Legendary Pele – story of a wonderful life
Pele, who is the only player to have won three World Cups, has passed away at the age of 82 after a long battle with a serious illness. The Brazil legend died in hospital surrounded by his family. Pele had been lying unconscious in hospital for days, unable to defeat the disease that was overtaking his body. Eleven days after the 2022 World Cup final, the entire football world is mourning one of the greatest players the Globe has ever seen.
At one time, there was no – there could be no – doubt that Pele, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento on 23 October 1940, was the world’s greatest footballer. If we only start from the fact that he is the only player in history to win three World Cups, raising any doubt becomes completely unjustified as there is no one else on earth who has achieved this feat, Hungarian portal Origo writes.
At the same time, football has changed so much over the decades that today Lionel Messi, one-time World Cup winner of Argentina, or Cristiano Ronaldo, who has not won a World Cup, are elevated by millions to come alongside Pele. At the time when Pele played, football was purely a sport with little business influence. Today, however, a single player in the game can influence and change the lives of hundreds of millions with his appearance or with a single sentence, picture or post. This is something that Pele was not – could not be – capable of doing. He “simply” played football – and played like no one else.
He was not yet 18 years old when he won his first World Cup gold, defeating hosts Sweden in 1958. He scored his first world championship goal against Wales in the quarter-finals, helping Brazil win the match 1-0. In the semi-final against France he scored a hat-trick with Brazil winning 5-2 and stroked two goals past Sweden in the final, as Brazil won 5-2 once again. With his 6 goals, he would be the top scorer today, at that time this was enough for a tie for second spot, because Just Fontaine of France finished first with 13 goals.
Four years later, the Brazilian national team defended its title at the world championship in Chile, with Pele becoming a two-time World Cup winner at the age of 21. In the first match against Mexico, Pele scored one of Brazil’s two goals, and then in the second match against Czechoslovakia ending in a 0-0 draw, he suffered such a serious hamstring injury that he could not play again in this tournament. Nevertheless, he became two-time world champion on 17 June 1962. At the 1966 World Cup in England, he was fouled and the Brazilian squad – also defeated by the Hungarian national team – was eliminated, leaving Pele without a medal this time.
In the 1970 World Cup hosted by Mexico, Brazil’s all-time strongest and greatest national team won the cup undefeated. Pele scored one goal for the Czechoslovak team and two goals for the Romanians during the group matches. His next goal came in the final: he scored the first goal in the final against Italy, ending with a 4-1 victory for Brazil. This was Pele’s last appearance and goal at a world cup, no one could see him play again at a world championship.
Due to an injury, he could not be on the pitch in the 1966 Hungary-Brazil match, which ended with a 3-1 Hungarian victory, and he was also unable to play in the Brazil-Hungary friendly match, which ended 0-0 on 22 July, 1971, because four days earlier he retired from the Brazilian national team after a last match against Yugoslavia. Thus, Pele never played against Hungary in national team matches, but he did in club football. Of these, the 1967 Hexagonal Cup games are worth recalling, including the Santos-Vasas clash, which ended in a 2-2 tie and in which Pele also played. At the end of the tournament, Janos Farkas emerged the top scorer shooting 7 goals, while Pele was second with 5 goals.
Pele scored 1,281 (according to other calculations 1,284) goals in 1,363 matches, which earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records. His goals per game average was a dazzling 0.93. In 1958, he scored 139 goals in one season in the Sao Paulo state championships. He found the back of the net 97 times in his 111 matches on the national team (or 77 times in 92 according to stricter principles). He scored the thousandth goal of his career, coveted by all of Brazil, on 19 November 1969 from a penalty shot. The match was then interrupted, the celebrating crowd carried him off the pitch on their shoulders, and the national post office issued a stamp on the occasion of the magnificent event. Between 1956 and 1971, Pele was a five-time Brazilian champion and ten-time top scorer, and in 1961 was named a national treasure, to prevent him from being transferred out of the country. Many believe that he would have stood his ground in any position, since in 1964, after scoring three goals in one match, he replaced the goalkeeper, and after performing several excellent saves, came off the pitch without conceding a goal.
His memoir was also a great success, and he appeared in several documentaries and feature films. On 1 June 1980, he arrived in Budapest to play football because the film Escape to Victory – co-produced by Andy Vajna, who was at the beginning of his Hollywood career – was partly filmed in the Hungarian capital. Pele’s stay in Hungary was met with enormous interest, he kicked off the friendly match between Hungary and Austria played in the Nepstadion [People’s stadium] on 4 June 1980. The football great arrived for the film shoot from London. He was the biggest star of the production, even if the Oscar-winning director John Huston’s film featured a real parade of stars, with many of the acting giants of the time, like the great British artist Michael Caine, who later won two Oscars, or Ingmar Bergman’s legendary actor Max von Sydow having roles in the film. On the one hand, Pele served as an expert in the film – the actors had to be taught the basic elements of football, because, for example, Sylvester Stallone was particularly clumsy in handling the ball.
On the other hand, since he was there, they included him in the game, playing a Trinidadian soldier. Few people know that among the Hungarian players, the later coach and national team captain, Sandor Egervari, who had to kick Pele in one of the scenes, also received a role. Egervari could only be persuaded to do what they asked of him after considerable pressuring from the director. In the end, the scene was so authentic and convincing that Director John Huston stood up and applauded when Egervari kicked the three-time world champion on the second day of filming.
The world first learned of the legendary Brazilian player’s battle with cancer on 6 September 2021. In the last 15 months, his struggle with the killer disease took place practically before our eyes, but he did not win this fight. News of his deteriorating condition had come during the recent World Cup in Qatar, but he was still able to watch the game of the Brazilian national team and its elimination in the quarter-finals. His passing is an irreparable loss for the sports world, universal football and for everyone who loved and respected him.