The Death of a Legend

The Life of “King Pelé” and His Outsized Impact on Football


Michael Assioun '27

On Dec. 29, 2022, a sports legend passed away. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, otherwise known as Pelé, died after a long battle with colon cancer. To football fans around the world, he is known as “King” Pelé, one of the first truly global sporting icons, who brought South America into the spotlight of world football.

Born in Três Corações, Brazil, Pelé would soon become arguably the best footballer in the world. There are many theories on why he was nicknamed Pelé. One of these theories is that Pelé was born with six toes and pelé means six toes in Portuguese. The first club he played for was Santos, where he proved himself to the coach of the Brazilian national team, who called him up for the 1958 World Cup. The 17-year-old Pelé made his first start in Brazil’s second group-stage match and went on to win the tournament with the team. This was only the first of three eventual World Cup trophies. In 1962 and 1970, Pelé went on to win two other World Cups, claiming his title as the international GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). 

“A mere ‘goodbye’ to the eternal Pelé will never be enough to express the pain the entire football world is currently embracing.” These were the words of Cristiano Ronaldo, a couple of hours after the announcement of Pelé’s death. Not only soccer players, but public figures across the globe, gave their sympathy to Pelé. After being diagnosed with colon cancer in September 2021, he was hoping to see Brazil win their sixth World Cup before he died, but their journey was stopped by Croatia in the quarterfinals. In that game, Brazil forward Neymar tied Pelé’s goal-scoring record for Brazil. 

When I thought about writing this article, I was thinking about writing a lot, but honestly, there isn’t much more to say other than thank you. Thank you for everything you have done for the football world, for Brazil, and for us fans, who love the beautiful game.