Brazil great Pele dies aged 82

Brazil great Pele has died at the age of 82.

The three-time World Cup winner had been in hospital in Sao Paulo since late November.

Pele’s daughter Kely Nascimento wrote on Instagram: “We are thanks to you. We love you infinitely. Rest in peace.”

Nascimento, who had posted before Christmas that members of Pele’s family would spend the holiday period in the hospital with him, added three heartbroken emojis.

A message on Pele’s official social media accounts read: “Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pele, who peacefully passed away today.

“Love, love and love, forever.”

Pele burst on to the global scene as a 17-year-old at the 1958 World Cup, helping Brazil to the first of their record five successes in the competition.

Injury affected his contribution to the finals in 1962, when Brazil retained their title, and 1966, but he returned to lead his country to glory for a third time in Mexico in 1970, as part of what is widely regarded as the greatest line-up of all time.

He has endured a number of health issues in recent years, and in September 2021 underwent surgery to remove a tumour from his colon.

This year, he was admitted to the Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in Sao Paulo on November 29 with a respiratory infection and remained there until his death.

The hospital said in a statement Pele died at 3.27pm local time (6.27pm GMT) on Thursday “due to the failure of multiple organs as a result of the progression of colon cancer”.

As tributes poured in from across the world, a tweet from the Brazilian Football Federation (CBF) read simply “King Pele”, accompanied by three crown emojis.

The president of the federation, Ednaldo Rodrigues, said in a statement: “The CBF will pay all possible tributes to the greatest athlete of all time. Pele is eternal and we will always work to preserve his history and continue his legacy.”

France World Cup star Kylian Mbappe – considered one of the world’s best active players – shared a photo of himself with “the king of football”, saying Pele’s legacy would “never be forgotten”.

Former England striker Sir Geoff Hurst – who won the World Cup in 1966, scoring a hat-trick in the final – said on Twitter: “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.”

Fellow former England player Alan Murray – who played against Pele three times including the 1970 World Cup – called him the “greatest of the greatest”.

“This fella, he had to play against people like me that wanted to kill him. You know, I mean, I did kick him a few times,” he told Times Radio.

“In London, about 10 years ago… he pulled up his trouser leg. And he pointed to me, he said, ‘that’s what you’ve done to me’. We both got a hold of each other and gave each other a hug, and we started laughing.”

Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo posted a message on Instagram alongside a picture of him with the Brazil great expressing his “deepest condolences”.

Ronaldo said: “A mere ‘goodbye’ to the eternal King Pele will never be enough to express the pain that currently embraces the entire world of football.

“An inspiration for so many millions, a reference from yesterday, today, forever. The affection he always showed for me was reciprocal in every moment we shared, even from a distance.

“He will never be forgotten and his memory will live on forever in each of us football lovers. Rest in peace, King Pele.”

Pele was a prodigious scorer of goals, and is credited with 1,281 of them across the length of his career by the official FIFA website.

There was so much more to his game though, and his outrageous talent and willingness to try – and often pull off – the seemingly impossible have prompted many observers to describe him as the greatest player of all time.

Others can also justifiably stake a claim for that title – not least Diego Maradona and his fellow Argentinian Lionel Messi – but it is inconceivable not to mention Pele in any shortlist.

He was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. His father, Dondinho, was a professional footballer.

He first had trials at Santos in June 1956, and his scoring exploits for the club in the Sao Paulo state championship propelled him into the Brazil squad for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

Alongside other stars like Garrincha, Mario Zagallo and Didi, Brazil laid to rest the disappointment of losing the 1950 World Cup final on home soil to Uruguay, and became the first team to win the tournament outside their home continent.

He quickly became a superstar in his home country of what was at the time a forward-looking nation, and became hugely marketable.

Injury curtailed his involvement in the 1962 World Cup as Brazil retained the trophy in Chile, and the player was criticised for not speaking out against the military coup in Brazil two years later.

Pele endured brutal treatment from opposing defenders during the 1966 World Cup in England
Pele endured brutal treatment from opposing defenders during the 1966 World Cup in England (PA Archive)

Brazil lost their grip on the World Cup in England in 1966. Pele was exposed to some brutal treatment from defenders, in particular those of Portugal, as the South Americans failed to get out of their group.

Incredibly there was debate in Brazil leading into the 1970 finals about whether Pele, still only 29, should even be in the squad. He answered his critics in spectacular style as Brazil regained the trophy in Mexico.

He headed Brazil in front in the final against Italy and his languid pass into the path of Carlos Alberto completed a sublime team move for the final goal in a 4-1 win.

He never played for a European club but spent time in the United States with New York Cosmos before his retirement in 1977.