Pele leaves a legacy “impossible to summarise in words” but FIFA president Gianni Infantino believes the Brazil great “achieved immortality” after his death on Thursday.
Sao Paolo’s Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital confirmed multiple organ failure as the cause of death for the three-time World Cup winner, who many consider to be the greatest footballer of all time.
The Santos legend had been battling colon cancer, with his family travelling to join him earlier in December after being moved into palliative care when his body stopped responding to treatment.
The likes of Lionel Messi, Ronaldo Nazario and Cristiano Ronaldo paid tribute to the 82-year-old before Infantino joined a plethora of players, clubs and sporting organisations to offer their kind recollections.
“For everyone who loves the beautiful game, this is the day we never wanted to come. The day we lost Pele,” Infantino wrote in a statement published by FIFA.
“‘O Rei’ [The King] was unique in so many ways. He was the only player to have won the World Cup three times and his skill and imagination were incomparable.
“Pele did things that no other player would even dream of, such as the famous dummy in the 1970 World Cup semi-final that became known as the Pele run-around.
“Or the goal he scored in the 1958 World Cup final as a 17-year-old when he flicked the ball over a defender and volleyed it into the net.
“The sight of him punching the air in celebration is one of the most iconic in our sport, and is etched into our history.
“In fact, because televised football was still in his infancy at the time, we only saw small glimpses of what he was capable of.”
A legacy that will live on forever
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) December 29, 2022
Pele, who scored 643 goals in 659 matches for Santos over an 18-year period, helped Brazil to World Cup success in 1958, 1962 and 1970 – no player in the tournament’s history has won it more often.
He remains the youngest player to ever win the competition and the youngest to score in the final after achieving the remarkable feat when he was just 17 years and 249 days old.
His 77-goal international haul still stands as a Brazilian record despite Neymar matching the benchmark in Qatar with a quarter-final strike against Croatia, leading Infantino to hail Pele’s legacy.
“Most importantly, ‘The King’ rose to the throne with a smile on his face. Football could be brutal in those days, and Pele was often on the receiving end of some rough treatment,” he continued.
“But, while he knew how to stand up for himself, he was always an exemplary sportsman, with genuine respect for his opponents. I had the great privilege of meeting him on several occasions.
“The moments spent with him will forever remain in my memory and in my heart. Pele had a magnetic presence and, when you were with him, the rest of the world stopped.
“His life is about more than football. He changed perceptions for the better in Brazil, in South America and across the world. His legacy is impossible to summarise in words.
“To his family and friends, to CBF [the Brazilian Football Confederation], to Brazil and to all football fans who loved him so much, I express my sincere condolences.
“Today, we all mourn the loss of the physical presence of our dear Pele, but he achieved immortality a long time ago and therefore he will be with us for eternity.”
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