DIED aged 82, the world of football has lost its king with the news that the great Pele passed away at the age of 82.
Dec. 30, 2022
3 min read
Pele, the king of football
The late Edson Arantes do Nascimento aka Pele
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Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or Pele as he was known and loved, passed away on 29 December aged 82 in Sao Paulo following a lengthy battle with cancer. He is considered by many to be the greatest footballer of all time. After several months of debilitating cancer treatment, Pele was admitted to the Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in Sao Paulo on Wednesday 30 November with a respiratory tract infection.
In September 2021, when the Brazilian was undergoing routine examinations previously postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, practitioners identified a tumour on his right colon that required surgery. Since the operation, Pele had been in and out of hospital, including for chemotherapy.
Most decorated World Cup player in history
The death of Brazil’s former No10 occurred shortly after the FIFA World Cup, a tournament that propelled him to legendary status in the sport. Aged just 17, Pele was named in the Brazil squad that travelled to Switzerland in 1954, playing a crucial role in A Seleção’s first ever World Cup triumph.
The teenager scored six goals at that edition, including a brace in his side’s 5-2 victory over Sweden in the Final. Although still only 21, Pele was arguably at his technical peak four years later at Chile 1962, where he scored another World Cup goal. Unfortunately, a thigh muscle tear in Brazil’s second group game forced him to watch the rest of the tournament from the sidelines, as the South Americans retained their world title. Pele then went on to score his eighth World Cup goal at England 1966, a tournament that ended prematurely for A Seleção following their loss to Portugal and resulting group-stage exit.
Pele showing off three World Cup trophies he won for Brazil
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Pele celebrating a World Cup win
Many of his critics, including back home, thought his career was over, but he would have his redemption at his final World Cup appearance four years later. The Santos legend led an historic Auriverde side at Mexico 1970, a team that many experts regard as the greatest ever Brazilian XI. Pele scored four times at the tournament, including one in the Final against Italy at the Estadio Azteca.
Brazil and Pele had claimed their record third World Cup crown, winning seven consecutive games with their famous jogo bonito. The player known as 'O Rei' ('The King') also managed to end his international career with 12 World Cup goals to his name. From that moment on, the country’s football was divided into two eras: pre- and post-Pele. Brazilians spent the following decades debating who was their next best player. Opinion is divided on whether Garrincha, Rivellino, Zico, Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho or Neymar is the second-best Brazilian footballer of all time, but Pele will always be considered the greatest.
Santos, the USA and off the field
Unlike many players of his generation, Pele never made the move to a big European club, instead spending most of his career at Santos. The forward played across the world with the Alvinegro and was part of their greatest ever team, winning back-to-back Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cups in 1962 and 1963. The footballing icon then moved to the USA, becoming one of the early driving forces behind the sport’s growing popularity in the country.
Pele played for New York Cosmos between 1975 and 1977, drawing huge crowds to American stadiums. He also made a name for himself in pop culture at the time, appearing in films, art works, and even video games. And although the Mexico World Cup was his last as a player, Pele still took part in future tournaments.
He worked as a commentator and served as an unofficial ambassador at USA 1994, where he saw Brazil lift the trophy for a fourth time in Pasadena, and was also present in Yokohama, Japan in 2002, when Brazil won their fifth world title, handing out the winners’ medals to his compatriots after the game. Pele’s story will always be associated with the famous yellow shirt of Brazil and the FIFA World Cup. He will also be 'The King' for all eternity.