Pelé, Arguably Soccer’s Greatest Player, Dies at 82

He's one of the most legendary figures in sports history

Brazilian football star Pele on the grounds of the Sanderstead Hotel in Surrey.
S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

The beautiful game has lost one of its greatest players. The Associated Press, among other outlets, reported on Thursday that soccer legend Pelé died at the age of 82. He’d been hospitalized since November, and had been in treatment for colon cancer since 2021.

When discussing the greatest players to ever play soccer, two names tend to top most lists: Pelé and Diego Maradona. Both men have now died within the span of just over two years, and it feels as though they’ve drawn an era of soccer to a close with them.

In the wake of his death, 90 Min assembled a list of notable quotes about Pelé. One in particular stands out, from another legend of the game, Eric Cantona. “An artist, in my eyes, is someone who can lighten up a dark room,” Cantona said. “I have never and will never find the difference between the pass from Pele to Carlos Alberto in the final of the World Cup in 1970 and the poetry of the young Rimbaud. There is in each of these human manifestations an expression of beauty which touches us and gives us a feeling of eternity.”

The best soccer games are those that have a narrative flow and gripping conflict; to watch Pelé play was to see this kind of epic drama play out on a grand scale.

Alternately: there’s something you’ll occasionally see the best attacking players in soccer do in which they’ll essentially take on the entire opposing team’s back line, get the ball past all of them and then score. It can be one of the most thrilling things to watch in a game of soccer (and, let’s be honest, also one of the coolest things to watch.) Over the course of his career, Pelé did this a lot.

But there are other ways in which Pelé’s career feels like both the beginning of a modern era for soccer and an element of an earlier period. His club career never involved playing for teams in Europe; instead, he played the bulk of it at Brazil’s Santos FC and finished his career with the New York Cosmos.

His arrival in the United States to play for the Cosmos also helped raise the sport’s popularity in the United States — though the influence of the NASL on soccer in the U.S. is complex for many reasons. But Pelé’s own legacy for the Brazilian national team, on the teams for which he played and for the sport he loves is massive, and will likely be felt for as long as players are enjoying o jogo bonito.

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