'The greatest of all time': Tributes pour in for Pele

Some of the world's most famous footballing names have paid tribute to Pele. Credit: AP

The footballing world paid tribute to Pele following the death of the Brazil great at the age of 82.

The three-time World Cup winner died on Thursday having been in hospital in Sao Paulo since late November.

Following confirmation of his death, tributes poured in for the player widely regarded as the best to have graced the game.

Pele was a prodigious scorer of goals, and is credited with 1,281 of them across the length of his career by the official FIFA website.

A tweet from the Brazilian Football Federation (CBF) read simply “King Pele”, accompanied by three crown emojis.

Brazil forward Neymar – who moved level with Pele’s record of 77 international goals during the 2022 World Cup – posted his own emotional tribute on Instagram.

“Before Pele, 10 was just a number. I’ve read this phrase somewhere, at some point in my life. But this sentence, beautiful, is incomplete. I would say before Pele football was just a sport. Pele has changed it all,” Neymar said.

“He turned football into art, into entertainment He gave voice to the poor, to the blacks and especially: He gave visibility to Brazil. Soccer and Brazil have raised their status thanks to the King! He’s gone but his magic remains. Pele is FOREVER!!”

The president of the federation, Ednaldo Rodrigues, said in a statement: “The CBF will pay all possible tributes to the greatest athlete of all time. Pele is eternal and we will always work to preserve his history and continue his legacy.”

Former England striker Sir Geoff Hurst – who won the World Cup in 1966, scoring a hat-trick in the final – said on Twitter: “I have so many memories of Pele, without doubt the best footballer I ever played against (with Bobby Moore being the best footballer I ever played alongside).

“For me Pele remains the greatest of all time and I was proud to be on the pitch with him. RIP Pele and thank you.”

Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo posted a message on Instagram alongside a picture of him with the Brazil great expressing his “deepest condolences”.

Ronaldo said: “A mere ‘goodbye’ to the eternal King Pele will never be enough to express the pain that currently embraces the entire world of football.

“An inspiration for so many millions, a reference from yesterday, today, forever. The affection he always showed for me was reciprocal in every moment we shared, even from a distance.

“He will never be forgotten and his memory will live on forever in each of us football lovers. Rest in peace, King Pele.”

France forward Kylian Mbappe – who in 2018 joined Pele as the only teenagers to score in a World Cup final – wrote on Instagram: “The king of football has left us but his legacy will never be forgotten. RIP KING.”

Argentina captain Lionel Messi simply wrote: “Rest in peace, @pele.”

European football’s governing body UEFA said in a statement on Twitter: “Tonight, we join fans the world over in mourning Pele, one of football’s all-time greatest players.

“He was the first global superstar of the game and played a pioneering role in football’s rise to become the world’s most popular sport. Rest in peace, Pele.”

The Football Association announced Wembley’s arch would be lit up in Brazil colours in Pele’s memory.

There were also rounds of applause ahead of Thursday evening’s Football League matches around the country, which kicked off shortly after news broke of Pele’s death.

The Premier League said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Pele, an extraordinarily gifted footballer who transcended our sport and inspired millions throughout his remarkable career.

“Our thoughts and sincere condolences go to Pele’s family and friends.”

Manchester City forward Erling Haaland – who on Wednesday night became the quickest player to 20 Premier League goals with his brace against Leeds – paid tribute to the Brazil great.

“Everything you see any player doing, Pele did it first,” the 22-year-old said on Twitter.

Pele came out of retirement in 1975 to join the New York Cosmos, helping boost football’s popularity in the United States.

Former Germany captain Franz Beckenbauer played alongside Pele for the Cosmos and paid tribute to his former team-mate.

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“Today, football lost the greatest man in its history – and I lost a unique friend,” Beckenbauer said on the Bayern Munich website.

“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!”

Pele’s global stardom saw him take on a lead role in the 1981 film ‘Escape to Victory’ about Allied prisoners of war playing an exhibition football match against the Germans.

It also featured the likes of Hollywood A-listers Sylvester Stallone, Sir Michael Caine and Max Von Sydow as well as fellow players England captain Bobby Moore and Ossie Ardiles, the former Tottenham midfielder who was a World Cup winner with Argentina in 1978.

Ardiles posted a picture of him alongside Pele in the Allied team on Twitter. “The King of Kings has died. Extraordinary player. Unique. 3 times World Cup winner, more than a thousand goals,” he said.

“My idol when young. He made football the beautiful game and truly international. My time playing alongside him in Escape to Victory was a dream come true. RIP Pele.”

FIFA president Gianni Infantino paid a personal tribute to the unique talent of Pele who had “a magnetic presence and, when you were with him, the rest of the world stopped”.

Infantino added on www.fifa.com: “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, 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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