Football legend Pele dies aged 82

Thursday, December 29th, 2022 22:25 | By
Football legend Pele dies aged 82
Football legend Pele. PHOTO/Courtesy

Pele, the Brazilian who has long been considered the greatest footballer of all time, has died at the age of 82.

The legendary figure, a man who transcended his sport and was a global icon, learned that his colon cancer had advanced on December 21 and was told he would be kept in hospital over Christmas - with the iconic forward needing treatment for cardiac and renal dysfunction.

Previously he had been admitted to the hospital on November 30 with swelling all over his body and 'decompensated heart failure' before passing away a month on after receiving palliative care.

No details have been made public yet about the funeral, but a vigil will be held at Vila Belmiro in Santos, the city where the great will be buried. 

Pele, who had been undergoing treatment for metastatic cancer, went into the Albert Einstein hospital in what was an unscheduled visit after being taken by his wife Marcia Aoki and a carer. 

Medical staff at the Einstein confirmed his condition of anasarca (general swelling), an edemigemic syndrome (general edema) and even identified 'decompensated heart failure'.

It had also been reported that his chemotherapy treatment on his cancer was no longer working, while he was diagnosed with mental confusion upon entering the hospital, where he was restless.

According to reports, the former footballer was reportedly struggling to eat. Medics looked at the likelihood of him having a hepatic encephalopathy - a nervous system disorder brought on by severe liver disease. 

His wife implied his hospital visit was only for his standard chemotherapy and check-ups and his daughter Kely Nascimento insisted there was no need need for alarm and that there was 'no surprise or emergency' involved with her father being in hospital.

'It’s my pleasure to announce this years honorees will be @grassrootsoccer for their leadership in adolescent health over the past 20 years, @cristiano for his excellence on and off the field highlighted by his endless commitment to children’s causes, and @globalempowermentmission for their inspirational work helping Ukrainian refugees.

As today is Giving Tuesday, join me in celebrating this year’s honorees for their amazing work using fútbol to change the world!'

He also congratulated Argentina and Lionel Messi on winning the World Cup in Qatar, writing: 'Today, football continues to tell its story, as always, in an enthralling way. Messi winning his first World Cup, as his trajectory deserved. My dear friend, Mbappé, scoring four goals in a final. What a gift it was to watch this spectacle to the future of our sport. And I couldn't fail to congratulate Morocco for the incredible campaign. It's great to see Africa shine. Congratulations Argentina! Certainly Diego is smiling now.' 

Pele's had also posted on social media on his 82nd birthday on October 23. 'On my birthday, I just want to express my gratitude. Life is good. Turning 82 with my family, in good health, is the best gift. Thank you for everything I have received.'

On August 29, Pele posted a picture of him alongside his wife on Instagram in response to suggestions his health was deteriorating and said: 'I send this photo to you, just to say thank you. I am so grateful for my wife, for the laughs, for the peace of my home, and for all your loving messages.

'I am doing very well and taking care of my health. I had to post this as there are fake news circulating on this subject. Of course I am disappointed, but that won't let me down. I'm winning this match. Thank you very much!' 

He had been undergoing chemotherapy for a colon tumour that was removed last September, and returned to Sao Paulo's Albert Einstein Hospital on February 13. While in hospital he contracted a urinary infection and underwent an endoscopy, which left him weak and having difficulty eating and speaking.

Prior to his admission, Pele had been living at his home in Guaruja, outside Sao Paulo and posting updates on his health on social media. 

On February 13, he said: 'Friends, as I have been doing monthly, I am going to the hospital to continue my treatment.

'I've already ordered a big TV and popcorn so I can watch the Super Bowl later. I will watch the match even though my friend @tombrady is not playing.

'Thanks for all the loving messages.'

Pele had been recovering from surgery last year, and although he was readmitted to hospital on several occasions he took to Instagram to inform his fans that he was 'continuing to smile every day'. 

After finishing his last chemotherapy session of 2021, he had said, alongside a picture of him clenching his fist: 'I wanted to share this achievement with you. After all, every little victory is a reason to celebrate, don't you think?' 

His condition had deteriorated in the months which followed and he was in and out of hospital before being admitted to Einstein on November 30.

Pele rose to superstardom by winning the 1958 World Cup, scoring six goals at the 1958 tournament when aged just 17. Two of those goals came in the final against the hosts, Sweden, including one of football's most iconic strikes, a flick over a defender's head and volleyed finish. 

He had made light of his health problems in an Instagram post following his surgery last September, saying that he had left intensive care, appearing in good spirits while smiling for the camera, and even joking he was now ready to play '90 minutes and extra time!'    

Pele's public appearances were already being cut before the Covid-19 pandemic and he made few forays outside his house since. He had to use walkers and wheelchairs to move around during recent years, after a failed hip replacement in 2012.

He required surgery on his prostate in 2015, having been admitted to hospital twice in the space of six months.

In 2019, he was admitted again for a urinary infection - and in February 2020 his son Edinho said Pele was reluctant to leave the house because of hip issues.  

'He is very sheepish, reclusive,' he said. 'Imagine, he's the King, he was always such an imposing figure and today he can't walk properly.

'He's embarrassed, he doesn't want to go out, be seen, or do practically anything that involves leaving the house.'

It is a far cry from Pele's youth, when he changed football forever with his dazzling skill, lightning pace and deadly shooting.

He was named the joint winner, alongside Diego Maradona of Argentina, of FIFA's Player of the Century award in 2000. In 1999 he was named Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee.

He is also credited with coining the phrase 'the beautiful game', which has since become synonymous with football. 

Such was his influence, Pele was included in Time's list of the 100 most important people of the 20th century, along with the likes of Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill.   

Even in Brazil's 1970 World Cup-winning side, which is famed as the greatest team ever to play international football, he is still viewed as the brightest of all the stars. He won the Ballon d'Or, football's most prestigious annual award for the world's best player, seven times. In Brazil, he is lauded as a god-like figure, while he remains adored the world over.

The feats over the last decade and more of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have led to many hailing them as the greatest footballers ever, while Maradona is also considered a better player than Pele by a huge number of fans. 

But many of the other players considered among the best of all time have hailed Pele as the greatest of them all. Johan Cruyff said Pele 'was the only footballer who surpassed the boundaries of logic', while German legend Franz Beckenbauer Pele 'is the greatest player of all time. He reigned supreme for 20 years. There's no one to compare with him'. Ferenc Puskas said: 'The greatest player in history was (Alfredo) Di Stefano. I refuse to classify Pele as a player. He was above that.'

Pele is also famed for his sportsmanship, with his warm embrace of England captain Bobby Moore following their titanic battle at the 1970 World Cup one of the defining images of his career. Moore once said of him: 'Pele was the most complete player I've ever seen, he had everything. Two good feet. Magic in the air. Quick. Powerful. Could beat people with skill. Could outrun people. Only five feet and eight inches tall, yet he seemed a giant of an athlete on the pitch. Perfect balance and impossible vision. He was the greatest because he could do anything and everything on a football pitch.'

Including Kely Nascimento and Edinho, Pele had seven known children, although it is claimed that he fathered more. In a Netflix documentary, Pele admitted that he had so many affairs that he had lost count of them and had no idea how many children he had. He married Marcia Aoki in 2016, having been married twice previously.

When his playing career ended in 1977 following a spell at New York Cosmos, where his superstardom helped to kick-start widespread public awareness of soccer in the United States, Pele earned huge sums endorsing products, and also became involved in ambassadorial work, including for UNESCO. He also played a role in helping Rio de Janeiro win the hosting rights for the 2016 Olympics. 

But his legacy remains simple and summed up by his enduring nickname: the King. 

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