of humor in front of a camera, the teammate of Garrincha, the crazy dribbler himself fueled the debate: “A player like Pele, you will never see again, because my mother and father stopped the machines. The factory is closed now! Others may come along, as good or even better. But like Pele, it is finished. My parents have closed the factory.
In this period of mourning, Herve Mathoux, famous French sports journalist, does not want to compare, but recognizes nevertheless that “Pele sometimes missed gestures that others succeeded later. But he was the first to imagine them, to dare to try them when no one had even thought of it.”
Kylian Mbappe, well on his way to breaking all records and whose relationship with the deceased was so special, assured that the legacy of the “king of football will never be forgotten.” For, added his predecessor in the French national team, Michel Platini, “Pele was all soccer.”
A game that the character who was Minister of Sports of Brazil in the 1990s would like to practice “one day in heaven” with Diego Maradona, who died on November 25, 2020. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, to whom France Football awarded an honorary Ballon d’Or in 2014, should be buried on Tuesday, January 3. That is to say, the day after a wake in the country of “futebol” whose king’s aura is eternal.