More than six decades after he first wowed the world on the football pitch, Pelé is no more. The superstar Brazil nicknamed “O Rei” – the King – and winner of three World Cups died on Thursday at the age of 82 after a battle with colon cancer. His death caps a storied life as one of the greatest footballers the game has ever known.
Brazilian football legend Pele has passed away at age 82, his daughter Kely Nascimento, announced on Thursday. Seen as the greatest player of all time and even labeled “the greatest” by FIFA, Pele was the quintessential football model for generations of fans and players who followed him. Pele, who helped Brazil win three FIFA World Cups in 1958, 1962, and 1970, lost his fight against cancer.
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento on October 23, 1940, in Tres Coracoes, Minas Gerais, Brazil, Pele was the son of Fluminense footballer Dondinho. He was named after famous American inventor Thomas Edison but after a mistake in his birth certificate the “i” was removed and his parents decided to call him “Edson.” In 1956, Pele joined a tryout for professional club Santos FC and impressed his coaches. Just one year later, Pele, who was 16 at the time, became the top scorer in the league.
After the 1958 and 1962 World Cups, famous European clubs, including Real Madrid, Juventus, and Manchester United, tried to sign him. Inter Milan even managed to sign him in 1958, but the deal was later scrapped due to a revolt by Santos’ Brazilian fans. In 1961, the Brazilian government declared Pele an “official national treasure” to prevent him from being transferred out of his home country.
Pele became a legend for Santos, where he bagged six Brazilian Serie A (called Taca Brasil at the time) titles in 1961-65 and 1968 and two Copa Libertadores trophies in 1962 and 1963. He also bagged two Intercontinental Cups with Santos in 1962 and 1963. He left Santos in 1975 after scoring an amazing 618 goals in 636 appearances to join US club the New York Cosmos.
Pele netted 66 goals in 107 matches for the Cosmos and won the North American Soccer League title in 1977 with them. On Oct. 1, 1977, Pele hung up his boots after an exhibition match between the two clubs he played for, the Cosmos and Santos.
– International career
Pele’s international debut was on July 7, 1957, in a game against Argentina, which was by Brazil 1-2. When the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden came up, Pele was suffering from a knee injury. But he was included in Brazil’s World Cup squad despite that, along with his teammates’ insistence for his selection. In the final against hosts Sweden on June 29, 1958, Pele, the youngest player to play in a World Cup final match at 17 years and 249 days, netted twice in the game, which ended with a 5-2 victory for Brazil. He was named best young player of the tournament. One year later, Pele scored eight goals in the 1959 South American Championship, now known as the Copa America. Despite losing no matches, Brazil returned home with a silver medal. In the next World Cup in 1962 in Chile, Pele netted twice against Mexico in the first game but was injured in the next one, against Czechoslovakia. He was out for the rest of the tournament but Brazil prevailed anyway, led by legendary winger Garrincha.
Brazil was the favorite in the 1966 World Cup in England, with an all-star squad including Pele, Garrincha, Gerson, and Gilmar. But it turned into a disaster for the South Americans, as they were shockingly eliminated in the first round, after three games. Before the 1970 Mexico World Cup, Pele was unsure if he would return to play for the Brazilian National Football Team again. But eventually he agreed, and scored six goals in the qualifiers.
Pele scored his 100th World Cup goal in the final played between Brazil and Italy at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Brazil won the game 4-1 and bagged the Jules Rimet Trophy – the former World Cup named after FIFA President Jules Rimet, replaced in 1974 – while Pele won his third and last World Cup. He played his last international game against Yugoslavia on July 18, 1971.
During his distinguished career, Pele netted 77 goals in his 92 caps for Brazil. An active Brazil player, Neymar, 30, scored 77 goals in 124 matches for his national team to tie with Pele.
– Playstyle, legacy
Pele was a versatile striker, and could send accurate and powerful shots with either foot. His ability to finish and anticipate opponents, combined with his exceptional vision and intelligence, made him a great threat to the opposition goal. Pele was a team player thanks to his ability to link up with teammates and hard-working nature. “The Black Pearl” scored the most career goals of 1,283 in 1,363 games, including friendlies.
Also nicknamed O Rei (“The King”) after the 1958 World Cup, Pele is often seen as the best player in the history of football. “Pele was the only footballer who surpassed the boundaries of logic,” Dutch legend Johan Cruyff once said about him. Hungarian star Ferenc Puskas classified him as “more than a player.” His 1958 World Cup final opponent, Swedish player Sigvard Parling, said: “When Pele scored the fifth goal in that final, I have to be honest and say I felt like applauding.” Argentine football legend Diego Armando Maradona, his fiercest rival in the best player category, once said: “It’s too bad we never got along, but he was an awesome player.”
In December 2000, Pele shared the FIFA Player of the Century award with Maradona.