Tributes poured in from across Brazil and beyond on Friday for football legend Pele, as the country held three days of mourning for the player widely regarded as the greatest of all time after his death at age 82.
Pele, a prolific goal-scorer who won the World Cup an unprecedented three times as a player in 1958, 1962 and 1970, died on Thursday aged 82 after a long battle with cancer.
Emotional Brazilians flocked to the Sao Paulo hospital where “O Rei” (The King) died, and to the Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, the city where he played most of his career — and where his wake will be held on Monday.
That will be followed on Tuesday by what is expected to be a massive funeral procession through the southeastern city, then a private burial ceremony.
President Jair Bolsonaro declared three days of national mourning through Saturday, as condolences flooded in from football superstars, global dignitaries and fans from all walks of life.
In Pele’s hometown, the southeastern city of Tres Coracoes, house painter Marcelo Cazone proudly brandished an autographed picture of himself as a boy with Pele, which he snagged by cutting school to follow his idol around the city in the 1980s.
“I treasure it to this day,” he told AFP. “His death is devastating for this whole town, for all of Brazil, for the entire world.”
In Santos, 46-year-old Caroline Fornari was among those who flocked to the stadium where Pele first dazzled the world.
“He’s part of our history. My father was a huge fan, he talked about him from the time I was little. Pele is our greatest pride,” she said.
World football’s governing body FIFA lowered all flags at its headquarters in Zurich “as a symbol of mourning and respect,” while the Premier League, EFL and A-League said they would pay tribute to the football great through a minute’s applause before games.
The Premier League and EFL added that players will wear black armbands during this weekend’s matches, while Spain’s La Liga said it would observe a minute’s silence ahead of games. A similar announcement was made by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).
Games in France’s Ligue 1 will be preceded by a minute’s applause while a photo of Pele with the World Cup is shown on the big screens in the stadiums, said the Professional Football League (LFP).
Several prominent contemporary footballers took to social media to pay tribute to Pele.
Brazil star Neymar said Pele made football “into an art” while France’s Kylian Mbappe said his legacy “will never be forgotten,” and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo called him an “inspiration to millions.”
Argentina’s World Cup-winning captain Lionel Messi simply wrote: “Rest in peace.”
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah sharing a picture of the icon on Instagram, writing in the caption: “Farewell to a legend of football.”
Real Madrid and Croatia midfielder Luka Modric said Pele was “one of the greatest of all time,” while Moroccan defender Achraf Hakimi posted a black and white photo of a young Pele smiling, writing on Twitter, “your legacy will be eternal.”
The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) said all A-League games this weekend will hold a minute’s applause before kick-off to pay tribute to “an icon”.
The minute’s applause was observed ahead of Western United’s home game against Brisbane Roar on Friday.
Brazilian tennis player Thiago Monteiro said it was a sad day for Brazil.
“Pele was our biggest idol in sports. He did so much even for the country, to showing Brazil to the world, and we had a lot of respect for him,” Monteiro told reporters.
Indian cricket great Sachin Tendulkar said Pele’s death was “a great loss to not just football but to the whole world of sports.”
‘FOOTBALL IS FOOTBALL BECAUSE OF PLAYERS LIKE PELE’
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola likened the legacy left behind by Pele to the script of a movie, saying football would not be what it was without the legend.
“On behalf of Manchester City, biggest condolences to his family. Football is football thanks to these types of people, players and human beings,” Guardiola told reporters.
“I think Neymar said it, before the number 10 was just a number and after it became something special — every top player wants to wear it for their team. What he has done for football is there and always will remain.
“He didn’t just win three World Cups — it was a new thing when he came up. I was not born when he was playing but it’s like a good movie, no? The legacy after many years is still there.”
Guardiola added that Pele had the potential to be successful in any era of the sport.
“When I was in the academy at Barcelona I had a physiotherapist who was in love with Brazil and Pele. And after when I was nine or ten, I started to watch some clips,” Guardiola said.
“Now I realise he was so strong and could do everything. People say that rhythm was completely different. These type of players, if he was playing now, he would adapt to the rhythm and the pace.
“He was so intuitive and in skills and mentality, he could play in every generation. Everyone has their own greatest.”
Meanwhile, African football chief said Pele was “a unique inspiration to the African continent” who will “forever live in the hearts and minds of football lovers”.
“His death is a huge loss for supporters and football fans,” said Patrice Motsepe, the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
Motsepe also hailed Pele’s “commitment to improve the living conditions of the poor and marginalized”.