Memories of Pelé (1940 – 2022): The Most Beloved Football Player of All Time

“I think the secret to success is to respect people, to be prepared, always, and then never never think that you are the best” — Pelé (watch VOA video clip, below)


When the FIFA World Cup began in Qatar on November 20, 2022, our thoughts were with Pelé as he was reported to be in the last stages of his life. Of course, for that reason alone, many neutrals would have wished for Brazil to win the world cup in honour of everyone’s favourite, Pelé. Brazil were eventually defeated in the quarter finals in a penalty shootout against Croatia; Pelé continued to live but finally succumbed to his illness on Thursday, December 29, 2022, at the age of 82.

The entire sporting world is in mourning and tributes are pouring in from footballers and football fans from around the world — and even from world leaders! Both President Biden and former President Obama have issued their own sentiments and feelings about the death of the king of soccer, Pelé, who defined football as the beautiful game. With players like him and his contemporary the great Eusébio  (d. 2014) of Portugal, Argentina’s Diego Maradonna (d. 2020), France’s Zinedine Zidane, Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, Holland’s Johan Cruyff (d. 2016) and others, as well as today’s rising star Mbappe of PSG and France along with the astonishing Messi and Ronaldo who would not agree with that definition?

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Pelé pictured before facing Boca Juniors in the second leg of 1963 Copa Libertadores Finals at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires. He is the all-time leading goalscorer for Santos FC. Photograph: Via Wikipedia, Public Domain..

In the late 1950’s and during the 1960’s, young kids like me growing up in Africa became fans of Brazil for one reason alone: Pelé. Our hearts would break and we would be plunged into utter sadness for days after Brazil’s loss, and this was felt in 1966 when Brazil failed to win the third consecutive world cup after winning the 1958 and 1962 world cups, with Pelé being instrumental in those successes.

Pelé (Number 10) dribbles past 3 players in the 1958 World Cup against Sweden. Photograph: Public domain

We would all show up at the air conditioned (New) Chox cinema in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to watch the highlights of the world cup that had been condensed into a film of 90 minutes. The cinema showings were jam packed and it was like being in a real football match. Emotions ran high. It was painful to see Brazil lose and not proceed beyond the group stage in 1966 — Pelé was apparently hacked down with tackles and fouls throughout the group round matches and especially against Bulgaria. The knee injury he sustained made him ineffective in the last group game against Portugal. Four year later, in 1970, we were bubbling with joy as we watched Brazil win the world cup for the third time with Pelé at centre stage.

Pelé and Benfica’s Eusébio Visit Mozambique

In the late fifties, I was in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) and Brazil brought a team to Mozambique, composed of Pelé along with other Brazilian star players — Didi, Vava, Garrincha and so on. But I was still very young to recall much about the match. However the name Pelé remained transfixed in my mind from that moment onwards. Another great footballer — he was actually born in Mozambique — was no other than Eusébio, who was nicknamed the Black Panther. He ended up playing in Portugal for Benfica, who became the Portuguese champions in 1961/2 and went on to defeat Real Madrid in the European Cup (now known as the UEFA Champions League) in 1962, a game that I listened live at Aziz Noorali’s place, my next door neighbour. Eusébio scored in a stunning 5-3 victory.

Benfica toured Mozambique and brought their star player Eusébio to play against the Mozambique national side at either the Desportivo or Sporting Stadium (they were adjacent to each other). An Ismaili name Sattar Issa, a central defender, played for the Mozambique team. Though thoroughly thrashed by Benfica 7-3 with Eusebio scoring 3 or 4 goals, Sattar’s performance impressed Benfica so much that it was rumoured he would be leaving Mozambique to play for Benfica. However, that did not materialize. One other outstanding Ismaili player before Sattar who played for the league team Ferroviário and also the Mozambique national side was the late Amir Ismail, whose final home was in Vancouver. My mum was a fan of his and she would warn him to go to bed early and not go about galavanting at night before game day. He deeply respected my parents, as did Sattar, who was also a hard hitting cricket batsman. There were other Ismaili football stars including Amir Merali — I think he and Sattar played for rival teams, Sporting and Desportivo. In one crucial game between the two teams that I attended — and, I think, it was the season’s final and deciding game to determine the league winner — Sattar left his defensive position in the last two minutes to go into the penalty area at the other end as it was a must win game. Alas, there was a counter attack and Sattar’s team lost the match! For us, who had known Sattar for years, it was a heart breaking moment.

Over the past several hours, I have been reading obituaries on Pelé and I am sharing with our readers the one that has appeared on Voice of America below. The two minute clip on Pelé is also worth watching and one thing that struck me the most was Pele’s words: “I think the secret to success is to respect people, to be prepared always and then never never think that you are the best.”

Pele and Eusebio Simerg

Pelé (left) and Eusébio. Photograph: Thesefootballtimes

Of course, with regard to who is the best footballer of all time, the argument will bever be settled. But on examining Pelé’s footballing career and his impact around the world, as well as his accomplishments as an ambassador of football and a great humanitarian, I have to say I love him more than any other footballer in our time. I have fond memories of Eusébio too as I was almost 9 when I watched him in Lourenço Marques for Benfica. They were both outstanding individuals and footballers and I am glad I came across a superb piece by Paul Mc Parlan entitled “Remembering three rare but momentous occasions when Pele and Eusebio squared off.” Please read Parlan’s article, especially if you know who Eusébio was and were his admirer.


Obituary: Brazilian Football Legend Pele Dies at 82

World Mourns Pele, Simerg

Fans of Brazilian football legend Pele hang a banner reading “Eternal King Pele” outside the Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital, where Pele died after a long battle with cancer, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Dec. 29, 2022. Photograph: AFP/Via VOA


Brazilian football legend Pele, who burst onto the world scene as a goal-scoring teenager and led his national team to an unprecedented three World Cup titles, died Thursday at the age of 82.

He was hospitalized in late November, and doctors said in December he was dealing with cancer that had advanced along with kidney and cardiac problems. In September 2021, he had surgery to remove a tumor from his colon.

The Albert Einstein hospital, where Pele was being treated, said in a statement that he died of multiple organ failure.

“Everything we are is thanks to you. We love you infinitely. Rest in peace,” daughter Kely Nascimento wrote on Instagram.

Widely considered one of the greatest football players of all time, Pele dazzled on the World Cup stage for Brazil and in club games and international tours with his team Santos before helping generate a surge of excitement around the sport in the United States with a late-career stint with the New York Cosmos.

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento on Oct. 23, 1940, in Tres Coracoes, about 250 kilometers northwest of Rio de Janeiro, Pele signed with Santos at the age of 15.

By 16, he was part of Brazil’s national team, and in 1958 he made his World Cup debut at age 17. He is the youngest player to ever score in the men’s World Cup and the youngest to ever score three goals in one game, which he accomplished in Brazil’s second match of the tournament.

17-year-old Pelé cries on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar after Brazil won the 1958 World Cup final. Photograph" Wikipedia/Public domain.
17-year-old Pelé cries on the shoulder of goalkeeper Gilmar after Brazil won the 1958 World Cup final. Photograph” Wikipedia/Public domain.

Two more goals in the tournament’s final match helped Pele lead Brazil to the championship. He won two more World Cups with Brazil, in 1962 and 1970.

His international career included 77 goals in 92 matches, and he was named FIFA’s co-player of the 20th century along with Argentina’s Diego Maradona.

After retiring from Santos and international duty, Pele joined the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League in 1975 and played three seasons there.

In his post-football life, Pele served as Brazil’s sports minister and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization appointed him UNESCO Champion for Sport for what it said was his “outstanding commitment to promote sport and help disadvantaged children.”


In 2020, Pele tweeted that he was proud of his relationship with the U.N., as well as his involvement in campaigns to promote breastfeeding in Brazil and to eradicate illiteracy.

“Today, I insist on being involved in good causes, both with NGO’s, Public institutions and my sponsors,” he posted. “This is part of my legacy and I applaud other football legends that have also been following this path, using the beautiful game to make the world better.”

Brazil has declared three days of mourning, and the arch at Wembley Stadium in London has been lighted in Brazil’s colors.

“I had the privilege that younger Brazilians didn’t have: I saw Pele play, live, at Pacaembu and Morumbi. Play, no. I saw Pele give a show,” said Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the president-elect of Brazil.

“Because when he got the ball, he always did something special, which often ended up in a goal,” he said.

Neymar, a fellow Brazilian and star for Paris Saint-Germain, said that before Pele, soccer was just a sport.

“He transformed football into an art, into entertainment. … Football and Brazil gained status thanks to the King. He has gone, but his magic will remain. Pele is ETERNAL!” Neymar wrote on Instagram.

French star Kylian Mbappe said Pele’s legacy will endure.

“The king of football has left us but his legacy will never be forgotten. RIP KING.” Mbappe said via Twitter.

“Rest in peace, Pele,” Argentina’s World Cup-winning captain Lionel Messi tweeted Thursday.

Some information for this report in VOA came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

Date posted: December 30, 2022.

Credit for featured (collage) image at top of post: (Left) Pelé dribbling past a defender while playing for Brazil, May 1960 (public domain), and a portrait of Pelé by John Mathew Smith from Laurel Maryland, US. CC BY-SA 2.0



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