Pelé, the record three-time FIFA World Cup winner universally considered one of the greatest ever footballers, has died aged 82.
The Brazil forward, named Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee in 1999, won the FIFA World Cup on an unmatched three occasions and scored a joint national record 77 goals in 92 appearances.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento – his full name – first played for Brazil in 1957 aged 16, claiming his first World Cup winners’ medal just one year later in Sweden. He helped his country defend their title in Chile in 1962, before captaining an all-time great Brazil side to a hat-trick of triumphs in Mexico in 1970 – a feat still regarded as Pelé’s crowning achievement.
However, statistics alone do not do justice to Pelé’s unique talent which raised the bar for leading international footballers across the world. No player had ever displayed such a unique blend of speed, touch, vision and clinical finishing – from his virtuoso first goal against Sweden in the 1958 World Cup final to the powerful header that set Brazil on the way to their 4-1 victory over Italy in the 1970 final.
“We are deeply saddened to hear of the loss of Pelé, one of the all-time greatest players,” said UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin. “He was the first global superstar of the game and, thanks to achievements on and off the field, he played a pioneering role in football’s rise to become the world’s most popular sport. He will be greatly missed. On behalf of the European football community, rest in peace, Pelé.”
At club level, Pelé spent virtually his entire career playing for Santos (1956-1974), scoring 643 goals in 659 games, retiring in 1977 after two years performing for New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League.
With Santos, Pelé won two Copa Libertadores titles (along with six Brazilian championships) paving the way for two European/South American Cup successes in which he scored a remarkable seven goals in three matches; the latter included a hat-trick against Benfica at the Estádio da Luz in 1962.
With Pelé choosing to play virtually his entire career in his home country, opportunities for European football fans to witness his skills first-hand were limited: his first FIFA World Cup triumph in Sweden, Brazil’s unsuccessful defence in England in 1966 and a series of friendly games in the early 1970s for Santos.