He had been battling colon cancer and spent Christmas in hospital, receiving treatment for cardiac and renal dysfunction, before his death was confirmed on 29 December.
Pele’s daughter Kely Nascimento confirmed the news on Instagram, in a post that said: “Everything we are is thanks to you. We love you infinitely. Rest in peace.” She then added three heartbroken emojis.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian Football Association simply tweeted “King Pele” with three crown emojis and a graphic calling him “eternal” with a lifespan of 1940 to infinity.
Widely considered one of the greatest players of all time, Pele is the only man to have won the World Cup on three occasions, as he helped Brazil to success at the 1958, 1962 and 1970 tournaments, also winning the Golden Ball for best player at the latter.
At the first of those, the then-17-year-old became the youngest player to appear at a men’s World Cup although his record was subsequently broken by Northern Ireland’s Norman Whiteside.
During a 21-year playing career, he is said to have scored 1,283 goals in 1,363 senior matches for clubs and country, although that number is disputed given it included unofficial friendlies and tour matches.
What is indisputable however is that he led his only major Brazilian club, Santos, to six Campeonato Brasileiro Série A titles, two Copa Libertadores crowns, two Intercontinental Cups and one Intercontinental Supercup. He then moved to the USA to play for New York Cosmos and helped them win the North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1977, while being named in the NASL all-star team on three occasions during his stay.
Pele battled ill health in recent times – he had a tumour removed from his colon in September 2021 and had since been in and out of hospital for treatment on a regular basis as he continued to fight cancer.
It emerged on 30 November that he had been admitted to the Albert Einstein Hospital with “general swelling” and was undergoing several tests for a more in-depth assessment of his health issues.
ESPN Brasil reported that the 82-year-old was having cardiac issues and his medical staff were concerned that his chemotherapy treatment was not having the expected results.
A medical report released on 21 December said Pele’s cancer had worsened. His daughter confirmed the family would spend Christmas in hospital with Pele after it emerged he required treatment for heart and kidney trouble.
Tributes began pouring in for a man that, due to his outrageous talent and willingness to try – and often pull off – the seemingly impossible, many consider the greatest player of all time.
The former England striker and BBC presenter, Gary Lineker, tweeted his condolences, saying: “Pele has died. The most divine of footballers and joyous of men. He played a game only a few chosen ones have come close to. 3 times he lifted the most coveted gold trophy in that beautiful yellow shirt. He may have left us but he’ll always have footballing immortality. RIP Pele.”
Another ex-Three Lions striker, Geoff Hurst – who scored a hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final – also paid tribute. He wrote: “I have so many memories of Pele, without doubt the best footballer I ever played against (with Bobby Moore being the best footballer I ever played alongside).
“For me Pele remains the greatest of all time and I was proud to be on the pitch with him. RIP Pele and thank you.”
Meanwhile, France striker Kylian Mbappe, who has publicly stated how the Brazilian greatly impacted his career, added: “The king of football has left us but his legacy will never be forgotten. RIP KING.”
Another great centre forward, former Wales and Liverpool legend Ian Rush, described “a very sad day for football”.
He added: “[Pele was] an icon and a true great of the game who touched millions around the world with his football and personality will be remembered forever. Rest in peace, Pele. My thoughts are with his family.”
Pele’s achievements on the football pitch transcended the game and touched competitors in other sports.
Eight-time Olympic gold medallist sprinter Usain Bolt wrote on Twitter: “A Sporting Legend. Rest in Peace King Pele.”
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