Pele’s Obituary: From Humble Origins to Immortality

Pele's Obituary: From Humble Origins to Immortality

by Michael Place

RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec. 29 (Xinhua) — Pele was three months shy of his 10th birthday when he made a promise to his father .

The pair had just listened to a broadcast of Uruguay’s 2-1 victory over Brazil in the deciding match of the 1950 World Cup at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium, a result that later came to be known as the Maracanazo.

“For the first time I saw my father cry,” Pele said in an interview with FIFA in 2014.

“I told him, ‘Don’t cry, Dad. I will win the World Cup for you.”

Little could Dondinho have imagined that, just eight years later, his son would be carried away from ’s Rasunda stadium on the shoulders of his teammates as the youngest ever World Cup champion.

Pele’s father now wept tears of joy as Brazil celebrated their first World Cup trophy and the world celebrated the birth of a global phenomenon.

Edson Arantes do Nascimento was born in Tres Coracoes, a farming town in the southeastern Brazilian state of , the son of former Fluminense striker Dondinho and Celeste Arantes.

He is said to have been nicknamed Pele because of his mispronunciation of Vasco de Gama’s goalkeeper Bile, which was the subject of mirth among his peers.

He had a humble upbringing and earned his first salary by working as a waiter in a tea shop. Pele showed an interest in football at a young age, training with paper-filled socks as his parents could not afford a football.

His talent quickly became apparent and at the age of 15 he received his first contract with Brazilian giants Santos. Within a year he was the leading forward in the Santos first team and in July 1957, 10 months after making his professional debut, the promising striker was called up to the Brazil national team.

Pele’s first international goal came on debut in Brazil’s 2-1 defeat to Argentina at the Maracana and to this day he remains the country’s youngest goalscorer at 16 years and nine months.

At the age of 17, Pele entered the 1958 World Cup with a knee injury and missed Brazil’s first two games against and England. He returned for the final group stage match against the Soviet Union and provided an assist in a 2–0 win.

He then scored the winner in a 1-0 quarter-final defeat by Wales, before scoring a hat-trick as Brazil beat France 3-0 in the semi-finals. A brace in the final against Sweden – which Brazil won 5-2 – confirmed Pele’s status as a new giant of the game.

“When Pele scored the fifth goal in that final, I have to be honest and say I felt like applauding,” Sweden midfielder Sigvard Parling said later.

When the 1962 World Cup started in Chile, 21-year-old Pele was already widely regarded as the best player in the world. He scored a goal and set up another in his team’s opening 2–0 win over Mexico but was injured in the next match against Czechoslovakia and missed the rest of the tournament.

In his absence, Mane Garrincha took over the role of playmaker-in-chief to lead Brazil to another World Cup triumph as they defeated Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the final.

Football fans were again denied the chance to see Pele in full swing four years later. The tournament in England should have witnessed Pele at his best, but the then 25-year-old was the target of unsporting behavior from opponents, who smeared him at every opportunity to limit his influence. He was injured against Bulgaria and Portugal as the reigning champions were knocked out in the first round.

A despondent Pele vowed never to play in the World Cup again but he changed his mind before the 1970 tournament in Mexico. The rest is part of football folklore. Pele was involved in 53% of his team’s goals, scoring four times and providing six assists en route to winning the competition’s Ballon d’Or award as Brazil claimed another title.

Pele ended his international career in 1971 but he continued to play for Santos – with whom he won every possible trophy – until 1974 when he announced his retirement from all football at the age of 34.

After resisting joining Europe’s biggest clubs throughout his career, Pele was lured out of retirement less than a year later when he accepted a lucrative offer to play for the New York Cosmos.

He scored 37 goals in 64 games for the Cosmos and led the club to the North American Soccer League title in 1977, his final season.

Pele finished his 21-year professional career with 732 goals in 792 games for club and country – an extraordinary record for a player who was primarily an attacking midfielder, not a striker.

His tally of 77 international goals in 92 games stood alone as a national record before equaled the mark in Brazil’s World Cup quarter-final loss to Croatia in early December.

He is the only player to have won the FIFA World Cup three times and in 2000 he shared the FIFA Player of the Century award with Diego Maradona. In the same year, Pele was chosen as the athlete of the century by the International Olympic Committee and he was included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most important people of the 20th century.

Pele’s fame extended far beyond the sporting arena and in 1969 the antagonists of ’s civil war struck a 48-hour truce to watch the Brazilian play an exhibition match in Lagos. The Santos No.10 scored twice in a 2-2 draw against local side Stationery Stores FC.

Pele remained in the public spotlight after retirement. In 1994, he was appointed ’s Goodwill Ambassador. The following year, Brazil’s then-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso appointed Pele as the country’s sports minister, and he is credited with introducing anti-corruption legislation that brought greater transparency and accountability to Brazil’s notoriously opaque soccer institutions.

Apart from politics, Pele also dabbled in acting, appearing in films such as (1981), Mike Bassett: England Manager (2001) and the Brazilian television series Os Estranhos (1969).

His public appearances gradually decreased in the 2000s as he struggled with ill health, including problems related to his spine, hip, knee and kidneys. In September 2021, Pele underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his colon.

Pele was admitted to the Albert Einstein Hospital in late November for treatment of a respiratory infection. He remained in hospital throughout December after doctors said he required “more extensive care”.

Pele leaves behind six children. Another, Sandra Arantes do Nascimento, who sued him to prove she was his daughter, died of in 2006.


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