Pele has died
Football’s Greatest of All Time—Pele—has passed away at Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The futebol master was suffering from and succumbed to a recurrence of the colon cancer for which he had been operated on in September of 2021. His family was around his bed as he passed, he was 82.
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, in Tres Coracoes, Minas Gerais, Brazil, Pele, the only three-time World Cup winner—1958, 1962, 1970—was widely regarded as the greatest soccer player of all time with only Diego Maradona and more recently Lionel Messi close enough to hold his coattails.
In 1995 he became Brazil’s first Minister of Sports while in 1999 the International Olympic Committee named him the Athlete of the Century and Time magazine listed him among the 100 most important people of the 20th Century. In 2000, Pele was voted World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS), and in 2012 FIFA stated that Pele was “the greatest of them all.”
The King (O Rei), the only player to have scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 games (a lifetime 0.94 goals/game average) in a 21-year career (18 at Santos FC, 3 at the NY Cosmos), was a precocious talent who at 15 was already playing professionally for Santos and at 16 was on the Brazilian National Team. At age 17, in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, he was nicknamed The King after dazzling opponents with six goals and four assists—a hat trick in the semifinal against France and a brace in the final against the hosts established him as the world’s greatest talent just two years after turning pro and as the then youngest participant, scorer, assist man, and World Cup winner in history. Ask Brazil’s archrivals, the Argentines (like Maradona’s own coach Cesar Luis Menotti) who knew him, about Pele.
He would be injured in the 1962 World Cup in Chile but not until he had scored one of that cup’s greatest goals in helping Brazil repeat as champions. But it was his consistent quality over a long career—top scorer in the Paulista Championship (11) 1957—1965, 1969, & 1973; Ballon d’Or (7) 1958-1961, 1963, 1964, & 1970; 58 goals in 38 league games 1958; most goals in a single calendar year—127; most hat tricks in world soccer—92; 15 international tournament wins for club and country and 22 domestic tourney club wins—that set Pele apart from all who have come either before or after him. Considered the best player on the planet at 17 he would again dazzle twelve years later in his last World Cup, 1970 in Mexico, at age 29 (about 36/37 years old in today’s athletic years).
In 1970 Pele scored 4 goals and had 6 assists in leading Brazil to their third World Cup win, but it was in this cup, as he was closing out his career, that he stretched the boundaries of what was then considered possible and elevated the sport to art. His during-the-run-of-play misses—the feint against Uruguayan keeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz and his volley off the same keeper’s goal kick (requiring a diving save), his near miss from his side of the center-circle against Czechoslovakian keeper Ivo Viktor—when added to his iconic assists (to Jairzinho against England, to Rivelino against Uruguay, to Carlos Alberto and Jairzinho against Italy) and his sublime goals—the chest trap and volley against Czechoslovakia, his free-kick against Romania, his header against Italy—that showcased his multitalented dominion over the sport and put him on another plane altogether. Over two decades of play one thing remained certain: we had not yet imagined what Pele had already fully conceived, on the run.
As he leaves us behind for now let’s offer a moment of silent remembrance and use it to imagine what he might be conjuring up for when we next meet.
Photo: Pele, Shutterstock ID 179928386, by Kostas Koutsaftikis.