Farewell to Pele: family, fans and football world pay respects to Brazil football great

Fifa president Infantino joins thousands at Santos stadium to say goodbye to 'The King'

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The football world gathered to pay its respects to Brazilian football great Pele as his body was laid in state at the stadium of his former club Santos on Monday.

Fans queued for up to 14 hours outside the stadium so they could pay their respects to "The King" after his casket was moved from the Sao Paulo hospital where he died on December 29 aged 82.

Fireworks were set off along the route as the famous No 10's casket travelled by hearse from the hospital to the stadium, around 80 kilometres from Sao Paulo, and was then carried to the middle of the pitch at the Urbano Caldeira Stadium.

Among those who came to pay tribute to Pele, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in 1940, were Fifa president Gianni Infantino.

Infantino made a request to the football world, saying: "We're going to ask every country in the world to name one of their football stadiums with the name of Pele."

Among the family members who came to the stadium to say farewell were the player's 100-year-old mother Celeste, his widow Marcia Aoki and son Edinho, who helped to carry the casket on to the pitch along with former Brazil midfielder Ze Roberto.

Several government officials are expected to attend the memorial, including newly sworn-in Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Vice President Geraldo Alckmin, a longtime Santos supporter.

Pele will lie in state for 24 hours before his funeral on Tuesday, when a procession carrying his casket will pass through the streets of Santos, ending at the Ecumenical Memorial Necropolis cemetery, where he will be buried in a private ceremony.

Antonio da Paz, a fan who queued outside the stadium to pay his respects said: "Pele leaves millions of Santos fans across our country. He was the creator of Brazilian soccer."

The three-time World Cup winner, regarded by many as the greatest to play the game, died after a long battle with colon cancer.

Former Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro, whose term ended at the turn of the year, declared three days of national mourning when Pele died.

Other than a two-year spell with New York Cosmos from 1975-77, Pele played his entire career at Santos, who he joined at the age of 15.

He made his debut for Brazil at 16 years and nine months, scoring in a 2-1 win against Argentina, and he remains his country's youngest ever goalscorer.

At the World Cup in 1958, aged 17, he scored twice in the final in the 5-2 win over Sweden and went on to lift the trophy again in 1962 and 1970.

South American football journalist Tim Vickery told BBC 5 Live on Monday: “We are talking about a global icon, so this is going to be a huge global occasion.

"Pele is a source of huge pride for Brazil. He is not from Santos but it is a city that he made his home, and he is theirs – but he also belongs to the world."

Brazilian journalist Ricardo Seyton, who worked closely with Pele during his career, said it was going to be an "intense" day.

"It is the people of the streets, the public, who are making this day so beautiful," he said.

"It is amazing to see people in football shirts from all around the world – that is the legend of Pele."

Following the announcement of Pele’s death, a tweet from the Brazilian Football Federation read simply “King Pele”, accompanied by three crown emojis.

Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar said that his countryman had “transformed football into an art”.

“Before Pele, '10' was just a number,” the heir to Pele's famed jersey number wrote on Instagram, alongside two pictures of himself with the late legend.

French 2022 World Cup sensation Kylian Mbappe, who in 2018 won the World Cup as a teenager, said that Pele's legacy “will never be forgotten”.

“I would say that before Pele, football 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!”

Meanwhile, Argentine star Lionel Messi posted a picture on Instagram of him with Pele with the message: “Rest in peace, Pele.”

Cristiano Ronaldo posted a picture of him receiving an award from Pele and wrote: “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 currently embraces the entire world of football.

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

Ronaldo, one of Brazil's finest strikers and winner of the 2002 World Cup, shared an emotional tribute. "Unique. Genius. Technical. Creative. Perfect. Unequalled. Where Pele has gone, he has stayed. Never having left the top, he leaves us today," he said.

"The king of football – one and only. The greatest of all time. What a privilege to come after you, my friend. Your talent is a school every player should go through.

"His legacy transcends generations. And that's how you'll live on. Today and always, we will celebrate you. Thank you, Pele. Rest in peace."

Updated: January 02, 2023, 4:20 PM
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