They say that legends don’t die. If he won days for every time they tried to kill him while he was alive, Brazilian Pele , who turns 80 this Friday, could already evaluate the possibility of being eternal. The last attempt was on May 2, 2019, when a meme posted on WhatsApp said that one of the great players in soccer history had died that same morning. However, resistant to rumors and the advancement of age, Edson Arantes do Nascimento continues alive and well. Either in the imagination of those who only know him as a legend, or in the memory of those who had the privilege of seeing him play.
“I am totally convinced: nothing like Pelé will ever appear again,” says Pepe, who was a partner of the King of Soccer for more than ten years at the Brazilian Santos, on the phone. “He was the only perfect player that existed. He was such a complete athlete that, if he wanted to play goal, he would have been the greatest goalkeeper of all time ”. In an era marked by the triumphs of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe’s definitions of his former partner may sound like exaggeration or camaraderie, but there is practically unanimous confidence among witnesses to the boom of his career, in the sixties, of that the throne of Pelé – elected the Athlete of the 20th Century by FIFA – will never be occupied.
Despite the friendship that lasted for decades, his former teammates from Santos report that encounters with Pelé are rare. “Every time he passes by the bakery to meet up with friends and chat with us, he is a mess around him, with all the people who want an autograph,” says Mengálvio, another member of the legendary Santista team, from the city. Few today manage to gain access to the King, who remains confined in his mansion in Guarujá, a coastal city 100 kilometers from São Paulo, due to the care taken since the start of the pandemic. For being part of a risk group for the coronavirus, above all because he only had one kidney – he had to remove the other after receiving a blow during a match – he complies with strict isolation, which reduces coexistence to the closest relatives and the essential members of the staff who manage his agenda.
Still sponsored by a dozen brands, despite 43 years since he stopped playing professionally, the multi-generational idol put a brake on his routine of advertising engagements. As one of his advisers sums up, the King is on hiatus at least until there is a vaccine against covid-19 . However, through cell phone applications, he recorded some commercials, messages for NGOs that he supports and even videos for the club of his heart: he participated in an online chat between the presidents of Santos and the Brazilian Soccer Confederation to help the club to request financial aid from the entity. His only company throughout the quarantine is the businesswoman Márcia Cibele Aoki, his third wife, whom he married in 2016 .
Long before the pandemic, Pelé’s mobility limitations had slowed the pace of the social events he participated in. Since 2012, he has been losing muscle mass and limping in his right leg due to a hip problem, affected by many years of activity in a high-performance sport. He also has two herniated discs, so he began to walk with crutches, a walker and even a wheelchair. In recent appearances with his weakened physical appearance, he left fans concerned, accustomed to the vigor and energy that he exhibited around the world until recently.
In one of those appearances, in 2018, he went up to the box for the launch of the Carioca Championship supported by a walker. The same week, the Association of Football Writers of England announced that Pelé had canceled his presence at an event in London, because he had fainted and had been admitted to a hospital with a picture of profound fatigue. His advisers denied the entity, informing that the King was never hospitalized, but preferred to cancel the commitment to dedicate himself to physiotherapy sessions at home. Before, he had already participated in the World Cup draw, in Russia, in a wheelchair.
In April of last year, he was hospitalized in Paris after participating in a meeting with French striker Kylian Mbappé. On his return, in São Paulo, he spent more than three days in a hospital, treating a kidney stone. The kidney problem had already scared him in 2014, when he ended up in intensive care for complications from a urinary infection. Months before, CNN was also carried away by a rumor and broke the news of the King’s death on social networks, which he himself came out to deny. “I am a man of Three Hearts,” joked Pelé, referring to the city of Minas Gerais where he was born when he denied the false information.
Another f ake news that irritated him emerged earlier this year after his eldest son, former archer Edinho, suggested in an interview that his father was depressed. The former player issued a statement to rule out the alleged depressive picture, but acknowledged that he suffered ups and downs , like any older person. “I’m fine. I have my good and bad days, that’s normal for people my age, “he declared. “I continue to accept my physical limitations in the best possible way, but I intend to keep the ball rolling.
However, one piece of news that struck the King at the end of March was the death of his younger brother, Jair Arantes do Nascimento, known as Zoca. “May God receive him in heaven and comfort our family,” wrote Pelé on his social networks. The loss of his brother, a victim of prostate cancer, coincided with the onset of the pandemic, which left the Santista idol discouraged for some weeks. When he became melancholic, before his physical deterioration, Pelé used to take refuge in fishing, on a farm in Vale do Ribeira, in the interior of the state of São Paulo. But its limitations ended up making those getaways increasingly sporadic, leading to it selling the land in 2017.
Although he feels good in recent days, especially due to the proximity of his 80th birthday, Pelé does not intend to be present at any of the various tributes that are planned to celebrate him. For being in isolation and because he always preferred more intimate celebrations for birthdays. Santos reserved a week of tributes to the King, with the right to free cinema sessions to show films premiered by Pelé and inaugurate a commemorative plaque installed in Vila Belmiro. In São Paulo, the Soccer Museum reopened last week with an interactive exhibition dedicated to the idol’s 80 years and his career. At the beginning of the year, he had already won a statue at the Museum of the Brazilian National Team, in Rio de Janeiro.
The only player to win three World Cups, Pelé was also celebrated last June, when the 50th anniversary of the three-time championship was completed.obtained in Mexico. Now, watch Neymar, another star revealed by Santos, get closer to his record as the highest scorer in the Brazilian team. The PSG forward, who, at 28, does not have a World Cup on his resume, is 13 goals away from reaching the 77 scored by the retired star in official matches. However, for the subjects of the Pelesist reign, there is no one who can threaten his throne as the greatest in history. Armored against the controversies surrounding his possible successors and the rumors that predict his end, the King only expresses his desire for more recognition for his work. “I want to be recognized in life,” he claims, assuring that he is not afraid of death. “Brazil is one of the few countries in the world where the idol is only good after he dies.