Santos, Brazil (AP) — Brazil said goodbye to Pelé for the last time on Tuesday, burying the legend that brought the deeply divided country together.
Newly inaugurated President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva paid his respects at Vila Belmiro, the stadium where Pelé played most of his career.
Pele died last week at the age of 82 and was buried in Santos, the city where he rose to fame after moving there at the age of 15 to play for Santos. A funeral mass was held at the stadium of the Vila Belmiro team, after which his black coffin was driven through the streets of Santos in a fire truck.
He was carried to the cemetery as the bands played the team’s official song and the Roman Catholic anthem. Before the gold-wrapped coffin arrived, the participants sang samba songs that Pele liked.
Some legends of Brazilian football were not there.
“Where is Ronaldo Nazario? Where is Kaka, where is Neymar? asked Claudionor Alves, 67, who works in a bakery near the stadium. “Do they think they will be remembered like Pele? These guys didn’t want to interrupt their vacation, that’s the problem.”
Giovana Sarmento, 17, stood in line for three hours to see Pele’s body lying at rest. She came with her father, who was wearing a Brazilian T-shirt with the name Pele.
“I am not a fan of Santos and neither is my father. But this guy invented the Brazilian national team. He made Santos stronger, he made him bigger, how could you not respect him? He is one of the greatest people of all time and we must honor his memory,” she said.
Caio Zalque, 35, an engineer, was standing in line wearing a Brazilian shirt.
“Pele is the most important Brazilian of all time. He made sport important to Brazil and made Brazil important to the world,” Zalke said.
Pele in the 1960s and 1970s was perhaps the most famous athlete in the world. He has met with presidents and queens and the Nigerian civil war has been put on hold so people can watch him play. Many Brazilians believe that Pelé brought the country to the world stage for the first time.
Rows of Pelé’s number 10 shirts were placed behind one of the stadium’s gates, fluttering in the city’s summer winds. A section of stands filled with bouquets of flowers placed by mourners and sent clubs and star players, including Neymar and Ronaldo, from all over the world, as loudspeakers played the recorded song “Eu sou Pelé” (“I am Pele”). From him.
The crowd was mostly local, although some traveled from afar, and many of the mourners were too young to have ever seen Pele play. The mood was upbeat, people left the stadium for local bars wearing T-shirts with Santos football club and Brazilian football.
Claudio Carranza, 32, a salesman, said: “I’ve never seen him play, but the love for Pele is a tradition passed down from father to son in Santos. I studied his history, I saw his goals and I see how important Santos is because he is important. I know that some Santos fans have kids who support other teams. But that’s only because they’ve never seen Pele in action. If they did, they would feel the same gratitude that I do now.”
Among those present at the stadium was Pele’s best friend Manoel Maria, also a former Santos player.
“If I had all the wealth in the world, I would never be able to repay what this man did for me and my family,” Maria said. “He was as great a man as he was a player – the best ever. His legacy will outlive us all. And you can see it in this long line with people of all ages.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino told reporters that every country should name a stadium after Pele.
“I’m here with a lot of emotion, sadness, but also a smile because he gave us so many smiles,” Infantino said. “As FIFA, we pay tribute to the ‘King’ and ask the entire world to observe a moment of silence.”
Another fan and friend in line was Brazilian Supreme Court Judge Gilmar Mendez.
“This is a very sad moment, but now we see the real significance of this legendary player for our country,” Mendez told reporters. “In my office there are T-shirts signed by Pele, a photo of him as a goalkeeper, also signed by him. DVD, photos, a large collection of his.
Pele has been treated for colon cancer since 2021. The medical center where he was hospitalized said he died of multiple organ failure as a result of cancer.
Pelé led Brazil to the World Cup in 1958, 1962 and 1970 and remains one of the team’s all-time leading scorers with 77 goals. Neymar repeated Pele’s record at this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
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