Brazilians mourn Pelé in his stadium where he got his start

Funeral workers uncover the coffin of the late Brazilian soccer great Pele as he lies in state on the pitch during his wake at Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

On Monday, thousands of mourners, including high school students and supreme court justices, began to file past the body of Pelé on the century-old pitch where he transformed his hometown team into one of the best in Brazil.

The soccer legend passed away on Thursday following a battle with cancer. He was the only player to win three World Cups and was 82 years old.

The coffin of Pelé, draped in the Brazilian and Santos FC flags, was placed in the middle area of Vila Belmiro, the stadium outside of Sao Paulo where he spent most of his career. On Tuesday morning, a Catholic Mass will be held before his burial in a local cemetery. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil's freshly inaugurated president, will visit Vila Belmiro soon before Pelé's casket is transported from the stadium.

The legendary 16,000-seat stadium was surrounded by mourners and decorated with Pelé-themed items. Fans leaving the stadium reported standing in line for three hours under the scorching sun.

After 45 years since his last game, Pelé remains an integral element of Brazil's national narrative.

Geovana Sarmento, age 17, was accompanied by her father, who sported a Brazil shirt bearing Pelé's name.

"I am not a fan of Santos, nor is my father. However, this man created the Brazilian national team. He strengthened Santos and achieved great success; how could you not respect him? "We had to honor him because he is one of the greatest people ever," she remarked.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Pelé was arguably the most famous athlete in the world. He met presidents and queens, and a civil war in Nigeria was halted to watch him perform. Numerous Brazilians credit him for bringing the country to the international stage.

Caio Zalke, a 35-year-old engineer, is wearing a Brazil shirt while standing in line. "Pelé is the most significant Brazilian in history. "He made soccer significant to Brazil and Brazil significant to the world," he stated.

Shirts bearing Pelé's number 10 were hung in rows behind one of the goals, flapping in the city's summer breezes. As loudspeakers played Pelé's self-recorded song "Eu sou Pelé" ("I am Pelé"), a part of the stands was being filled with flowers left by mourners and given by teams and superstar players from around the world, including Neymar and Ronaldo.

Claudio Carranca, a 32-year-old salesperson, said, “I never saw him play, but loving Pelé is a tradition that goes from father to son in Santos. I learned his history, saw his goals, and saw how Santos FC is important because he is important. I know some Santos fans have children supporting other teams. But that’s just because they never saw Pelé in action. If they had, they would feel this gratitude I feel now.”

According to Santos FC, almost 1,100 media from 23 nations attended the funeral. At Pelé's funeral, dignitaries and friends who were in attendance spoke.

Among them was Pelé's best friend and former Santos player, Manoel Maria. "Even if I had all the cash in the world, I could never repay what this man has done for my family and me. He was as terrific a person as a player; he was the greatest ever. His legacy will outlast all of us. This long line of people of various ages evidences this."

Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, told reporters that every country should name a stadium after Pelé.

Infantino stated, "I am here with a lot of emotion and sadness, but also a smile because he gave us so many smiles." "As FIFA, we will pay tribute to the 'King' and request a minute of silence from the entire world."

The next in line was the Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes, a fan and friend.

Mendes told reporters, "It is an unfortunate moment, but we are now seeing the true significance of this legendary player to our country." "My office contains Pelé-signed clothes and an autographed photograph of him as a goalkeeper. DVDs, photographs, an extensive collection of him."

Mendes further stated that despite his global renown, Pelé was humble and deserved every accolade.

Tuesday, the casket will be carried through the streets of Santos before his burial.

Pelé has had therapy for colon cancer since 2021. According to the hospital where he had been treated, he died of multiple organ failure due to the malignancy.

The soccer star guided Brazil to World Cup victories in 1958, 1962, and 1970, and his 77 goals make him one of the team's all-time top scorers. During the 2014 World Cup in Qatar, Neymar tied Pelé's record.

Publish : 2023-01-03 16:24:00

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