Pele, Brazilian legendary footballer, dies at age 82

Football legend, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known globally as Pele, died last Thursday at age 82 in his country, Brazil. Having dominated football for the greater part of two decades, Pele remained an icon of the game till his very last moment. It therefore came as no surprise that he is being mourned all over the world. Pele’s fame and cultural value transcended boundaries and the ‘beautiful game’ he came to symbolise. After winning the 1958 FIFA World Cup at age 17, the late Brazilian star drew interest from top European clubs like Juventus, Napoli, and Real Madrid. But in a bid to keep him playing in his native country for Santos FC, the Brazilian government declared Pele an “official national treasure” in 1961.  

In 1958, Pele was so good in his debut appearance at the FIFA World Cup in Sweden that after scoring two goals in Brazil’s 5-2 annihilation of the host, he was carried shoulder high out of the pitch by his much older teammates. In the quarter final match against Wales, he scored the only goal for his country’s victory. In the semifinal, he fired a hat trick against France. And he was the star in the final that earned for Brazil a first World Cup. Pele remains the youngest player in history to play and score in the final of a World Cup. 

With that first FIFA Mundial title under his belt, Pele returned four years later to inspire Brazil to the second back-to-back victory in the history of the World Cup. Then 21, Pele scored a brilliant solo goal in a 2-0 win over Mexico to open Brazil’s cup defence before the injury that sidelined him for the rest of the tournament. Pele’s third World Cup title in 1970 fully established him as the only player (dead or alive) to have won three FIFA World Cups to date. He was also the best player of the tournament. 

At Santos FC and the Brazilian national team, Pele’s silky and graceful style turned Selecao’s Samba brand of football to the most sought-after flair. While statistics about the number of goals he scored during his career remain a matter of controversy, the governing body of football, FIFA, listed 1,281 goals for Pele in 1,366 appearances during a 21-year career. Seventy seven of those goals are for the Brazil national team in 92 matches. Some football historians insist that Pele, who made his debut for Santos FC at age 15, scored more goals. Although credited with 643 goals at Santos, the club insists Pele’s total tally exceeds 1000. 

The number 10 shirt won by Pele for club and country became iconic with football. Perenc Puskas, Michel Platini, Diego Maradona, Ronaldinho, and Lionel Messi, among several others, have worn it with pride. Brazil’s current Number 10, Neymar summed it up brilliantly in his tribute: “Before Pelé, 10 was just a number…I would say before Pelé, football was just a sport. Pelé changed it all. He turned football into art, into entertainment. He gave voice to the poor, to the blacks and especially, he gave visibility to Brazil. Soccer and Brazil have raised their status, thanks to the King! He’s gone but his magic remains. Pelé is Forever!” 

For Nigerians of a certain generation, the memories of Pele’s visits to the country with Santos and Fluminense on playing tours in Benin City, Lagos and Kaduna will remain evergreen. In retirement, Pele devoted considerable time to supporting global causes, including as United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Champion for Sport. 

Since legends don’t die, Pele will remain alive for as long as the game of football is played.  

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