Monday 27 February 2023, 22:00

Ronaldo presents Pelé's wife, Marcia Aoki, with The Best FIFA Special Award

  • Marcia Aoki accepted The Best FIFA Special Award from FIFA World Cup winner, Ronaldo

  • Pelé's legacy in the game is unrivalled

  • Kylian Mbappe and Carli Lloyd were among those to explain the influence Pelé has had on their careers

It was fitting that in the presence of the world’s greatest players and coaches that Pelé should be afforded a special recognition award at The Best FIFA Football Awards. 

Widely regarded as the greatest footballer that the game has ever seen, Pelé passed away aged 82 in December last year after a debilitating battle with cancer. He leaves a legacy that never will fade after a catalogue of achievements that is unsurpassed. 

FIFA President Gianni Infantino led the tribute for Pelé as the football world paid their respect. "What can we say about Pelé? Pelé is simply football. We lost him, we miss him a lot but Pelé is eternal. He is with us, he is always with us, he will always be with us."

Ronaldo addresses the audience during The Best FIFA Football Awards 2022

The only player to win the World Cup three times - in 1958, 1962 and 1970 - Pelé was a master of his art. He announced his arrival onto the World stage at the 1958 FIFA World Cup finals in Sweden when, aged just 17 he scored six goals in Brazil’s last three games – the winner in the quarter-final, a hat-trick in the semi-final and two in the Final.

He went on to score 77 goals in 92 appearances for Brazil with his iconic status firmly entwined with the famous yellow shirt of Brazil and the FIFA World Cup.

His The Best FIFA Special Award was accepted by his wife, Marcia Aoki, with Brazilian FIFA World Cup winner Ronaldo presenting the trophy.

A tribute in remembrance of Pele is shown during The Best FIFA Football Awards 2022

“When I remember Pelé, I see a player far ahead of his time,” said Ronaldo. “An athlete who served as inspiration to me and to all people in football. In the 1950’s, he was already a modern player. He could shoot with both feet, He could jump higher than all the others, he had two-touch control, he scored bicycle kicks and headers, [he could do] stepovers and was extremely intelligent. I also remember him as a very dear friend. “When I had my first knee injury in 2000, he visited me at my home, bringing much love and affection in one of the hardest moments of my life. Two years later, he was present during one of the happiest moments [of my life], when my team-mates and I managed to win the [FIFA] World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

“Pelé will also be remembered for his impact on society. When he used to play, the world was even more racist than it is today. A black sportsman, he became the king of the most popular sport in the world. He proved that black people can be the best, the most successful, and defeat racism.

“This battle has not ended yet, but I ask you all to look for inspiration in Pelé’s example in how to fight against prejudice. Pelé was the best on the pitch and had a monumental impact on society. This legacy will live forever. Rest in peace, my friend.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino on stage alongside Presenters Jermaine Jenas (L) and Samantha Johnson (C) during The Best FIFA Football Awards 2022

Aoki was elegant in her appreciation of the special recognition award.

“It is a big honour to be here at this magnificent FIFA tribute to Edson,” she said. “I have three words to say to God. God gave us Edson. To Edson that gave us Pelé and to the world who received him so well, my three words are: grateful, grateful and grateful.” There was more to Pelé, though, than just his grace, tenacity and skill. His enthusiasm and contagious smile came to be synonymous with the Beautiful Game.

His international team-mate, Jairzinho, also paid tribute to Pelé. “I am very happy to hear the recognition for one of the greatest artists in the history of football. I have to congratulate him and show my appreciation to him for giving me the opportunity to experience three [FIFA] World Cups with him and learn about everything that he did naturally, with a lot of intelligence, which led to Brazil become two-time world champions, three-time world champions, I played with him in the third World Cup. “There were several moments, from the first game against Czechoslovakia until the final match against Italy, they were special moments for me as a man. “Pelé was not just a great player, Pelé reflected all the conditions required for an athlete to develop. Athletes need to take care of themselves, physically and mentally. That allowed him to evolve in the art of goalscoring, which he did. I’m very happy with the homage that we are paying him this evening.”

Jermaine Jenas and Samantha Johnson speak to the audience during The Best FIFA Football Awards 2022

And in a modern context, his status remains unrivalled. Carli Lloyd, who twice won the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ with USA revealed the influence that The King had on her throughout her career. “I wasn’t lucky enough to be born early enough to witness Pelé playing on a field,” said Lloyd. “He not only transcended the sport globally but he also played for the New York Cosmos and I grew up in New Jersey.

“When I grew up as a little girl playing soccer from the age of 5, I always remember hearing about Pelé and the famous number 10 jersey. He ignited a boom in America for football. Because of Pelé people jumped on board and the sport became popular. I was blessed to be able to play for 34 years. “He had a huge impact on America and I am very grateful for that.”