By Jeremy Wilson
Presidents, celebrities and football legends past and present have paid heartfelt tributes to Pelé, who was described by the Brazilian Football Confederation as “the greatest sportsman of all time”.
Lionel Messi, the finest player of the modern generation and Argentina’s new World Cup-winning captain, posted photographs on Instagram of himself with the Brazilian icon. “Rest in peace, Pelé,” Messi wrote.
Sir Bobby Charlton, England’s greatest ever player, said that Pelé “was a truly magical footballer and a wonderful human being” with whom it was “an honour to have shared a pitch”.
As well as being the only player in football history to win the World Cup three times, Pelé’s influence as the most recognisable and celebrated personality in Brazilian history was hailed following his death at the age of 82.
“Pelé was one of the greatest to ever play the beautiful game and, as one of the most recognisable athletes in the world, he understood the power of sports to bring people together,” said former United States president Barack Obama.
The English Football Association lit the Wembley arch in the colours of the Brazilian flag.
“Everyone who loves football, loves Pelé,” said an FA statement. “His unique talent lit up the game, and inspired football. Our thoughts are with his family, the Brazil Football Confederation and the Brazilian people.”
Sir Geoff Hurst, who was in the England team with Charlton that were beaten 1-0 by Pelé’s Brazil at the 1970 World Cup, said that he was “without doubt the best footballer I ever played against” and still “the greatest” player of all-time.
“I was proud to be on the pitch with him – RIP Pelé and thank you,” said Hurst, who scored a hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final.
Neymar, who has succeeded Pelé in the iconic Brazil No.10 shirt, said: “Before Pelé, 10 was just a number. Before Pelé, football was just a sport. Pelé has changed it all. He turned football into art, into entertainment. He gave voice to the poor, to the blacks and, especially, he gave visibility to Brazil. He’s gone but his magic remains.”
Pelé’s former club, FC Santos simply posted a crown with the word: “Eterno (eternal)”, while the Brazilian Football Confederation gave thanks for his legacy.
“The King of Soccer was the ultimate exponent of a victorious Brazil, never afraid of any difficulty,” said a statement. “A black, poor boy born in Tres Coracoes, Pelé showed us that there is always a new path. He promised his father he would win a World Cup and he won us three.”
Current football greats, including Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, also paid personal tributes. “A simple goodbye to the eternal King Pelé will never be enough to express the pain that hits the entire world of football at this moment,” said Ronaldo. “The affection he has always shown for me was reciprocal in every moment we shared. He will never be forgotten and his memory will last forever in each and everyone of us football lovers. Rest in peace, King Pelé.”
Kylian Mbappe who, with Pelé, is the only teenager to both score in and win a World Cup final, said: “The king of football has left us but his legacy will never be forgotten.”
Gary Lineker, the former England captain, described Pelé as “the most divine of footballers and joyous of men”.
He added: “He played a game only a few chosen ones have come close to. Three times he lifted the most coveted gold trophy in that beautiful yellow shirt. He may have left us but he’ll always have footballing immortality. RIP Pele.”
Germany’s World Cup-winning captain and manager Franz Beckenbauer, who played with Pelé later in his career at New York Cosmos, said: “Today, football lost the greatest man in its history – and I lost a unique friend.”
Tributes also poured in from outside sport, including the France president Emmanuel Macron who simply tweeted the words: “Le Jeu (The Game). Le Roi (The King). L’Eternite (Eternity)” and Brazil’s president-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
“He went to be in heaven with Coutinho, his great partner at Santos,” said Da Silva. “He now has the company of so many eternal stars: Didi, Garrincha, Nilton Santos, Sócrates, Maradona. He left one certainty: there has never been a number 10 like him. Thank you, Pele.”
The world pays tribute to an icon, as it happened
Pele’s life and career in pictures
Take a look through our gallery of pictures here, showcasing the life of the Brazilian great.
Wembley pays tribute
‘Today, I lost a unique friend’
Former US President Barack Obama:
Pele was one of the greatest to ever play the beautiful game. And as one of the most recognizable athletes in the world, he understood the power of sports to bring people together. Our thoughts are with his family and everyone who loved and admired him.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino:
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. 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.
France manager Didier Deschamps:
With the death of Pele, soccer has lost one of its greatest legends, if not the greatest. Like all legends, the King seemed immortal. He made people dream and continued to do that with generations and generations of lovers of our sport. Who, as a child, didn’t dream of being Pele?
Former Germany captain Franz Beckenbauer:
Today, football lost the greatest man in its history – and I lost a unique friend. Born in Tres Coracoes, Pele had three hearts: for football, for his family and for all people. Someone who played with the stars and always stayed down to earth. I went to the US in 1977 because I really wanted to play on a team with Pele at New York Cosmos. This time at his side was one of the greatest experiences of my career. We became US champions together right away, and Pele then just called me his brother. It was an unimaginable honour for me. Football will always belong to you! you will always remain Thank you for your game, O Rei!
Inside Pele’s complicated relationship with Brazil
By Marcus Alves
In 2014, Brazil’s Datafolha institute conducted a poll to discover the identity of the country’s greatest sportsperson. Neymar, Ronaldo and Garrincha all scraped a few votes but – to observers outside the country – there seemed little doubt who the winner would be. Pele, as a three-time World Cup winner and arguably the greatest footballer of all time, is surely untouchable?
Not quite. In the event, Pele trailed in second – a distant second, too – behind Ayrton Senna, the three-time Formula One world champion who died tragically early in 1994.
It is a curious tension at the heart of the Pele story: why, given the affection he generated in every corner of the planet, were his compatriots never able to fully embrace him?
Read more from Marcus on Pele’s troubled relationship with the Brazilian public after his retirement here.
‘An honour to have shared a pitch with him’
Sir Bobby Charlton reacts:
Pele was a truly magical footballer and a wonderful human being. It was an honour to have shared a pitch with him and I send my sincerest condolences to his family, friends and the Brazilian people.
Denis Law reacts:
This is very sad news indeed…Pele was an unbelievable footballer; he had style, grace, flair and made everything look so easy. The precision in the way he played made him such a joy to watch. However more than anything he was a good man with a great presence and a fantastic smile.
Pele: The greatest footballer of them all
By Jim White
Among the hundreds of goals, the gravity-defying headers, the theatrical dummies, the electric-heeled dribbles and the shots from the halfway line that illuminated Pele’s career, there is one moment that summed him up as a player. And it was a pass.
You will know it. After all, it is perhaps the most famous pass in football history. It came in the final of the 1970 World Cup. Brazil were two goals up against a tiring Italy when Pele received the ball from Jairzinho on the edge of his opponents’ penalty area.
Bringing it immediately under control, he momentarily stood pushing the ball from right to left foot, as if assessing his options. Then, turning suddenly, he passed it apparently out into no-man’s land to the left of the Italian area.
As the ball moved into vacant space, what those of us watching on television could not see was Brazil’s right-back, Carlos Alberto, steaming in from beyond the edge of our screens to meet his perfectly weighted pass and hammer it into the net.
But Pele had seen him all right. And had delivered him a gilt-edged invitation to score. This was a moment of vision, a moment of precision, a moment of geometrical perfection that elevated the mere pass into a work of art.
Read more of Jim’s tribute to Pele here
Some of the greatest pay tribute
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo wrote on Instagram:
My deepest condolences to all of Brazil, and in particular to the family of Mr. Edson Arantes do Nascimento. A mere “goodbye” to the eternal King Pele will never be enough to express the pain that embraces the whole world of football at this moment. An inspiration for so many millions, a reference of yesterday, of today, of always. The affection he always showed for me was reciprocated in all the moments we shared, even at a distance. He will never be forgotten and his memory will last forever in each one of us, football lovers. Rest in peace, King Pele.
Brazil captain Thiago Silva on Instagram:
Rest in peace ‘Rei’ (King), God bless all his family.
Argentina and PSG’s Lionel Messi on Instagram:
Eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt on Twitter:
A Sporting Legend. Rest in Peace King Pele.
Man City striker Erling Haaland:
Everything you see any player doing, Pelé did it first. RIP.
Former England and Man Utd striker Wayne Rooney:
Rest in peace Pele. Legend.
A wake is expected to be held at Santos’ Urbano Caldeira stadium, most commonly known as Vila Belmiro, on Monday.
Before Pele, “10” was just a number. I read that phrase somewhere, at some point in my life. But that phrase, beautiful, is incomplete. I’d say before Pele, football was just a sport. Pele changed everything. He turned football into art, into entertainment.
He gave voice to the poor, to the blacks and especially: It gave visibility to Brazil. Football and Brazil have elevated their status thanks to the King! He’s gone, but his magic will remain. Pele is ETERNAL!!
Kylian Mbappe reacts
Marcus Rashford reacts
How Edson Arantes do Nascimento became Pele
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, in the small city of Tres Coracoes in the interior of Minas Gerais state on Oct. 23, 1940, Pele grew up shining shoes to buy his modest soccer gear.
Pele’s talent drew attention when he was 11, and a local professional player brought him to Santos’ youth squads. It didn’t take long for him to make it to the senior squad.
Despite his youth and 5-foot-8 frame, he scored against grown men with the same ease he displayed against friends back home. He debuted with the Brazilian club at 16 in 1956, and the club quickly gained worldwide recognition.
The name Pele came from him mispronouncing the name of a player called Bile.
The media assembles outside the Albert Einstein hospital
Former Man Utd and England defender Gary Neville reacts
Pele’s career in numbers
Won three World Cup titles with Brazil in 1958, 1962 and 1970 – the only player to have won the showpiece tournament three times.
Became the youngest-ever player to win the World Cup trophy at 17, a record that still stands.
Scored 757 goals in 812 official matches for club and country, a record that stood for decades until Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo eclipsed his tally.
Brazil’s football association and Santos say Pele scored a total of 1,283 goals in 1,367 matches while Fifa puts the figure at 1,281 goals in 1,366 games. Other sources give varying figures depending on the types of games included.
Netted 77 goals in 92 official matches for Brazil – the country’s all-time leading goal scorer, alongside Neymar, who netted his 77th goal in the 2022 World Cup.
Scored 12 goals in World Cups.
Registered six assists at Mexico 1970 – a record for one World Cup.
Scored 92 hat-tricks across official and unofficial games.
Scored 127 goals for Santos in 1959, thought to be the most goals scored by a club player in one calendar year.
Finished as Santos’ top scorer with 643 goals in 659 competitive matches.
Won Brazil’s Serie A six times with Santos (1961-1965 and 1968).
Led Santos to two Copa Libertadores titles (1962 and 1963).
Sir Geoff Hurst reacts
Wembley arch to be lit in the colours of Brazil’s flag
Classy touch by the Football Association. They said in a statement:
Everyone who loves football, loves Pele. His unique talent lit up the game, and inspired football. Our thoughts are with his family, the Brazil Football Confederation and the Brazilian people.
French president Emmanuel Macron reacts
Watch: The life and times of Pele
Pele’s former club reacts to the sad news
BBC’s Gary Lineker reacts
‘We love you infinitely’
Pele’s daughter Kely Nascimento wrote on Instagram:
We are thanks to you. We love you infinitely. Rest in peace.
Breaking news: Pele dies aged 82
Pele – considered by many to be the greatest footballer of all time – has died at the age of 82.
A three-time World Cup-winner with Brazil, Pele – along with Diego Maradona – was the defining footballer of the 20th century and was named along with the Argentine as one of the two players of the century by Fifa in 2000.
His astonishing 1279 goals in 1363 games is recognised as a world record, while he remains tied with Neymar as Brazil’s leading goalscorer on 77.
It had been well known for some time that Pele’s health had been deteriorating. In September 2021, he had surgery to have a tumour removed before undergoing chemotherapy. Last month he returned to hospital with cardiac issues and his health reportedly deteriorated significantly in recent weeks.
Pele’s emergence at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden remains the greatest debut bow in the history of football’s biggest tournament. His six goals in four matches helped carry Brazil to their first ever World Cup triumph and made their young striker a household name overnight.
Further World Cup glory awaited in 1962, albeit in a tournament during which injury denied the world from seeing Pele at his absolute pomp.
In 1970, Pele returned to true pre-eminence on the world stage, leading one of the greatest international sides of all time to World Cup glory in Mexico.
Pelé, along with the likes of Rivelino, Jairzinho, Gérson, Carlos Alberto, Tostão and Clodoaldo, lit up the tournament – the first to be shown globally in colour – with a series of electrifying performances culminating in a 4-1 defeat of Italy in the final.
Pele himself scored the opening goal before turning provider to assist goals for both Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto.
Greats of the games including Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Ferenc Puskas and Bobby Moore named Pele the greatest player in history, a standing which remained indelibly attached to him even with emergence of football’s modern greats.
Stay with us here for full live reaction and remembrance from across the globe following the passing of one of the true giants of 20th century sport.