April 21, 2024

Remembering Pele

Remembering Pele

Regarded as one of the greatest players of all time and labelled "the greatest" by FIFA, he was among the most successful and popular sports figures of the 20th century

Pele, whose given name was Edson Arantes do Nascimento was born 23 October 1940.

Regarded as one of the greatest players of all time and labelled "the greatest" by FIFA, he was among the most successful and popular sports figures of the 20th century. In 1999, he was named Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee and was included in the Time list of the 100 most important people of the 20th century.

 In 2000, Pelé was voted World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) and was one of the two joint winners of the FIFA Player of the Century.

He joined Santos, aged 15 in 1956 and turned the small coastal club into one of the most famous names in football.

In addition to a host of regional and national titles, Pele won two Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the Champions League, and two Intercontinental Cups, the annual tournament held between the best teams in Europe and South America.

He took home three World Cup winner's medals, the first time as a 17-year-old in Sweden in 1958, the second in Chile four years later - even though he missed most of the tournament through injury - and the third in Mexico in 1970, when he led what is considered to be one of the greatest sides ever to play the game.

He retired from Santos in 1974 but a year later made a surprise comeback by signing a lucrative deal to join the New York Cosmos in the then nascent North American Soccer League.

In a glorious 21-year career he scored between 1,281 and 1,283 goals, depending on how matches are counted.

Pele, though, transcended soccer, like no player before or since, and he became one of the first global icons of the 20th century.

With his winning smile and an aw-shucks humility that charmed legions of fans, he was better known than many Hollywood stars, popes or presidents – many if not most of whom he met during a six-decade-long career as player and corporate pitchman.

"I am sad, but I am also proud to be Brazilian, to be from Pele's country, a guy who was a great athlete," said Ciro Campos, a 49-year-old biologist in Rio de Janeiro. "And also off the field, he was a cool person, not an arrogant athlete."

Pele credited his one-of-a-kind mix of talent, creative genius and technical skill to a youth spent playing pick-up games in small-town Brazil, often using grapefruit or wadded-up rags because his family could not afford a real ball.

Pele was named "Athlete of the Century" by the International Olympic Committee, co-"Football Player of the Century" by world soccer body FIFA, and a "national treasure" by Brazil's government.

His celebrity was often overwhelming. Grown adults broke down crying in his presence with regularity. When he was a player, souvenir-seeking fans rushed the field following games and tore off his shorts, socks and even underwear.

His house in Brazil was less than a mile from a beach, but he didn't go there for some two decades because of fear of crowds.

Yet even in unguarded moments among friends, he rarely complained. He believed that his talent was a divine gift, and he spoke movingly about how soccer allowed him to travel the world, bring cheer to cancer patients and survivors of wars and famine, and provide for a family that, growing up, often did not know the source of their next meal.

"God gave me this ability for one reason: To make people happy," he said during a 2013 interview with Reuters. "No matter what I did, I tried not to forget that."

Brazil's CBF soccer federation said "Pele was much more than the greatest sportsman of all time... The King of Soccer was the ultimate exponent of a victorious Brazil."

Kylian Mbappé, the French star many view as the current best soccer player in the world, also offered his condolences.

"The king of football has left us but his legacy will never be forgotten," he wrote on Twitter. "RIP KING."