Football great Pele, 82, passed away of cancer on Thursday in Sao Paulo, his daughter confirmed on Instagram.
Pele had a tumour removed from his colon in September 2021 and has since had regular treatment. “Inspiration, love marked the journey of King Pelé, who peacefully passed away today. Love, love and love, forever,” the family statement from the Brazil legend read.
Pele is Brazil’s all-time leading scorer with 77 goals in 92 games. Nicknamed the Black Pearl, Pele won one Ballon d’Or, a record three World Cups and scored a staggering 1,283 career goals.
He burst onto the international stage as a 17-year-old in the 1958 World Cup, scoring six times in total including twice in the final as Brazil won the title for the first time. Brazil retained the trophy in 1962, but injury restricted Pele to just a game and a half each in the 1962 edition and 1966 World Cups, with the violent hacking of group opponent Portugal in 1966 leading to his exit from the tournament on a stretcher, vowing never to play in a World Cup again.
Thankfully, he relented in time for Mexico 1970, and lit up television screens worldwide, resplendent in yellow in the first World Cup telecast in colour. Brazil came to the tournament with possibly its greatest-ever line-up and romped unbeaten to its third title.
Along the way, Pele found the net four times, and memorably laid on the final pass in a bewitching move that ended with Carlos Alberto’s sweeping finish for the final goal of the tournament. Even more memorably, Pele put his name to three of the greatest misses of all time: the lob from his own half against Czechoslovakia, the header that elicited the ‘save of the century’ from England goalkeeper Gordon Banks and the dummy-cum-run-around that hoodwinked Uruguay goalkeeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz in the semifinals, only for the great man’s shot to roll past the wrong side of the post. Pele retired from the game in 1977.
Before the World Cup began, Pele had addressed the Brazil players, saying: “Today we start writing a new story. We will be more than 200 million hearts beating as one, vibrating with each achievement of our ‘Selecao’. We must respect and play each match with the focus of a final. It is important to play beautifully, yes, but it is also essential to leave everything on the pitch. I send these pictures to inspire you guys... I am sending all positive energies to you. I’m sure we’ll have a happy ending. God bless you. Bring this trophy home.”
Brazil was eliminated in the quarterfinals in a penalty shootout defeat to Croatia.
Pele and Argentine great Diego Maradona, who never faced each other on the pitch, often vied for the title of best footballer in history.
Pele and Maradona were jointly named best player of the 20th century by FIFA in 2000 -- the Brazilian chosen by a jury of experts, the Argentine in a popular vote by fans. Maradona died of cardiac arrest at the age of 60 in 2020.