Football legend Edson Arantes do Nascimento, popularly known as Pele, on Wednesday, died peacefully at the age of 82. The three-time world cup winner and arguably the best player in history died at exactly 3:27 pm local time “due to multiple organ failures resulting from the progression of colon cancer associated with his previous medical condition,” according to a statement released by Sao Paulo’s Albert Einstein hospital, where Pele was undergoing treatment.
“Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pelé, who peacefully passed away today,” a message on Pele’s Twitter page reads. “Love, love and love, forever.”
Pele was admitted to the Albert Einstein hospital in Sao Paulo in November after complications related to respiratory infections and colon cancer. For the past week, the fears that the football star might not survive the ailment rose among lovers of the game, especially after Frank Khalid wrote on Twitter that the legend had said goodbye to his family and it was unlikely that he would survive.
“Pele says goodbye to family and friends from the hospital bed. Football legend, Pele is slowly losing the battle against Cancer, family says ‘his condition is worsening even further,” Khalid wrote.
Pele’s family stayed by his side in his final hours and were satisfied he died peacefully.
The man with an enviable club career
At 15, Pele was already tipped to become the greatest footballer of all time. Waldemar de Brito was the man that discovered Pele when he was under 16 years. When he took Pele to Santos, a Brazilian team, in 1956, he told the management and directors that he would be “the greatest player in the world.
Pele didn’t disappoint. At the trial, Pele impressed Lula, who was Santos’ coach at that time. What followed was a professional contract that same year. Despite his young age, all could see that he was a superstar in the making as his praises were sung by the local media. When he finally made his debut on September 7 1956, at the age of 15 against Corinthians, his performance was not far from that of a superstar as he scored one goal in their 7-1 victory. That was the first of over a thousand goals to come.
In 1958, Pele won the Campeonato Paulista, his first major trophy with Santos. While winning the trophy was the most important thing for the team, Pele was the top scorer of the competition with 58 goals. To date, no other football player has broken that record. He would go on to score 643 goals in 659 games for Santos, winning 25 titles.
A “national treasure” that Brazilians won’t let go
If Pele was so good, why did he not play in Europe? Like other players in his time, Pele might want to play for one of the big European teams. However, Brazil’s President Janio Quadros, in an attempt to prevent Pele from leaving Brazil for Europe, declared him an “official national treasure” at 19.
Following his performance in the 1958 world cup, big European teams like Manchester United, Juventus, Real Madrid, and Inter Milan lined up to sign the one-of-a-kind superstar. Italian giant Inter Milan managed to get him a contract somehow, but Brazilian fans pushed for the termination of the contract, and they got what they wanted.
After 19 seasons with Santos, Pele retired from Brazilian club football in 1974, holding the record of the highest scorer for a football team with 643 goals until Messi broke the record with Barcelona in 2020.
By spending most of his club career in Santos, he proved that a player does not need to move to Europe before he can be considered the best. It would not be wrong to say Pele did not play in Europe because he was too good for Brazilians to let go.
Signing out with New York Cosmos
One year after retirement from Santos, Pele returned from retirement to give a shot to foreign club football. He moved to New York Cosmos in the United States in 1975 at the age of 35. Although the legend was no longer at his peak, his magic legs converted some beautiful goals for the American club. However, his popularity became an issue for him in the American league.
When he first appeared in Boston, Pele sustained an injury. The injury was not from an opposition player nor was it sustained during play. He was injured by the crowds that were trying to touch and shake hands with him. He exited the field of play on a stretcher.
Pelé made his debut with Cosmos on June 15 1975, against Dallas Tornado, scoring one goal in the 2-2 draw.
Something significant in his time at Cosmos was the crowds that came to watch him play and the football fans he made love American football. Anytime Pele was playing, the stadiums were filled. In his final season in Cosmos, the Brazilian attracted a record 62,394 fans to the stadium. A hat trick from Pele was enough to satisfy them on that day. The next match even witnessed a crowd larger than the first. 77,891 fans were in attendance. In his final playing days in the US, Pele pulled more and more crowds to the game until he bowed out with Cosmos in 1977 at the age of 37. He scored 64 goals in 106 matches for the American club.
An unmatched international career
No football player can boast of matching Pele’s international career. At a time when there were no Under 17 and Under 20 matches, Pele started at the top. At 16, he scored his first international goal in a 2-1 loss to Argentina at the Maranaca on July 7 1957. To date, he remained the youngest player to score for the Brazilian senior team.