Regarded by many as the greatest soccer player of all time, Pele passed away Thursday, Dec. 29 at the age of 82 at the Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo.
Even to those who don't follow the round ball version of football closely, the name Pele is recognisable. The Brazilian star transcended his sport as he dominated highlight reels and lit up the screen with his skills and joyful celebrations.
He had plenty of practice at celebrating. Official records show he scored 655 goals in 700 appearances at club level and a further 77 goals in 92 appearances for his country. An astonishing goals to games ratio.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento was born on October 23, 1940. The story of Pele would begin when he gave a glimpse of his ability to perform at the professional level in 1956. As a 15-year-old, the forward made his debut and scored the first of his 618 goals for Santos, the only Brazilian club he represented.
Two years later, the young man was lighting up the world stage. At 17, Pele helped Brazil win the World Cup for the first time in their history. The 1958 tournament, hosted in Sweden, is best remembered for Pele's exploits in the knockout matches. His goal was the difference between Brazil and Wales in the quarter-final. This was followed up by a hat-trick in the semi-final against France and two more goals in the final as the host country were beaten 5-2.
It was just the beginning of Pele's relationship with the World Cup.
1958's triumph was followed up by a successful title defence in 1962. After suffering injury in the 1966 tournament, the result of heavy fouling by opponents, Pele returned for one last World Cup dance in 1970.
The Brazilian team of that year is one of the most celebrated in footballing history. The team played with fearless attacking flair and Pele, who had to be talked out of international retirement before the tournament, was a central figure in this style of play.
Making the number 10 shirt iconic in his homeland, Pele scored four goals in the tournament as Brazil went on to defeat Italy 4-1 in the final – their third success in four World Cup tournaments. Pele is still the only player to win three World Cups. In total, he played in 14 matches in finals tournaments, scoring 12 goals.
Pele called time on his international career in July 1971. His 92 games in the famous yellow jersey of his country yielded 67 wins, 14 draws and just 11 losses.
Pele continued to play for Santos until 1974. His era with them was trophy laden. Six Campeonato Brasileiros were won along with the 1962 and 1963 Copa Libertadores. This crowned them the best club team in all of South America. 1962 and 1963 also saw Santos win the Intercontinental Club Cup – meaning they were regarded as the finest club side in the world. Pele, it goes without saying, was instrumental in these successes.
After retiring from football in 1974, Pele returned to the field of play when he signed for the New York Cosmos in 1975.
The North American Soccer League club was his home until he hung up his boots for good in 1977. Pele's time in New York raised the profile of the sport known as soccer in the United States. It also tempted several other huge names from Europe and South America to finish their playing days in the NASL. Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Johan Cruyff and George Best just some of the names drawn to play in the league once Pele had signed up in New York.
After football, Pele embarked on ambassadorial work. He was appointed a UN ambassador for ecology and the environment in 1992. This work was acknowledged when he was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh for significant contribution to humanitarian and environmental causes in 2012. Pele was also Brazil's Minister for Sport during the mid-1990s.
Pele is up there with Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods as a global sporting icon. His achievements in football made him an inspiration for so many. During the recent World Cup in Qatar the current Brazil squad let the world know they were supporting their famous compatriot by posing with flags adorned with his image before their matches. This was after news broke that his health was failing. Brazil's fans also flew large flags with Pele on them at the Qatar tournament.
He truly is the player many people think of as football moved out of the old era, pre-1970, and into full technicolour on our TV screens post 1970.
Over the last few years Pele has battled cancer. His kidneys and prostate were affected by the disease and a tumour was removed from his colon in September last year. In November he had to be re-admitted to hospital.
It was confirmed earlier today, Thursday, December 29, 2022, that Pele had died. A statement from the Albert Einstein Hospital said Pele died “due to the failure of multiple organs, a result of the progression of colon cancer associated with his previous clinical condition.”
Football is known globally as “The Beautiful Game.” Pele will forever be associated with this phrase. His legacy will continue; his legend will go on for as long as football is played.