Sport

DEATH OF A LEGEND

Pelé (1940-2022) – The G.O.A.T

Pelé (1940-2022) – The G.O.A.T
(FILE) - Brazilian soccer legend Pele attends a preview of an auction of his belongings called 'Pele: The Collections' in Central London, Britain, 01 June 2016 (reissued 29 December 2022). According to his agent, Pele, whose proper name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento, has died on 29 December 2022 at age 82. EPA-EFE/WILL OLIVER *** Local Caption *** 52796404

Pelé, widely considered the greatest soccer player of all time, died at the age of 82 on Thursday.

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known to the world as Pelé, has died. The great Brazilian soccer player, winner of three World Cups with the Seleção and numerous other titles, succumbed to colon cancer. He died at 3.27pm local time in Brazil after multiple organ failure. 

Pelé. Four letters that transcended sport. He was an icon, a hero, a winner and the embodiment of the beautiful game. Pelé was simply soccer. 

No sports person in history, save Muhammad Ali, was as feted, as revered and as widely considered the greatest to have ever played a sport as Pelé. 

He burst into international consciousness as a 17-year-old at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Even as a teenager he fulfilled a promise to his father to return the Jules Rimet trophy to Brazil after the anguish of 1950. 

On home soil, Brazil lost 2-1 to Uruguay in the unofficial final of the 1950 tournament, which had the odd concept of a final group stage. As luck would have it, the last group game pitted Brazil against their South American rivals at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio. The home side only needed a draw to be declared World Cup winners. 

But Uruguay prevailed and Pelé saw his father cry for the first time as they listened to the match on radio. He vowed to win the World Cup for Brazil again. He more than lived up to that promise, playing starring roles in the 1958 and 1970 campaigns (in Mexico) and also securing a winners’ medal during an injury-plagued 1962 campaign in Chile. 

In Sweden in 1958, he became the youngest World Cup winner at 17 years 249 days, a record that still stands to this day. 

He nearly didn’t make it to the 1958 World Cup after suffering injury in a warm-up game against Brazilian club Corinthians. Although he missed the team’s final warm-up games before the tournament, and only played a peripheral role in the group stage, he burst to life in the knock-out stages. 

Pelé scored six goals in total, starting with a superb solo goal against Wales in the quarterfinals. He added a hat-trick in the semifinal against France during a 5-2 win and added a brace in the final against Sweden, again during a 5-2 win. 

Some of the goals he scored are simply amongst the best in World Cup history. Before wide television coverage, his feats were shared globally via the newspaper and radio correspondents there to witness his greatness. 

Swedish defender Sigge Parling, tasked with the unenviable job of marking Pelé in the final, said: “After the fifth goal, even I wanted to cheer for him.” 

Grainy television footage exists, but it was in the Mexico heat of 1970 and colour television that fully relayed his gifts to billions. 

Humble beginnings

The story goes that Pelé arrived at his first training session as a 15-year-old at Brazilian club giants Santos in long pants. Despite that inauspicious beginning he soon became the most important player at the Sao Paulo giants and went on to win six national championships and 10 state titles with the club. 

In the 1960s South American club soccer was as powerful as the best in Europe thanks to players as ethereal as Pelé playing in their home countries. Santos won two Copa Libertadores titles, South America’s equivalent of the Champions League, in 1962 and 1963 and also won the Intercontinental Cup between Europe and South America’s best club teams in those years. 

Pelé was central to all of this success and despite still living in a modest house shared with other players, had established himself as the best player in the world. Pelé did not enjoy the riches that modern players earn, but he was revered, respected and loved wherever he played. 

Crowning glory 

The World Cup in Mexico 1970, still regarded as the greatest tournament of them all thanks to Brazil, and more accurately, Pelé’s genius, was his crowning glory. 

It wasn’t simply about the goals Pelé scored. It was far more than that. He was the pinnacle; the focal point, of a team composed of supreme talent and skill. It might still be the greatest 11 players from a single country that has ever been assembled. Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Gérson, Tostão and Rivelino were all superstars in their own right. 

Yet, a 33-year-old Pelé stood above them all. 

In the final against Italy, which Brazil famously won 4-1 with their fluent brand of attacking play against the defensive rigidity of Italy, summed up the great team and the great Pelé. 

It was Pelé who opened the scoring with an explosive back post header. Despite being smaller than tough Italian defender Tarcisio Burgnich, he outjumped his marker to open the scoring. 

He assisted in the final two goals after Gerson’s equaliser. First, another back post header across the goal, allowed Jairzinho to stab the ball into the net. 

The second, is one of the most storied in World Cup history. It was a nine-pass move starting deep in Brazil’s half, scored by right back Carlos Alberto who ran on to a precise Pelé pass.

Joao Saldanha, the Brazilian coach that led the team to 1970 World Cup qualification, only to be replaced as coach by Mario Zagallo shortly before the tournament, had no doubts about Pelé’s influence. 

“Ask me who is the best right-back in Brazil and I’ll say Pelé. Ask me about the best left-back or the best midfield man, or the best centre-forward. Always I must say Pelé. If he wants to be the best goalkeeper, he will be. There is only one Pelé.” DM 

Pelé’s career in numbers 

  • Won three World Cup titles with Brazil in 1958, 1962 and 1970 – the only player to have won the showpiece tournament three times.
  • Became the youngest player to win the World Cup trophy at 17, a record that still stands.
  • Scored 757 goals in 812 official matches for club and country, a record that stood for decades until Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo eclipsed his tally.
  • Brazil’s football association (CBF) and Santos say Pelé scored a total of 1,283 goals in 1,367 matches while Fifa puts the figure at 1,281 goals in 1,366 games. Other sources give varying figures depending on the types of games included.
  • Netted 77 goals in 92 official matches for Brazil – the country’s all-time leading goal scorer, alongside Neymar, who netted his 77th goal in the 2022 World Cup.
  • Scored 12 goals in World Cups.
  • Registered six assists at Mexico 1970 – a record for one World Cup.
  • Scored 92 hat-tricks across official and unofficial games.
  • Scored 127 goals for Santos in 1959, thought to be the most goals scored by a club player in one calendar year.
  • Finished as Santos’ top scorer with 643 goals in 659 competitive matches.
  • Won Brazil’s Serie A six times with Santos (1961-1965 and 1968).
  • Led Santos to two Copa Libertadores titles (1962 and 1963). – Reuters
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