Brazilian football legend Pelé dies aged 82

Pele, the Brazilian king of football who won a record three World Cups and became one of the most commanding sports figures of the past century, died this evening aged 82.

The standard-bearer of “the beautiful game” had undergone treatment for colon cancer since 2021. He had been hospitalised for the past month with multiple ailments.

“All that we are is thanks to you,” his daughter Kely Nascimento wrote on Instagram. “We love you endlessly. Rest in peace.”

His agent, Joe Fraga, confirmed his death: “The king has passed.”

Widely regarded as one of football’s greatest players, Pele spent nearly two decades enchanting fans and dazzling opponents as the game’s most prolific scorer with Brazilian club Santos and the Brazil national team.

His grace, athleticism and mesmerising moves transfixed players and fans. He orchestrated a fast, fluid style that revolutionised the sport — a samba-like flair that personified his country’s elegance on the field.

He carried Brazil to football’s heights and became a global ambassador for his sport in a journey that began on the streets of Sao Paulo state, where he would kick a sock stuffed with newspapers or rags.

In the conversation about football’s greatest players, only the late Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi are mentioned alongside Pele.

Different sources, counting different sets of games, list Pele’s goal totals anywhere from 650 (league matches) to 1,281 (all senior matches, some against low-level competition).

The player who would be dubbed The King was introduced to the world at 17 at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, the youngest player ever at the tournament.

He was carried off the field on teammates’ shoulders after scoring two goals in Brazil’s 5-2 victory over the host country in the final.

Pelé celebrates Brazil’s World Cup triumph in 1970.

Injury limited him to just two games when Brazil retained the world title in 1962, but Pele was the emblem of his country’s World Cup triumph of 1970 in Mexico.

He scored in the final and set up Carlos Alberto with a nonchalant pass for the last goal in a 4-1 victory over Italy.

The image of Pele in a bright yellow Brazil jersey, with the No. 10 stamped on the back, remains alive with football fans everywhere. As does his trademark goal celebration — a leap with a right fist thrust high above his head.

Pele’s fame was such that in 1967, factions of a civil war in Nigeria agreed to a brief cease-fire so he could play an exhibition match in the country.

He was knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1997. When he visited Washington to help popularise the game in North America, it was the U.S. president who stuck out his hand first.

“My name is Ronald Reagan, I’m the president of the United States of America,” the host said to his visitor. “But you don’t need to introduce yourself because everyone knows who Pele is.”

Pele was Brazil’s first modern Black national hero but rarely spoke about racism in a country where the rich and powerful tend to hail from the white minority.

Opposing fans taunted Pele with monkey chants at home and all over the world.

“He said that he would never play if he had to stop every time he heard those chants,” said Angelica Basthi, one of Pele’s biographers.

“He is key for Black people’s pride in Brazil, but never wanted to be a flag-bearer.”

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

Some of Pelé’s finest performances came in a Santos shirt.

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

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


Discover more from Marking The Spot

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *