Thursday 29 December 2022, 19:00

Football and the world mourns Pelé

They called him ‘The King’, and his face is one of the most recognisable in world football. The man in question is, of course, Pele, who was once named by FIFA as the greatest player of the 20th century. The legendary Brazilian passed away on 29 December 2022. Pele’s star was already in the ascendancy at the age of just 17, when he celebrated his first FIFA World Cup™ title with Brazil in Sweden on 29 June 1958. He still holds the record as the youngest world champion of all time.

Although the striker featured in the South American team’s squad as they defended their title in 1962, he missed most of the tournament due to injury. Pele’s immense talent was on full display once again in 1970 as he led his team to their next triumph, making him the only player ever to have won three World Cups.

World Cup records

  • Pele is the youngest scorer, youngest hat-trick scorer, youngest finalist and youngest player to score in a Final in World Cup history.

  • Gunnar Gren, who competed against Brazil in the 1958 decider, made his Sweden debut before Pele was born. Never has such an age gap – 20 years – existed between opponents in a World Cup Final.

  • Uwe Seeler, Pele, Miroslav Klose, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are the only men to score at four or more World Cups. The West German pipped the Brazilian to become the first to do so by less than three minutes in 1970.

  • Vava, Pele, Paul Breitner, Zinedine Zidane and Kylian Mbappé are the only players to have scored in two World Cup Finals.

  • Pele registered six assists at Mexico 1970 – a record for one World Cup. Four players managed five: Robert Gadocha at Germany 1974, Pierre Littbarski at Spain 1982, Diego Maradona at Mexico 1986 and Thomas Hassler at USA 1994. Pele also recorded an unprecedented three assists in deciders: one against Sweden in 1958 and two against Italy in 1970.

Did you know…?

The Baptist It was Pele who coined football’s universally-used nickname 'O jogo bonito', or ‘The Beautiful Game’. He also dubbed Brazil’s Mexico 1970 champions ‘The Beautiful Team’, which also stuck. The King of New York Football barely existed in New York in the early 1970s – but celebrities did, with a who’s-who of the world’s biggest stars to be found in the Big Apple. But when the New York Cosmos sensationally brought Pele out of retirement in 1975, the game’s popularity exploded. Cosmos became the most glamorous club on the planet and ‘O Rei’ (‘The King’) became the VIP to end all VIPs in NYC. "Absolutely everybody wanted to shake his hand, to get a photo with him," said Mick Jagger of Pele’s presence at Studio 54. "Saying you had partied with Pele was the biggest badge of honour going." Pele’s presence drew mind-blowing crowds to matches, seduced Muhammad Ali, Peter Frampton, Jagger, Elton John, Diane Keaton, Henry Kissinger, Robert Redford, Rod Stewart and Barbra Streisand into being Cosmos fans, and coaxed Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia to the Big Apple, where he inspired the club to the Soccer Bowl for his swan song.

Escape to Victory Pele had a lead role in this 1981 film, which also starred Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Max von Sydow and Bobby Moore, about Allied prisoners of war playing an exhibition football match against the Germans. The Simpsons “Hey, Dad, how come you’ve never taken us to see a soccer game," Bart asks Homer during an episode from 1997. The next scene shows the Simpsons at Springfield Stadium watching Pele initiate a game between Portugal and Mexico. The likes of David Beckham, Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar have since appeared on The Simpsons. Music Four days before turning 80, Pele released Acredita No Véio (Listen to the Old Man), a track recorded with 2019 Grammy winners Rodrigo y Gabriela. Pele loved music all his life and composed hundreds of tracks from the early 1960s onwards. He famously carried a voice recorder with him everywhere because "a song can come into your head at any time – even at a World Cup".

Celebrity and honours In 1970, Pele was named the most famous person on the planet ahead of John Lennon, Pope Paul VI, Paul McCartney, Muhammad Ali, Paul Newman, Queen Elizabeth II, Neil Armstrong, Elvis Presley, Clint Eastwood, Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne and Barbra Streisand. What they said about Pele "Pele revolutionised football. Pele stopped a war. Pele united countries, united families. There was no race problem, language problem. I was born in 1970. In 2002, I became a world champion. I was captain. I had the honour of receiving the World Cup Trophy from no less a person than Pele! Man! If I say any more I’ll cry. It’s really emotional!" Cafu to FIFA Malcolm Allison: "How do you spell Pele?" Pat Crerand: "Easy: G-O-D." Television commentators during the FIFA World Cup Mexico 1970™

"The greatest goal I ever scored was a one-two with [his mother] Celeste – we named him Edson Arantes do Nascimento." Dondinho, Pele’s father

"To watch him play was to watch the delight of a child combined with the extraordinary grace of a man in full." Nelson Mandela "Pele was one of the few who contradicted my theory: instead of 15 minutes of fame, he will have 15 centuries." Andy Warhol "An artist, in my eyes, is someone who can lighten up a dark room. I have never and will never find the difference between the pass from Pele to Carlos Alberto in the final of the World Cup in 1970 and the poetry of the young Rimbaud. There is in each of these human manifestations an expression of beauty which touches us and gives us a feeling of eternity." Eric Cantona "My name is Ronald Reagan, I’m the President of the United States of America. But you don’t need to introduce yourself because everyone knows who Pele is." Ronald Reagan "Pele took football to another level. Not only did he epitomise ‘The Beautiful Game’, but he also played with an effortless flair, the like of which had never been seen." Gianni Infantino, FIFA President

"The greatest player in history was Di Stefano. I refuse to classify Pele as a player. He was above that." Ferenc Puskas "His Majesty, His Highness, ‘Le Roi’, ‘The King’. My first video, VHS that I watched was of you playing during all these World Cups, sending positive messages. Thank you for sharing the passion." Didier Drogba to FIFA "Absolutely everybody wanted to shake his hand, to get a photo with him. Saying you had partied with Pele was the biggest badge of honour going." Mick Jagger "This debate about the player of the century is absurd. There's only one possible answer: Pele. He's the greatest player of all time, and by some distance I might add." Zico "Even the sky was crying." A Brazilian newspaper the day after Pele made his final career appearance in a friendly between New York Cosmos and Santos