Soccer legend, Pelé, was known worldwide whether you enjoyed the game of soccer or not. He passed away after a battle with colon cancer on Thursday, December 29 at the age of 82.
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, “Pelé” is regarded as one of the greatest soccer players of all time. He won a record three World Cups with his home nation during his reign, changing the culture of the sport along the way.
In his career with Brazil, he scored 77 goals in 92 games, tied for the most with current star Neymar.
“Before Pele, ‘10’ was just a number,” Neymar wrote on Instagram. “But that beautiful sentence is incomplete. I would say that before Pele, football was just a sport. He transformed football into an art, into entertainment… Football and Brazil gained status thanks to the King. He has gone, but his magic will remain. Pele is eternal.”
His impact was renowned not just in Brazil, but throughout the world. Pelé’s funeral took place Monday and Tuesday, after which, his casket was carried through the streets of Santos, Brazil— the city where his legend began.
For the wake, the Santos soccer club used their stadium as the venue. A 24-hour wake, that may not have been long enough, as an “estimated 230,000” reported to pay respects to the King of Brazilian soccer, according to the New York Times.
At 3 a.m., the viewing line was two-thirds of a mile. It seemed that nothing was going to take precedence over one last chance to say thanks to whom many considered the greatest soccer player to ever live.
The legend of Pelé extends far beyond the soccer pitch. In 1967, a civil war in Nigeria came to a cease-fire so Pelé could play an exhibition match in the country. He was also knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1997.
He later made trips to the United States to help popularize “the beautiful game” and even played a stint with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. He played 3 seasons with the Cosmos, scoring 64 goals and leading the club to the 1977 league title.
In the final game of his career on October 1, 1977, he played an exhibition match with the New York Cosmos against the Santos soccer club. In front of 77,000, Pelé played one half for both clubs, a fitting end to his soccer playing days.
Though tragic, his death came at a poetic time, just weeks after the current best player in the world, Lionel Messi, won his first world cup with Argentina. The match saw Argentina take on defending champion France with their young rising star, Kylian Mbappé.
Mbappé appears to already be well on his way to join the ranks of the greats like Pelé. However, the overall legacy left behind by Pelé may never be matched.
After soccer, he was given titles such as “UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador” in 1994 and “Extraordinary Minister of Sport” by Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso in 1995. He helped try to reduce corruption in Brazilian soccer. This oft-led him to be the center of much controversy as well, and related feuds with Brazilian Football administrator, Ricardo Teixeira.
Pelé wanted the best for the game. Per his efforts, it will continue to grow and flourish throughout the world. May he rest in peace, and may we do right by his legacy moving forward.