On the eve of his 80th birthday, Brazilian football great Pele told his fans he was happy and healthy and pleased to be reaching the landmark with his lucid mental state.
Pele has been shielding at home in Brazil for most of the COVID-19 pandemic but in a jovial recorded message ahead of his landmark birthday on Friday he looked ahead not back.
“Now that I am 80, I need to thank God for giving me the health to get this far, and lucidly, although not always intelligently,” he said with a laugh.
“Wherever I go the world over I am well received, doors are always open to me. I hope that when I get to heaven God welcomes me the same way that everyone welcomes me today thanks to our beloved football.”
For most of his career on the world stage with Brazil and in club football at Santos and the New York Cosmos, as well as for years afterwards, the man born Edson Arantes de Nascimento was widely considered the greatest footballer of all time.
First Diego Maradona and then fellow Argentine Lionel Messi came along to challenge that hegemony but the Brazil striker’s trophy cabinet is as big as his rivals.
With Santos, he won the Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup twice, along with 10 Paulista state championships and six Brazilian league titles.
He remains the only player to win the World Cup three times and famously scored more than 1,000 professional goals.
Wherever he goes, Pele is still feted as ‘The King’, a title given to him by playwright Nelson Rodrigues when he was just 17.
However, his landmark birthday comes at the end of a difficult period.
His son Edinho served jail time for drug trafficking and money laundering although he always denied the charges.
Pele has been hospitalised several times in recent years and walks with difficulty due to an ailing hip. The upshot, Edinho said in February, was that his father suffered from depression.
Pele quickly denied his son’s claims and, although the novel coronavirus pandemic affected the world barely a month later, he was upbeat in a short video sent to the media to mark his 80th.
“Everything that we get in life is because God thinks you deserve it,” he said. “If I did something that made people unhappy… that’s life, forgive me.”
This year marked the 50th anniversary of Pele’s third World Cup triumph, won in Mexico in 1970 with what many pundits rate as the greatest football team of all time.