Fans of soccer star Pele walk past mural with an image of the player outside the Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022. Pele, the Brazilian king of soccer who won a record three World Cups and became one of the most commanding sports figures of the last century, died in Sao Paulo. He was 82.InternationalIndiaAfricaBorn Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pelé would later go on to be known as the “king of football” as a result of his athleticism and grace on the field. The Brazilian star died Thursday aged 82 after battling cancer.Decorated football legend Pelé spent the last several months battling colon cancer, and died due to complications related to his condition, according to his manager Joe Fraga. The Santos player is survived by his wife and six children.Known for his agile feet, inhuman accuracy with headers, and unmatched improvisational skills, Pelé was largely regarded as the greatest football player of all time. The Brazilian and worldwide icon won three World Cups over his 22-year professional career, still the only player to accomplish that feat.Pelé started his professional career at the age of 15, after dropping out of school in the fourth grade. His father, João Ramos do Nascimento, a minor league footballer, moved the family to Brazil’s Sao Paulo when Pelé was just five years old. By age 10, the soon-to-be football great began his training under Waldemar de Brito, a friend of Pelé’s father and a former member of the Brazilian national team.Two years after signing his first professional contract, Pelé would join the Brazilian national team and compete in his first World Cup at the age of 17 in 1958, making him the youngest player to compete in the tournament at that time. He would score six goals during the tourney, including a hat trick in the semi-finals and two goals in the finals against Sweden. He remains the youngest player to ever score a goal in the World Cup.By the 1962 World Cup, Pelé was already regarded by most as the best player in the world. He scored twice in the opening game but was injured. Despite his absence, Brazil was able to defend its title, giving Pelé his second World Cup win.© AP PhotoPele celebrates after Brazil win their third World Cup in Mexico in 1970Pele celebrates after Brazil win their third World Cup in Mexico in 1970In 1966, Pelé was injured before the tournament started and Brazil was unable to defend its title, which ended up being clinched by England that year. By 1970, Pelé returned to the World Cup stage and Brazil recaptured the title, giving Pelé his record three World Cup championships. Pelé scored the opening goal in Brazil’s 4-1 finals victory over Italy. By that time, his reputation preceded him.
“I told myself before the game, ‘he’s made of skin and bones just like everyone else,’” Italy’s Tarcisio Burgnich, who defended Pelé in the World Cup, said at the time. “But I was wrong.”
Shortly after turning 20, Pelé was officially named a national treasure of Brazil, which prevented him from playing for European football clubs that could have paid him a lot more than his Brazilian team, Santos FC.Pelé’s fame went far beyond Brazil and touched the entire world – he is also credited with being the driving force behind football’s rise in the United States. A year after retiring from the Brazilian league, Pelé signed a $2.8 million contract with the New York Cosmos. Pelé massively increased nationwide interest in the fledgling football (otherwise know as soccer in the states) league. Prior to his arrival, the Cosmos averaged 8,009 fans per game. By his third and final year with the club, the Cosmos averaged 42,689 fans per home game, including three games with over 70,000 in attendance. He was named as the North American Soccer League’s top all-star team all three years he played for the league. The Cosmos won the NASL championship in 1977, Pelé’s last year in the league.His last professional game came that same year, a friendly between the Cosmos and his former Santos FC team. It was played in Giants Stadium in New Jersey in front of a sold-out crowd. He played the first half for the Cosmos and the second half for Santos FC.© AP Photo / Bill KostrounFILE – Pele is carried off the Giants Stadium field by his New York Cosmos teammates after his final soccer game, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Oct. 1, 1977. Smiling and looking up at Pele are Giorgio Chinaglia of Italy and Erol Yasin of Turkey, center. Pelé, the Brazilian king of soccer who won a record three World Cups and became one of the most commanding sports figures of the last century, died in Sao Paulo on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022. He was 82.FILE – Pele is carried off the Giants Stadium field by his New York Cosmos teammates after his final soccer game, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Oct. 1, 1977. Smiling and looking up at Pele are Giorgio Chinaglia of Italy and Erol Yasin of Turkey, center. Pelé, the Brazilian king of soccer who won a record three World Cups and became one of the most commanding sports figures of the last century, died in Sao Paulo on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022. He was 82.While football was played in the United States for nearly a century before Pelé’s time in the NASL, his arrival has nonetheless been credited for the sport’s rise in popularity in the United States.Pelé’s play had ramifications outside of the sports world as well. In 1969, the Nicaraguan civil war entered a 48-hour ceasefire, so both sides could watch Pelé play in an exhibition match in Lagos.Pelé was undoubtedly the biggest sports star of his era worldwide, something that he admitted caused some internal conflict inside of him.
“Pelé has taken on a life of his own. He overtook everything,” the football great wrote in one of his autobiographies. “I sense the dichotomy between Edson and Pelé every time I take out my Mastercard. On one side is the image of me doing a bicycle kick together with the signature of Pelé, and on the other is my real signature.”
While his nickname is known the world over and has become synonymous with the game of football, Pelé admitted he had no idea where it originally came from and it has no meaning in Portuguese. But, he said he liked it because it was short and could be easily pronounced by speakers of any language.Raised as a Roman Catholic, Pelé remained a man of faith until he died, but did not always live up to the standards set by the church. Pelé married three times during his life, with his marriages to Rosemeri dos Reis Cholbi and Assíria Lemos Seixas ending in divorce. He was also linked to the model Xuxa, who was 17 when they began their relationship. In 2016, he married Marcia Aoki, a Brazilian business executive who was 32 years younger than him.© AP Photo / Natacha PisarenkoA man walks his dog walk past a mural showing Brazilian soccer legend Pele and Argentina late soccer star Diego Armando Maradona in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022. Pele, who won a record three World Cups has died at the age of 82.A man walks his dog walk past a mural showing Brazilian soccer legend Pele and Argentina late soccer star Diego Armando Maradona in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022. Pele, who won a record three World Cups has died at the age of 82.Through his marriages and relationships, Pelé had at least seven children, including Sandra Arantes do Nascimento who was the child of an affair between Pelé and housemaid Anizia Machado in 1963. Pelé never acknowledged her as his daughter, even after she sued the football star to force a DNA test that proved he was her father. Ms. Nascimento died of breast cancer in 2006. Pelé did not attend her funeral.After his playing career, Pelé stayed active. In 1992, he served as the United Nations ambassador for ecology and the environment. From 1995 to 1998, he served as Brazil’s minister of sport, and at age 74 he signed a lifetime contract with Santos FC for merchandise reasons.In 1999, he was named the co-player of the 20th century by football’s governing body FIFA. He shared the award with Argentina’s Diego Maradona, a distinction that insulted Pelé and caused endless debates among South American football fans.Pelé did not doubt that he was football’s biggest star and its best player. “In music, there is Beethoven and the rest,” he said in 2000. “In football, there is Pelé and the rest.”Arguments about Pelé extend to his statistical accomplishments. According to the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS), Pelé is credited with 762 goals throughout his professional career. That makes Pelé the third-most prolific scorer in football history, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.However, according to the Guinness Book of Records, Pelé scored 1,279 goals in 1,363 games, and in 2015, Pelé took to Twitter to claim that he scored 1,283 goals throughout his career.The discrepancy is the result of how football goals were counted in the 1950s and 1960s, with unclear classifications of what was an “official” and an “unofficial” match.What is not up for debate, is Pelé’s contribution to the game of football around the world, soccer in the United States, and the way he inspired millions around the globe to take up the beautiful game.After his final match, a Brazilian newspaper summed up what Pelé meant to his country and the world in a simple sentence: “Even the sky was crying.” Today, as it did in 1977, the sky cries for Pelé.