World football legend Pelé, dies at 82
The Brazilian icon was one of the greatest to ever play on a football pitch and was one of the sport's first global stars.
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Pelé, one of the world's first-ever global football stars — who led Brazil to its second, third and fourth World Cup titles — passed away at 82 years old on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, after a long battle with cancer.
Just as the 2022 Qatar World Cup began, Pelé was hospitalized as his colon cancer worsened, and the world of football held its breath.
Despite the dread, the sporting legend was still able to keep up with the spectacle, cheering on his native Brazil and offering words of support to its captain, Neymar, upon the team's shock exit in the quarterfinals against Croatia.
“Keep inspiring us,” read part of Pelé's message to Neymar. “I will keep punching the air with joy for every goal you score, as I did in every match I saw you on the pitch.”
That inspiration is something the Brazilian legend brought to the world from the moment he first stepped on the pitch as a professional player in 1956 at just 15 years old.
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento on Oct. 23, 1940 in Três Corações, Minas Gerais, Brazil, Pelé was named after famed American inventor Thomas Edison. His dad was also a professional football player who bounced around to a number of teams in Brazil.
The name 'Pelé' came from his friends, who would imitate his way of pronouncing his favorite player's name — Bilé, the then-goalkeeper for one of Brazil's most storied clubs, Vasco de Gama.
He grew up in poverty in Bauru in the state of São Paulo. It is there where the legend of Pelé began, first kicking socks stuffed with newspapers in place of affording an actual football, and his story of rags to riches would inspire millions throughout his 21-year career.
It started at 15 with Santos, where Pelé would be a part of Os Santásticos between 1959 and 1974, which saw the club be one of the most successful in the world — winning 25 titles, including two Copa Libertadores — and ended in the U.S. with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League.
On the world stage, Pelé is still the only player in football history to ever win three World Cups for his country, which he did in 1958, 1962, and 1970.
When it was all said and done, Pelé was one of the most prolific goal scorers of all time and undoubtedly the world's best to ever set foot on a pitch. He is credited with beginning the association of the phrase 'The Beautiful Game' with football, and scored 655 total goals in his club career and 77 for his country — a record he now jointly holds with Neymar following the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
The tributes poured in following news of the legend's death. One of the first to honor Pelé was the one who follows most closely in his footsteps.
"Before Pelé, '10' was just a number. I read this sentence somewhere, at some point in my life. But this beautiful sentence is incomplete," wrote Neymar in an Instagram post. "I would say that before Pelé, soccer was just a sport. Pelé changed everything."