SANTOS. — 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.
Eduardo Kobra, a Sao Paulo-born street artist whose socially conscious graffiti has won him international acclaim, is marking Pele’s 80th birthday with a giant mural in Santos.
His project will turn a facade of the future Tourist Activities Center in Santos, where Pele played for nearly two decades, into an enormous, 800-square-meter (8,600-square-foot) open-air art exhibition.
The mural depicts the beloved three-time World Cup champion and joint recipient of the FIFA Player of the 20th Century award alongside three other sources of pride for Santos’ residents – its tourist trolleybuses, historical Coffee Museum building and dockworkers at the city’s port.
Kobra said Pele is his greatest sporting hero along with late Formula One icon Ayrton Senna and that he had long dreamed of making him a subject of one of his murals.
Pele “is a genius, considered the greatest athlete of the 20th century. He’s the greatest player of all time but also an icon,” said Kobra, one of the world’s most recogniSed street artists.
“When I travel, in all the places I go, the first name from Brazil that comes up is Pele, whether it’s in Japan or in Africa,” the artist told Efe.
Titled “Coracao Santista,” Pele’s portion of the mural is inspired by Luiz Paulo Machado’s emblematic 1976 photo of Pele during a Brazilian national team game in which the sweat on the front of his jersey formed the shape of a heart.
“I put the heart with the word ‘Santos’ below, which reflects his love for the city and for the club (Santos FC) and the affection the residents feel for him,” the artist said.
In preparing his gift to Pele and the city, Kobra worked 10 hours a day for 45 straight days and used more than 300 cans of spray paint.
“In getting to the final result, I made more than 30 designs, seeking a certain balance between the scenes, the right use of colors and black and white and respect and appreciation for Santos’ culture and history,” Kobra said.
“Pele is a soccer artist, he’s a Brazilian hero.”
Kobra, a Sao Paulo native who at the age of 44 has already painted thousands of murals in dozens of countries around the world. — Reuters/Laprensalatinaco.com.