Pelé, the perfect footballer, the only one who won three World Cups, the first of planetary fame, died this Thursday at the age of 82 as a result of colon cancer at the Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo, as confirmed by his daughter Kely Nascimento.
“Everything we are is thanks to you, we love you infinitely.
Rest in peace ”, she has written on his Instagram account.
With him, an era in the history of football and in Brazil ends.
Those who had the privilege of watching him play live or have seen him on video remember precisely that header with which he opened the scoring in his third World Cup.
The 4-1 final against Italy in Mexico 1970. An instant that, together with legendary plays and goals, has crystallized in the collective memory as the maximum expression of beautiful, effective and irreverent football.
"Charmed, I'm Ronald Reagan,
President of the United States.
You don't need to introduce yourself because the whole world knows who Pelé is, ”his host told him on one of his first visits to the White House.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento was born on October 23, 1940 in Tres Corações, a small town in Minas Gerais.
Son of professional soccer player João Ramos, Dondinho, and housewife Celeste, they named him Edson in honor of the father of the light bulb.
Thanks to his gift for soccer, by the age of ten he was already a local celebrity.
At the age of 15, his first trip to the coastal city of Santos marked two milestones in his life.
He fulfilled his dream of seeing the sea and signed for the club he was always faithful to, Santos, a team that accumulated trophies.
He started a brilliant career that led him to be consecrated as the best athlete of the 20th century.
He debuted the yellow shirt of the Canarinha in the 58 World Cup, in Sweden.
At 17 years old and 10 behind him, he finished the final against the host crying like a child after a masterful performance.
No other footballer has raised three cups, to the pride of the Brazilians.
Pelé returned home with those of Sweden '58, Chile '62 and Mexico '70 after delighting a global audience.
In England 66 going to hunt Pelé was almost a norm in the field.
After his first World Cup, the teenager acquired unprecedented fame.
He was born O Rei.
In addition to winning three of the four World Cups that he played in, he won 10 leagues, two intercontinental cups, another two Libertadores and five from Brazil.
There are as many definitions of Pelé as there are fans.
Here that of a rival and that of a filmmaker.
“The greatest footballer in history was Di Stefano.
I refuse to classify Pelé as a player.
He was above that, ”said Real Madrid player Puskas.
"When the ball reaches Pelé's feet, football becomes poetry," said Pier Paolo Pasolini.
The Brazilian achieved excellence in a sport created by the rich that poor people like him —he was a shoe shiner— embraced and turned into a mass phenomenon.
The talent on the field of that black man, always cheerful, who enjoyed dancing with the ball, coincided with the arrival of a new device in homes around the world.
The popularization of television catapulted him to planetary fame in black and white;
then in full color.
Brazil was a country as gigantic as it was promising, having only abolished slavery at the end of the 19th century.
Despite his innumerable triumphs, his international prestige and juicy offers from Europe, he remained faithful to the Santos shirt (black and white stripes) for two decades, until his first retirement in 1970. After a few years without playing professionally and many months of negotiations, he said yes to another club.
Henry Kissinger—a football fanatic—had convinced him to put his boots back on, but with a new shirt, in a country that was not his own.
His signing by the New York Cosmos made him one of the highest paid athletes in the world.
His mission, to popularize soccer in the United States.
By the time he retired for good, he had scored 1,281 goals, nearly one per game, including 77 for Brazil.
He finally said goodbye to the courts on October 1, 1977 in a friendly in New York between his two clubs.
Always conciliatory, he played for a while with Santos and another with the Cosmos.
More than a game, that was a great televised event.
Perhaps the embryo of the current football show.
His meetings with Muhammad Ali, Frank Sinatra, Queen Elizabeth II, Andy Warhol... Or his first visits to the presidents of the United States are also from that time.
When Nelson Mandela presented him with the first Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, he praised his courage, joy and perseverance.
Among his exploits with Santos, he achieved a brief ceasefire in the Biafra war, decreed on the occasion of the friendly they played in Nigeria in 1969.
O Rei always had a reserved box in the stadium in the port city of Santos, which has a museum dedicated to the team and another to its most idolized neighbor.
In the stadium museum they proudly display their box office and the stretcher on which Pelé lay to concentrate before matches.
He lived out his last years in an apartment overlooking the sea in nearby Guarujá.
The ailments and confinement due to the coronavirus, which in October 2020 prevented him from publicly celebrating his 80th birthday, were not an obstacle to continue planning trips and public events.
In September 2021, a colon tumor was removed.
He left the last word about himself in the documentary Pelé, released in 2021 and in which he agrees to show his fragility by appearing in a wheelchair.
Of course, joking with his former teammates from his life.
The king of soccer's victories put his country on the map.
Pelé and Brazil were synonymous.
Historian Diana Mendes, who was coordinator of the Soccer Museum in São Paulo, explains that their successes “coincide with Brazil's desire to tell the world 'we are a new country, with a future, and we have some icons to show it, such as the bossa nova or Pelé', turned into the incarnation of excellence for the world after the 58″ cup.
The researcher stresses that for blacks in Brazil and around the world, their victories and the admiration they aroused have an even deeper meaning.
They start to believe that “if he could make it to Olympus, we can too”.
A powerful message in a country that presented itself as a race-indifferent democracy, which it never was.
“This international projection of Brazil through Pelé dialogues with what the rest of the world wanted to see become a reality because in the US the discussion was still about the civil rights of blacks”, details the historian Mendes.
Pelé knew how to intelligently model his career off the field, reinvent himself.
He studied, was a sports commentator, businessman and even Minister of Sports.
But during these decades he was above all a living legend.
"I'm not looking for people to speak well of me when I die," he told El País Semanal in 2014, shortly before starring in the kick-off at the World Cup that was held in his homeland.
He never liked to comment on politics.
He was accused of being lukewarm to Brazil's endemic problems and the dictatorship (1964-1985).
During the years of lead, in which he displayed his most dazzling football, he embraced the dictator Emílio Garrastazu Médici and was indifferent to the repression.
When asked about that time in the 2021 documentary, he replied: “Football stayed the same.
I didn't notice any difference."
He managed to draw a line between his memorable sports career and his personal life, preserved from the spotlight.
Father of four daughters and three sons, he had many girlfriends, including the television star Xuxa.
He married his third wife in 2016.
"No one is interested in knowing much about Edson," O Rei used to say.
He knew the player never let the fans down, he didn't want the man to let them down.
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