It was fitting that in the presence of the world’s greatest players and coaches that Pelé should be afforded a special recognition award at The Best FIFA Football Awards held in Paris, France.
Widely regarded as the greatest footballer that the game has ever seen, Pelé passed away aged 82 in December last year after a debilitating battle with cancer. He leaves a legacy that never will fade after a catalogue of achievements that is unsurpassed.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino opened the proceedings at The Best FIFA Football Awards™ 2022 by leading a tribute to one of the greatest players the game has ever seen – the peerless Pelé.
Speaking ahead of the ceremony in Paris, and in the company of Pelé’s widow Marcia Aoki, Mr Infantino said the football world had lost an icon, but that his legacy would live on forever.
“The King – O Rei – Pelé. What can we say about Pelé,” President Infantino said. “Pelé is football, Pelé is simply football. And we lost him, we miss him a lot. But Pelé is eternal, he is with us, he is always with us. He will always be with us. I would like to thank Pelé’s family for being with us here tonight. Muito obrigado pela [sua] presença. Thank you so much.”
Following President Infantino’s speech, Pelé’s widow came to the stage to receive The Best FIFA Special Award in memory of her late husband. In her acceptance speech she thanked fans, players and organisers from around the world, saying she is “grateful, grateful, grateful”.
Brazil superstar and FIFA Legend Ronaldo was also on stage, and made his own tribute to Pelé, before a live performance by Brazilian artist, Seu Jorge.
Ronaldo presents Pelé’s wife, Marcia Aoki
The only player to win the World Cup three times – in 1958, 1962 and 1970 – Pelé was a master of his art.
He announced his arrival onto the World stage at the 1958 FIFA World Cup finals in Sweden when, aged just 17 he scored six goals in Brazil’s last three games – the winner in the quarter-final, a hat-trick in the semi-final and two in the Final.
He went on to score 77 goals in 92 appearances for Brazil with his iconic status firmly entwined with the famous yellow shirt of Brazil and the FIFA World Cup.
His The Best FIFA Special Award was accepted by his wife, Marcia Aoki, with Brazilian FIFA World Cup winner Ronaldo presenting the trophy.
“When I remember Pelé, I see a player far ahead of his time,” said Ronaldo. “An athlete who served as an inspiration to me and to all people in football. In the 1950s, he was already a modern player. He could shoot with both feet, He could jump higher than all the others, he had two-touch control, he scored bicycle kicks and headers, [he could do] stepovers and was extremely intelligent. I also remember him as a very dear friend.
“When I had my first knee injury in 2000, he visited me at my home, bringing much love and affection in one of the hardest moments of my life. Two years later, he was present during one of the happiest moments [of my life], when my teammates and I managed to win the [FIFA] World Cup in South Korea and Japan.
“Pelé will also be remembered for his impact on society. When he used to play, the world was even more racist than it is today. A black sportsman, he became the king of the most popular sport in the world. He proved that black people can be the best, the most successful, and defeat racism.
“This battle has not ended yet, but I ask you all to look for inspiration in Pelé’s example in how to fight against prejudice. Pelé was the best on the pitch and had a monumental impact on society. This legacy will live forever. Rest in peace, my friend.”
“It is a big honour to be here at this magnificent FIFA tribute to Edson,” she said. “I have three words to say to God. God gave us Edson. To Edson that gave us Pelé and to the world who received him so well, my three words are: grateful, grateful and grateful.”
There was more to Pelé, though than just his grace, tenacity and skill. His enthusiasm and a contagious smile came to be synonymous with the Beautiful Game.
His international team-mate, Jairzinho, also paid tribute to Pelé.
“I am very happy to hear the recognition for one of the greatest artists in the history of football. I have to congratulate him and show my appreciation to him for giving me the opportunity to experience three [FIFA] World Cups with him and learn about everything that he did naturally, with a lot of intelligence, which led to Brazil become two-time world champions, three-time world champions, I played with him in the third World Cup.
“There were several moments, from the first game against Czechoslovakia until the final match against Italy, they were special moments for me as a man.
“Pelé was not just a great player, Pelé reflected all the conditions required for an athlete to develop. Athletes need to take care of themselves, physically and mentally. That allowed him to evolve in the art of goalscoring, which he did. I’m very happy with the homage that we are paying him this evening.”
And in a modern context, his status remains unrivalled.
Carli Lloyd, who twice won the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ with the USA revealed the influence that The King had on her throughout her career.
“I wasn’t lucky enough to be born early enough to witness Pelé playing on a field,” said Lloyd. “He not only transcended the sport globally but he also played for the New York Cosmos and I grew up in New Jersey.
“When I grew up as a little girl playing soccer from the age of 5, I always remember hearing about Pelé and the famous number 10 jersey. He ignited a boom in America for football. Because of Pelé people jumped on board and the sport became popular. I was blessed to be able to play for 34 years.
“He had a huge impact on America and I am very grateful for that.”
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