Edson Arantes do Nascimento, his real name, football’s first superstar, bowed out at the age of 82 at the Albert Einstein hospital in São Paulo, Brazil.
This Thursday, December 29, the dreaded news fell: King Pelé died, “peacefully” according to his familly. From the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere, a shower of tributes then fell to salute the capital career of a player who revolutionized his sport. “Before Pelé, 10 was just a number. I would say that before Pelé, football was just a sport. Pelé turned football into art, into entertainment. Pelé changed everything. He gave a voice to the poor, to blacks, and especially to Brazil. He is gone, but his magic will remain,” said Neymar.
A precocious talent, Pelé made his professional debut at the age of 16 at Santos FC, a famous club in the state of São Paulo. A year later, at the 1958 World Cup hosted by Sweden, the native of Três Corações scored twice against the host country. That day, on the occasion of the first final broadcast, live on television, he entered into legend by becoming the youngest player to have won the supreme title. More than sixty years later, this record still stands.
Pelé is “an inspiration for so many millions of people, a reference of yesterday, today, forever. The affection he always showed towards me was reciprocal in all the moments we shared, even from a distance. He will never be forgotten and his memory will forever be etched in the memory of all of us, football lovers,” testified Cristiano Ronaldo.
At the 1962 World Cup, Pelé matured. During this competition, he wanted to make his mark more. In the first match, against Mexico, he scored a fantastic goal to participate in the victory of the Seleção (2-0). In the second, against Czechoslovakia (0-0), he suffered a tear in the adductors of his left leg. His tournament is over, but Auriverde keep the trophy.
“Football lost the greatest in its history today – and I lost a unique friend. The football will be yours forever,” said former German libero Franz Beckenbauer, Pelé‘s partner at the Cosmos in New York (USA) at the twilight of their respective careers.
In 1970, during the first World Cup broadcast in color, the son of Dona Celeste, a centenarian last November, still climbed to the top step of the podium. His vertical expansion in the final against Italy, on the opener with a header, is a marvel. Pele is the only footballer to win the quadrennial tournament three times so far.
“The game. The king. Eternity. Oh king. To eternity”. In three words, in French then in Portuguese, President Emmanuel Macron magnified the greatness of the man who, according to the International Federation of Association Football (Fifa), scored throughout his 21-year career 1,281 goals including 92 hat-tricks and 30 quadruplets in 1363 games. “I pay my respect and tribute to Brazilian football legend Edson Arantes do Nascimento known as Pelé,” wrote president Paul Biya on Twitter.
“I haven’t seen him play. I was not so lucky, but I was always taught and said that he was the king of football, ”wrote the Spanish tennis player, Rafael Nadal.
Greatest of all time?
Football is certainly a collective sport, but the genius of individuality also makes its charm. At all times, and so much the better, passionate discussions around the best player in the history of the game have taken place.
Fast, physical, and technical, Pelé, nicknamed as such during childhood by his classmates because of his difficulty in correctly pronouncing the name of Vasco da Gama’s goalkeeper at the time, Bile, now Pile, was elected in 2000 by Fifa best player of the 20th century. The athlete of these hundred years according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
With a lot of humor in front of a camera, Garrincha’s teammate, the crazy dribbler, himself fueled the debate: “You will never see a player like Pelé again. Because my mother and my father stopped the machines. The factory is closed now! Others may come, as good or even better. But like Pelé, it is over. My parents closed the factory”.
In this period of mourning, Hervé Mathoux, a famous French sports journalist, does not want to compare but recognizes that Pelé sometimes missed gestures that others then succeeded. But he was the first to imagine them, to dare to try them when no one had even thought of it.
A game in which the character who was the Minister of Sports of Brazil in the 1990s would like to practice “one day in heaven” with Diego Maradona, who died on November 25, 2020.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, to whom France Football awarded an honorary Ballon d’Or in 2014, should be buried next Tuesday, January 3. Or the day after a funeral wake in the land of “futebol” whose aura of its king is altogether eternal.