Pele, arguably the greatest ever footballer, died at the age of 82 on Thursday. He won the World Cup with Brazil in 1958, 1962 and 1970, his sumptuous range of skills making him the embodiment of his country’s golden age of football. When he finally retired in 1977, Pele had scored more than 1,000 goals. He scored 77 for Brazil, a mark only equalled at the recent World Cup by Neymar. But his impact on his sport went far beyond the pitch as he also became a money-making phenomenon, lending his name to sportswear, credit cards and watches among an array of products.
After his death, tributes poured in from all over the world.
“Rest in peace, @pele,” Argentina great Lionel Messi wrote on Instagram.
“My deep condolences to all of Brazil, and in particular to the family of Edson Arantes do Nascimento,” wrote Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Before Pele 10 was just a number,” wrote current star of the Brazil team Neymar.
“The king of football has left us but his legacy will never be forgotten.
RIP KING,” wrote France star Kylian Mbappe.
The king of football has left us but his legacy will never be forgotten.
RIP KING … pic.twitter.com/F55PrcM2Ud
— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) December 29, 2022
“Rest in peace Legend,” wrote former England footballer Wayne Rooney.
Rest in peace Legend. pic.twitter.com/CvqQI1bvd2
— Wayne Rooney (@WayneRooney) December 29, 2022
“RIP to one of the greatest players of all time! #Pele,” tweeted Robbie Fowler.
— Robbie Fowler (@Robbie9Fowler) December 29, 2022
Still only 17, Pele had become the youngest World Cup winner in history. The next two tournaments, however, were to be unhappy experiences.
Twenty-one by the time of the 1962 World Cup in Chile, an older, stronger Pele had been expected to take the tournament by storm.
He gave a tantalising glimpse of what he was capable of with an electric individual goal against Mexico in Brazil’s opening 2-0 win. But he aggravated an existing injury in the second game, against the Czechs, and was forced to sit out the remainder of the tournament as his countrymen successfully defended their title.
Pele’s frustration that injury had limited his appearances in Chile were nothing compared to the sickening disappointment of England in 1966 where, unprotected by referees, he was literally kicked out of the tournament. Brutally assaulted by Bulgaria’s defence in the first game to the extent that he was forced to miss the second match, the nadir came against Portugal.
Two crippling challenges by Joao Morais left a tearful Pele being carried from the Goodison Park pitch in Liverpool swearing never to play in a World Cup again. “I don’t want to finish my life as an invalid,” he said.
Synonymous with beautiful game
Thankfully, Pele’s disconsolate vow was to prove an empty threat. He returned four years later in Mexico to spearhead what is regarded as the greatest team of all time.
Where 1966 had been viewed as a victory for cynicism, the 1970 tournament, and Pele and Brazil’s winning contribution to it, have become synonymous with the beautiful game.
It is a testament to the quality of Pele’s play in Mexico that he is remembered for the goals he didn’t score as much as for the ones he did. An outrageous attempt to lob Czechoslovakia’s goalkeeper from inside his own half and a magical dummy against Uruguay in the semi-finals are among the finest moments of World Cup history.
Though he was to continue playing club football for his beloved Santos and later the New York Cosmos, Pele retired from international duty in 1971, making an emotional farewell in front of 180,000 fans at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.
“Pele was the most complete player I’ve ever seen,” England’s Bobby Moore recalled later. “He had everything.”
Once his World Cup heroics were finished, Pele, who was nicknamed “O Rei” (The King) and finished on 91 caps, helped try to kickstart an American revolution in football.
In 1977, he inspired New York to the national title in his final season with the club which featured fellow greats Franz Beckenbauer, Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia and former Brazil captain Carlos Alberto.
He appeared in the 1981 film Escape to Victory about Allied prisoners of war during World War II along with the likes of Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Moore.
Between 1995 and 1998, he was even Brazil’s Extraordinary Minister for Sport, while he also regularly appeared in public as an ambassador for numerous commercial brands.
He suffered a series of health problems in later life, undergoing surgery on his hips, kidney stones and on a colon tumor. That did not stop him living life to the full, and he married for the third time in 2016, tying the knot with Marcia Aoki.
With AFP inputs
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