Pelé, the Brazilian soccer icon who brought home the World Cup trophy three times, becoming an international superstar and the world’s highest-paid team player at the time, has died. He was 82 years old.
His daughter Kely Nascimento announced his death on Instagram on Thursday.
Pelé’s health had been deteriorating as he aged. Doctors at São Paulo’s Albert Einstein Hospital said in late December that he was receiving “elevated care” related to “kidney and heart dysfunctions” stemming from the cancer he had been fighting for more than a year. He also had a respiratory infection and his family said he would stay in the hospital over the Christmas holidays.
“Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pelé, who died peacefully today,” read a statement on his organization’s website. “On his journey, Edson charmed the world with his athletic genius, stopped a war, carried out social works around the world and spread what he most believed to be the cure for all our problems: love. His message today becomes a legacy. for future generations.”
(that of Pele 2015 interview on CNBC Europe)
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in October. On December 23, 1940, he was known almost exclusively as Pelé, a nickname he allegedly earned after mispronouncing another footballer’s name.
Pelé joined Santos Football Club in Brazil in 1956 at the age of 15 as an inside forward. The club won the São Paulo league championships and, in 1962 and 1963, both the Copa Libertadores and the Intercontinental Club Cup.
The forward, who operated as a second striker, made his international debut just a year after joining Santos in 1957 and played in the World Cup the following year aged 17, the youngest ever player. He scored a hat trick in the semi-final against France and scored twice in the championship match against 1958 tournament hosts Sweden.
After bursting onto the world stage and dazzling with his ability to fire difficult shots into the net, Brazil declared Pelé a “national treasure”, a move to prevent him from being picked up by wealthier European teams. Instead, Santos went on an international tour to give fans a chance to see the star.
Pelé tore a muscle in the next World Cup tournament in 1962 and had to sit out after the second match, but the Brazilian national team prevailed and won back-to-back titles. Brazil lost in the first round at the next World Cup, in 1966, after Pelé and others suffered injuries.
He considered retiring from the international game, but made a triumphant return in 1970 to win it all once again. Pelé closed his World Cup career by scoring 12 goals in 14 games and remains the only footballer to have won the trophy three times.
Pelé retired from Santos in 1974 after scoring a staggering 643 goals in 659 games.
He was persuaded to retire a year later to join his second team, the New York Cosmos. At age 34, he signed a three-year, $7 million contract to play for Team USA, which The New York Times reported at the time made him the team’s highest-paid athlete Of the world. He ended up playing for the Cosmos for two years, helping them win the American Soccer League trophy, and was widely credited with growing the sport’s popularity in the United States.
Their last match was an exhibition match between Santos and Cosmos. He played the first half with Cosmos and the second with his beloved Santos. When the time was up, his teammates lifted the excited Pelé on their shoulders and paraded him around the field.
“In simple terms, Pele made soccer great,” Shep Messing, a Cosmos goalkeeper, told ESPN 40 years after that last game. “Mick Jagger, Elton John, Robert Redford at the games. Muhammad Ali, he was there on the field for the last game, and at the time, the two most recognizable people on the planet were the two of them.”
Pelé scored more than 1,000 goals throughout his career, earning a Guinness World Record.
He used his platform after football to support charities and try to improve the lives of the poor in Brazil. He became a UNESCO World Ambassador in 1994 and served as Minister of Sports in Brazil. He also published several autobiographies that became bestsellers and starred in documentary films about his life.
He and Argentine star Diego Maradona, who was younger than Pelé and played after his retirement, have often been discussed as the greatest players of all time, even being jointly named the “player of the century ” by FIFA in 2000. Despite the rivalry, the two struck up a friendship before Maradona died in 2020 after years of trading blows.
“I want to thank Pelé. We know who he is and who he will always be. We need icons like him,” Maradona said at an exhibition friendly in 2016.
Finally, FIFA named Pelé the “Greatest of All Time” in 2012 and the International Olympic Committee named him “Athlete of the Century” in 1999.
After his death was announced on Thursday, tributes poured in from the world of football.
Saints he tweeted a reference to his nickname, “O Rei” or “The King”.
Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo has also praised “The King” on social media.
“A simple ‘goodbye’ to the eternal king Pele will never be enough to express the pain that the entire world of football is currently embracing,” Ronaldo said. “An inspiration to so many millions, a reference yesterday, today and forever. The love you always showed me was matched in every moment we shared even from a distance. You will never be forgotten and your memory will live on forever in each and every one of us football lovers.”
France forward Kylian Mbappéwho scored a hat trick in the most recent World Cup final earlier this month in Qatar, said “Pelé’s legacy will never be forgotten”.
And former English footballer Geoff Hurst said: “I have so many memories of Pelé, without a doubt the best footballer I have ever played against… For me Pele is still the best of all time and I was proud to be on the pitch with him. RIP Pele”.