Soccer fans, administrators, and football icons from around the world were yesterday evening thrown into mourning, following the demise of Brazilian soccer legend Pelé; who passed away at the age of 82.
Pele, described by many as the truest and complete athlete and only player to have ever won three World Cups, died at a hospital in Sao Paulo with his family by his side.
When one of his daughters recently shared an image of the ailing Pele in a hospital bed, on social media with caption: “Another night together,” holding on to precious last moments with my father; it was palpable and increasingly becoming a reality that he was on the brink.
Pelé had been hospitalised since the end of November. He was receiving care for colon cancer, but doctors said last week that it was in an advanced stage, and a respiratory infection that stemmed from COVID-19, had also set in.
In addition to the World Cups he won in 1958, 1962, and 1970, Pelé will be remembered as the most prolific scorer his generation.
He was the face of the global game for decades and helped shape soccer into the “beautiful game” until perhaps the arrival of Argentina’s own World Cup legend, Diego Armando Maradona, who passed on suddenly on November 25, 2020; aged 60 years.
Maradona who later rose to become Head Coach of the Argentina national team, is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the sports, he and Pele were the duo joint winners of the FIFA Player of the 20th Century award.
Pele boasts two Guinness world records, including the contentious one that credited him for nearly 1,300 career goals; and his 77 goals in just over 90 international matches for the Brazil; a record just matched by Neymar Junior at the just concluded FIFA world Cup, in Qatar.
Above all, Pelé who rose to become Minister of Sports in Brazil, and later wielded his influence in helping his country, bid and win the hosting rights for the Rio 2016 Olympics and FIFA World Cup, Brazil 2014.
The fame of Edson Arantes do Nascimento popularly known as Pele, was such that in 1967 factions of the civil war in Nigeria agreed to a briefly cease-fire so that he could play an exhibition match in Lagos.
He returned to Nigeria in 1972 with his Brazilian team, Santos, as invited by the then Military Administrator Samuel Ogbemudia; who doled out $6,000 for the team to play an exhibition match with Bendel Insurance, at the Ogbe Stadium, in Benin City.
Interestingly, Pele ended his career on Nigeria’s Independence day; on October 1, 1977, in an exhibition match between his former American club, Cosmos and Santos FC, with which he won six Brazilian titles, and South America’s equivalent of the CAF Confederation Cup, the Copa Libertidores, twice.
A crowd of 77,000 including a host of dignitaries were on hand in New Jersey to send forth the King of Soccer, and perhaps the only other athlete who is universally acclaimed around the globe, Muhammad Ali, as Pele played half the game, with each of the clubs.
Pele won his first world cups as a prodigious 17 year lad in Sweden, in 1958. He will remain an indelible icon and perhaps the sport’s greatest ambassador.
Just before his death, legions of fans had gathered outside the hospital and all across Brazilian streets, in solemn vigil and to pay their respects.
According to several Brazilian outlets, the body of Pelé, will be laid to rest at Estádio Urbano Caldeira, in Vila Belmiro, where he shone like a million stars for 18 years.
A flurry of tributes from former and current World Leaders, including Barack Obama of the United States and Muhammadu Buhari, as well as Sports giants like Lionel Messi, Kiliam Mbappe, Arsené Wenger and Usain Bolt among others have eulogised the memory of Pelé, whose body will travel from the Albert Einstein Hospital straight to the Peixe Stadium in the early hours of Monday, January 2, and the coffin will be placed in the center of the lawn; while the public wake is expected to begin at 10 a.m.
Fans will enter through gates 2 and 3, and exit through gates 7 and 8; while VIPs and Government Officials will have access through Gate 10.
Pele played alongside many gifted players, including Zito, Pepe, and Coutinho, Mario Zagalo Jazhinho; Carlos Alberto Perera, before he left the club for The New York Cosmos in 1975.
Upon his death on Thursday evening, the Brazilian government declared a seven day period of mourning for the mercurial King of Soccer, Pele!
Writing by Chinedum Ohanusi; Editing by Muzha Kucha