Pelé, the Brazilian football legend, died in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Thursday, December 29th, 2022. According to multiple reports, the former footballer, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, died at the age of 82 from multiple organ failures resulting from colon cancer. He had been suffering from the disease for a few years, with a tumor removed from his colon in September 2021.
Pelé was born on October 23, 1940, in the village of Tres Coracoes. His parents gave him his name as a tribute to Thomas Edison as the provision of electricity in their village had become a reality shortly before his birth. Pelé grew up in poverty and, at the age of seven, he was forced to shine shoes to contribute to his family’s income. His father, nicknamed Dondinho, was once a professional football player. Unfortunately, his career had been cut short due to sustaining an injury that prohibited him from playing. Dondinho loved the game so much, it is famously said that he wept after Brazil lost the 1950 World Cup to Uruguay. In an effort to comfort his father, Pelé promised Dondinho that he would win the World Cup for him. Neither of them knew what was coming as Pelé signed his first contract with a junior team at the age of 14. When he turned 15, he would transfer to Brazilian football giants Santos.
Pelé made his debut for the Brazil National team in July 1957 when he was only 16 years old. The world would become aware of his talents at the 1958 World Cup, which Brazil won, with Pele scoring in the final at the age of 17. He would go on to win three World Cups, an unprecedented feat. Pelé continued playing for Santos in the Brazilian league, scoring 1,283 goals in 1,367 games. He lifted ten league titles with the team. Pelé was so gifted that the Brazilian government declared him a national treasure. This was done to prevent him from leaving his country and possibly joining a European team.
As a global superstar, Pelé was immensely popular and had an incredible pull wherever he went. This is what inspired his move to the New York Cosmos, a football team that played in the North American Soccer League. This move to North America was inspired by the desire to increase the viewership of football in the U.S. Pelé was presented to an American audience on July 11, 1975. He would make his debut on July 15th of the same month, bringing in large crowds of fans. According to the NY Times, 18,000 people descended on the Downing Stadium, a figure that was triple the previous largest crowd.
New York Cosmos games became very popular, not only attracting larger crowds than before but also reeling in journalists and photographers from across the globe. High-profile entertainers such as Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart would reportedly attend the games as well. “Absolutely everybody wanted to shake his hand, to get a photo with him. Saying you had partied with Pelé was the biggest badge of honor going,” Mick Jagger once said.
Pelé spent three seasons at New York Cosmos before he left the league. The North American Soccer League proved to be unsustainable and collapsed in 1984. Despite that failure, Pelé played a significant role in the popularity of football, especially at the grassroots level.
Pelé was a football player first and foremost. His popularity grew from his speed, skill, and agility on the football pitch. He was the first global football star that paved the way for generations of footballers that came after him. “When Pelé talks, the world listens. It’s impossible not to get emotional when such an amazing person shows all his respect and admiration toward me. An eternal hero, a myth for all generations, and a true legend of sports,” Cristiano Ronaldo said about Pelé.
Pelé’s funeral was held on Monday, January 2, 2023. Brazilian fans of the legend were given the opportunity to mourn their hero as his coffin was driven through the streets of Santos. It was then placed in the center of Santos’ stadium, the Vila Belmiro, where the public could pay their final respects for 24 hours. Pelé’s wake was attended by thousands including FIFA’s President Gianni Infantino and Brazil’s President Lula Inacio Lula da Silva. His son, mother and wife were also present to pay their respects. According to reports, Pelé’s coffin left the Albert Einstein hospital on Monday morning. It was driven through the streets of the city including past his mother, Celeste’s home. Pelé will be buried on Tuesday, January 3rd at the Memorial Necropole Ecumenical Cemetery in the presence of his family.
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