Soccer legend Pele dies at 82 Soccer legend Pele dies at 82
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Soccer legend Pele dies at 82

Soccer legend Pele dies at 82

Pele, who was undergoing treatment for cancer since 2021, died at a hospital in Sao Paulo

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Pele dies at 82

Pele, the soccer virtuoso who helped Brazil to three World Cup championships and was long regarded as the best player the world’s favorite sport had ever produced, has died. He was 82.

He had undergone treatment for cancer since 2021 and died at a hospital in Sao Paulo, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.

Pele’s athletic artistry, goalscoring touch, and stylish play helped cement Brazil’s reputation as the dream team of international soccer, inspiring generations to play the sport. He got his first taste of World Cup victory in 1958, at 17, and was on Brazil teams that won two more titles, in 1962 and 1970.

He scored 757 goals in professional games, of which 77 were for Brazil, plus more than 500 in unofficial “friendly” matches. How best to count his many goals was a matter of some debate. FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, takes a broad view, crediting Pele with 1,281 goals in 1,363 games.

Pele was the first global soccer superstar even if he lacked the club limelight of modern icons such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Diego Maradona, who died in 2020. Pele played for only two professional teams, spending almost 20 years with Santos in Brazil before a three-season stint with the New York Cosmos, a US team active between 1970 and the mid-1980s.

While his position as the world’s best player ever was undisputed for years, fans across the border in Argentina — and some elsewhere — said the title belonged to Maradona, the maverick who almost single-handedly won the 1986 World Cup for Argentina. More recently, Messi emerged as a figure who rivals Pele in terms of his career achievements, particularly after leading Argentina to the 2022 World Cup title in Qatar.

Player of the century
When FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, sought to name the greatest player of the 20th century, an internet poll gave the title to Maradona, while a panel of journalists, officials and coaches chose Pele. FIFA named them joint winners of the award.

Pele had his own view.

“People talk about the best being Pele or Diego Maradona, but for me, the best player ever was Alfredo Di Stefano,” Pele said of the Argentine-born former Real Madrid forward.

Pele’s gregarious nature and modest temperament helped make him an ambassador for Brazil. “The flag of Brazil is Pele,” said Ricardo Trade, the chief executive officer of Brazil’s local organizing committee for the 2014 World Cup. “Pele is very important for us and for our football.”

Gustavo Kuerten, a former top-ranked tennis player born just a year before Pele’s last game, said he and many other Brazilians worshipped Pele, who was known in Brazil as O Rei, or the King.

“The story begins with him: he was the first idol,” Kuerten said in an interview.

Origin of ‘Pele’
Pele was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento on October 23, 1940, in Tres Coracoes, a small town in the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. He was the son of Celeste Arantes and Joao Ramos do Nascimento, a soccer player known as Dondinho whose career had been cut short by injury.

Pele said that to the best of his knowledge, other kids started calling him “Pele” to mimic how he mispronounced “Bile,” which was the nickname of one of his father’s teammates. “Pele” had stuck by the time he made his professional debut as a 15-year-old.

At 9, in 1950, Pele watched his father cry following Brazil’s loss to Uruguay, on home soil, in the World Cup final. By Pele’s account, that 1950 defeat — which continues to be described in Brazil as a national tragedy — made him determined to win the title for his country.

He did so eight years later at the World Cup in Sweden, where he became the youngest player to score a goal in the quadrennial international competition. In four matches during that World Cup, Pele scored six goals, two of them in the final match against host country Sweden.

Quick Thinking’
The first of those two goals was among Pele’s most memorable, for how he foiled two defenders with his chest and foot to put himself in position before firing the ball into the corner of the net.

“It was a spur-of-the-moment reaction — quick thinking,” he recalled for a FIFA video. He said he initially was going to shoot immediately, “but then I managed to think quickly and changed. And thankfully one of the strengths in my life and in my football was my improvisation, to change at the last second.”

In Chile four years later, Pele was hurt during the second game and was forced to watch from the sidelines as his teammates retained the title. In his last appearance in the 1970 competition in Mexico, Pele scored the opening goal in a 4-1 win over Italy and was named player of the tournament.

Pele’s 1975 move to the US to join the Cosmos, at age 34, pushed his fame to new levels and fueled new interest in soccer by Americans. The Cosmos were the dominant franchise in the North American Soccer League, which survived for 17 years through 1984. Pele was photographed with rock stars and models during his three-season stay, which culminated in 1977 with the Cosmos winning the league championship.

Pele’s Cosmos contract was worth about $6m, according to Rose Ganguzza, his manager during his time in the US. “When we think of those numbers now, it feels like a pittance, but in those days it was a very rich contract,” Ganguzza said in an interview. “It made him think a different way and he became a brand.”

Fortunes Lost

But for all his marketability, Pele’s business history was turbulent. He said he twice lost his entire fortune, claiming he trusted the wrong people.

Pele signed publicity agreements with Procter & Gamble Co, Volkswagen AG, Emirates airline, and Subway Restaurants Inc, as well as watchmaker Hublot SA.

The number of contracts meant traversing the globe in his old age. Pele said his healthy lifestyle — he didn’t smoke or drink, and exercised everyday — meant he could keep up with the hectic schedule.

Pele and his first wife, Rosemeri, had three children: Kelly Cristina, Edson and Jennifer. With his second wife, Assíria, he had twins Joshua and Celeste. In 2016 he married Marcia Cibele Aoki.

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