Pele leaves a legacy “impossible to sum up in words”, but FIFA president Gianni Infantino believes the Brazilian great “has achieved immortality” following his death on Thursday.
The Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital in Sao Paulo has confirmed multiple organ failure as the cause of death for the three-time World Cup winner, whom many consider the greatest soccer player of all time.
Santos Legend was battling colon cancer, with his family en route to join him in early 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 sports organizations to offer their kind memories.
“For all those who love 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] it was unique in so many ways. He was the only player to win the World Cup three times and his skill and imagination were incomparable.
“Pelé did things no other player would have even dreamed of, like the famous dummy in the 1970 World Cup semi-final that became known as the Pelé 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 into the net.
“The sight of him punching the air in celebration is one of the most iconic in our sport and is engraved in our history.
“Indeed, as televised football was still in its infancy at the time, we only saw small glimpses of what it was capable of.”
Pelé, who scored 643 goals in 659 games for Santos over 18 years, helped Brazil win the World Cup 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 having achieved the remarkable feat when he was just 17 years and 249 days old.
His international tally of 77 goals is still a Brazilian record despite Neymar equaling the landmark in Qatar with a goal in the quarter-final against Croatia, leading Infantino to salute Pele’s legacy.
“Most importantly, ‘The King’ took the throne with a smile on his face. Football could be brutal in those days, and Pele was often subjected to rough treatment,” he continued.
“But, despite knowing how to defend himself, he has always been an exemplary sportsman, with genuine respect for his opponents. I have had the great privilege of meeting him on several occasions.
“The moments spent with him will always remain in my memory and in my heart. Pelé had a magnetic presence and when you were with him, the rest of the world stopped.
“His life goes beyond football. He changed perceptions for the better in Brazil, South America and around the world. His legacy is impossible to put into words.
“To his family and friends, at CBF [the Brazilian Football Confederation]to Brazil and to all the 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 long ago and therefore will be with us for eternity.”