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Football Legend Pele Dies at 82; World Leaders, Sports Stars, Grieving Fans Pay Tribute

Arguably the world’s greatest footballer, Pele won the World Cup in 1958, 1962 and 1970.

President Muhammadu Buhari has joined world leaders in expressing grief over the death of Brazilian soccer legend, Edson Arantes do Nascimento (a.k.a Pele), who died Thursday evening in a Sao Paolo hospital aged 82 years.


Arguably the world’s greatest footballer, Pele, won three World Cups in 1958, 1962 and 1970. He is credited with scoring a record 1,281 goals during a 21-year long sterling career for which FIFA named him the “Player of the Century” in the year 2000.

In a tribute to the late football hero on behalf of Nigerians, President Buhari, in a statement issued Thursday by his spokesperson, Mallam Garba Shehu, said, “May he rest in peace. He led a good life and made a huge contribution to the development of global football in particular and world sport in general.


“He had an enormous generosity of spirit and humility despite his greatness as a footballer and sportsman. He also built bridges across nations, races and even religions. He was a UN Ambassador of goodwill. Pele is gone but the world will never forget him. RIP,” concludes President Buhari in the tribute last night.


President of France, Emmanuel Macron also joined other world leaders in paying tribute to the Brazilian football legend. He wrote on his Twitter handle: “The game. The King. Eternity”, the French president wrote the message in both French and Portuguese.
Former President of the United States, Barack Obama also shared picture of him holding a Brazilian jersey autographed by Pele with the legend seated on a wheelchair. He wrote on Twitter: “Pele was one of the greatest to ever play the Beautiful Game. And as one of the most recognisable athletes in the world, he understood the power of sports to bring people together. Our thoughts are with his family and everyone who loved and admired him.”


Other icons of the game like Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Argentina petit bomber, Lionel Messi, France super star, Kylian Mbappe and retired Jamaican speedster and world record holder in both the 100m and 200m, Usain Bolt, were amongst the earlier sports personalities that spoke glowingly of the departed Brazilian.


Ronaldo wrote on Instagram: “My deep condolences to all of Brazil, and in particular to the family of Edson Arantes do Nascimento.
“A mere ‘goodbye’ to the eternal King Pele will never be enough to express the pain that the entire football world is currently feeling. An inspiration to so many millions, a reference yesterday, today and forever.


“The love you always showed me was reciprocated in every moment we shared even from distance. He will never be forgotten and his memory will live forever in each and every one of us football lovers. Rest in peace King Pele.”
In his tribute, Messi posted a picture of the pair together with the message, “Rest in peace”.


Brazil’s current No.10 Neymar also wrote: “Before Pelé, 10 was just a number. I’ve read this phrase somewhere, at some point in my life. But this sentence, beautiful, is incomplete. I would say before Pelé, football was just a sport. Pelé has changed it all.”


“He turned football into art, into entertainment. He gave voice to the poor, to the blacks and especially, he gave visibility to Brazil. Soccer and Brazil have raised their status, thanks to the King! He’s gone but his magic remains. Pelé is FOREVER!!”
Mbappe also wrote:  “The king of football has left us but his legacy will never be forgotten. RIP KING
England captain Harry Kane said: “We send our best wishes to him and all his family from the whole England set-up. He’s an inspiration, an incredible person.”


The Brazilian Football Confederation said: “Pele was much more than the greatest sportsperson of all time.
“Our king of football was the greatest exponent of a victorious Brazil, who was never afraid when faced with difficulty. He promised his father a World Cup and he presented us with three.


“The King gave us a new Brazil and we are so thankful for his legacy. Thank you, Pele.”
Pele who has been battling kidney and prostrate illnesses in the last couple of years, died Thursday evening at the Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital in Sao Paolo.


According to his daughter, Kely Nascimento, Pele needed care for cardiac and renal dysfunction, having been battling with colon cancer diagnosed in September 2021.


She kept fans of the legend of the Beautiful Game constantly updated on her father’s condition with regular social media updates from the hospital.
But less than five hours after issuing a statement from the hospital, explaining nothing new about his condition, Pele breathed his last to throw the global football community into mourning.


Kely Nascimento later released a picture of what appeared to be Pele’s family’s hands on his body in hospital and wrote: “Everything we are is thanks to you. We love you infinitely. Rest in Peace.”


The hospital confirmed that Pele died “due to the failure of multiple organs, a result of the progression of colon cancer associated with his previous clinical condition”.


Of the 1,281 goals scored by Pele in 1,363 appearances during a 21-year career, 77 of them were for Brazil national team in 92 matches.
He was the only player to have won the World Cup three times, lifting the trophy in 1958, 1962 and 1970 and was named FIFA’s Player of the Century in 2000.


Pele had surgery to remove a tumour from his colon in September 2021 at the same Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo, after the tumour was detected in routine medical tests. He was readmitted to hospital in late November 2022.


Before Brazil played their last group match with Cameroon at the World Cup in Qatar early this month, their fans paid glowing tribute to the legend, displaying his iconic Number 10 jersey with a large banner. It was a reminder and a get-well message to the legend who was then battling to stay alive. He was reported to have watched games involving the Selecao and sent them goodwill messages. But unfortunately, Brazil failed to live the dream of lifting the trophy one more time in Pele’s life-time.


Pele became a global star when, aged 17, he helped Brazil win the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, forcing his way into the starting line-up by the knockout stages.


He scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Wales in the quarter-finals, a hat-trick against France in the semi-final and two in a 5-2 triumph over the hosts in the final.


Pele had made his debut for club side Santos two years earlier at the age of 15, scoring in a 7-1 win over Corinthians de Santo Andre.
It was the first of 643 goals he would score for the club in official competitions over 19 years, although Santos claim the total is more than 1,000 once exhibition matches – often against high-profile European opposition – are taken into account.
The Brazilian Football Confederation and Santos say Pele scored 1,283 goals in 1,367 matches, while FIFA claims it was 1,281 goals in 1,366 games.


At the 1962 World Cup, Pele, then 21, scored a brilliant individual goal in a 2-0 win over Mexico to open their campaign, but was injured in the next match and watched from the sidelines as his team defended their title.


The final part of his trilogy of World Cup wins was his most iconic. After being fouled out of the 1966 tournament in England, he was the fulcrum of a thrilling attacking team that swept to the title in 1970, scoring the opening goal in a 4-1 win over Italy in the final.

From his joyful tears on the chest of team-mate Nilton Santos to his embrace with England captain Bobby Moore, Pele’s moments of magic spanned eras and defined the history of the sport.

Duro Ikhazuagbe and Deji Elumoye in Abuja

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