Arguably the greatest footballer ever to lace up a pair of boots, Pele, has died aged 82. The Brazilian legend was in his home state of Sao Paulo at the time of his passing, and tributes have poured in from around the globe for a sportsman who transcended beyond just his extraordinary achievements out on the pitch.
The famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro has been bathed in green light to commemorate Pele’s death, while Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has declared three days of national mourning.
Recognised as one of the finest footballers in history, Pele was also one of the first truly global black sporting icons – his exploits at the 1958 World Cup, aged just 17, captured the hearts of sports fans across the planet.
That would be one of three World Cup winner’s medals that Pele would land – a record to this day, and the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner also holds the distinction of a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the greatest goalscorer of all time, notching a scarcely-believable 1,281 goals in 1,363 games in a career that took in stints at Santos FC, his boyhood club, and New York Cosmos.
But it’s his efforts with Brazil that are most famed, with the 1970 World Cup winning team – led from the front by Pele – considered to be one of the best to ever take to the pitch.
What makes his achievements all the more remarkable is that Pele was born into such poverty that his family couldn’t even afford to buy him a football to play with – instead, he was forced to wrap a ball of newspaper inside a sock and tie it up with string as a makeshift replacement. From such humble roots greatness can flourish.
The King of Football
Unsurprisingly, Pele is recognised as one of the most influential footballers of history – and especially so for young Brazilians looking to make it in the game. Neymar, who played for Santos and wears the same number ten jersey for the national team as Pele, paid tribute to his hero on Instagram:
“Before Pelé, 10 was just a number. I would say before Pelé, football was just a sport. Pelé has changed it all. He turned football into art, into entertainment. He gave voice to the poor, to black people and especially: he gave visibility to Brazil. Soccer and Brazil have raised their status thanks to the King! He’s gone but his magic remains. Pelé is forever.”
Ronaldo, one of the Brazilians who can lay claim to briefly touching Pele’s levels of greatness with the ball at his feet, said: “Unique. Genius. Technical. Creative. Perfect. Unequalled. Where Pele has gone, he has stayed. Never having left the top, he leaves us today. The king of football – one and only. The greatest of all time.”
Many non-Brazilians have paid their own tributes too. Cristiano Ronaldo described him as ‘King Pele’, and that ‘his memory will endure forever in every one of us who love football’, while France star Kylian Mbappe also remembered Pele as the ‘king of football’.