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Pele will live forever

Sports 02 Jan, 2023 Follow News

Brazilian fans celebrate the king’s life

Pele’s brilliance celebrates another goal

Only Muhammad Ali gained more fame

Pele wasn’t just the greatest footballer in the sport’s history but one of the most influential sportsmen even. Only Muhammad Ali can justifiably claim to have transcended sport more, for obvious reasons.

No wonder Brazil entered three days of mourning for Pele, 82, who died on Thursday from colon cancer. Images of the legend are displayed everywhere there. Life has come to a standstill for many who revered him ahead of any historical, religious or political figure.

The photos of Edson Arantes do Nascimento – Pele’s full name – drew tearful crowds as fans paid their respects. No other politician, entertainer or sports figure from South America comes even close to making the same impression.

Globally, tributes at matches with one minute’s applause is normal. Across Brazil, supporters are coming to terms with the loss of the only man to win the World Cup three times.

He was laid to rest in the world’s tallest cemetery of 14 storeys on Tuesday. It included an emotional drive through Canal 6 where his 100-year-old mum, Celeste, still lives. She has dementia and was not fully aware that her precious “Dico” had passed.

Hundreds of thousands of people paid their respects to Pele in his home city of Santos on Monday. Brazilians claim that Edson has died but the Pele legacy will endure forever. They draw parallels between Pele and royalty, that he is the closest Brazil had to a king.

That’s why the government carefully planned for his death for years, wanting to give as many fans as possible the chance to celebrate his life. The coffin containing his body was placed in the centre of the pitch at his beloved Santos stadium, the only club he played for.

Pele started out with Santos, a coastal city an hour from Sao Paulo, as a sensational teenager and evolved into a superstar. His coffin is interned in an amazing ‘vertical cemetery’, where he is laid to rest with family members.

In case anyone doubts whether Pele was the greatest ever, the stats are irrefutable. Santos debut at 15, he first played for Brazil at 16 and by 17 at the 1958 World Cup, he was the youngest player ever at the tournament. He scored the only goal against Wales to put Brazil through to the semis. He scored a hat-trick in the semis and was carried off on team-mates’ shoulders after scoring twice in Brazil’s 5-2 victory over hosts Sweden in the final.

He won the World Cup again in Chile in 1962, when Brazil beat Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the final. Then he completed his World Cup winning hat-trick in Mexico in 1970, scoring in a 4-1 final victory over Italy. Pele’s brilliance was so renowned that even in missing he was celebrated for it! Like at the Mexico World Cup when he feigned a keeper, letting the ball run across him and almost scoring with a diagonal shot. And almost scoring from inside his own half in another match, as well as the ‘save of the century’ he drew out of England’s Gordon Banks when Pele’s header looked like a certain goal.

He scored over 700 times in competitive games, including a record 77 for Brazil. There were another 500 goals in friendlies and low-key games in the twilight of his career for the New York Cosmos. His brilliance shone despite being chopped to bits by merciless defenders and unsympathetic officials on rough pitches - unlike the carpet-like surfaces of today and tighter rules that favour flair players now. He also played with balls so heavy that they shortened players’ lives. Nutrition, medical care, training programmes, fitness regimes and equipment was not as good then as now yet Pele overcame all those challenges to stand out ahead of other legends of the day.

No wonder he was feted by heads of state and absolutely every type of dignitary as well as the general public throughout his amazing life. Despite the adulation he stayed humble and personable to the last. The king coined the phrase of football being “the beautiful game” but he showed a grace and beauty unlikely to ever be repeated.


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