Just before dawn this Monday, Brazilian Euclydes Ferreira Júnior donned a Canarinha shirt and drove four hours up the coast to say goodbye to his old friend Edson Arantes do Nascimento, who died at the age of 82 from complications from breast cancer died on the 29th. He carried with him a treasure he has carefully guarded for half a century, a faded photograph together with Pelé, who by then was already a global idol, a great footballer, the 10th for Santos FC.
The print is from when they were both classmates at the Physical Education Faculty in the 1970’s. Pelé had already won three world titles, in 1958, 1962 and 1970. The death of his former friend was “great emotion, a very strong feeling,” he says, but also relief: “We knew that he and his family were suffering a lot. He had so much pain that we asked God to take it away,” explains the glassy-eyed retired fitness trainer.
Ferreira Júnior is one of thousands of people who have come to say goodbye to O Rei at the Santos Fútbol Club stadium, which he has made famous worldwide by scoring 1,091 goals in 1,116 matches and also winning two of his three Copa Libertadores and his two Intercontinentals. There, on the field of Vila Belmiro, Pelé played for two decades, almost his entire career. In Santos, Pelé (Tres Coraçoes, Minas Gerais; 1940) is the neighbor with whom many share a personal story or anecdote, even if only the elderly have been lucky enough to see him play live.
With the New Year’s Eve fireworks and New Year’s ceremonies ushering in the new government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, this Monday was the big official farewell to Pelé, the idol that made football a mass spectacle and who throughout his career as a Professional considered career was synonymous with Brazil and excellence. His body rested after his death at the Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo, where he had spent a month in the hospital and died. The coffin arrived by land this morning in the city where Pele first saw the sea and built his wonderful career. It is a beautiful route that crosses an impressive vegetation that was taken over by the fog this morning.
The footballer’s wake opened the doors at 10am for friends, fans and authorities to honor him. One of the first, the President of FIFA, Gianni Infantino. “FIFA will no doubt honor the king as he deserves,” said the Swiss, reports Portal, before revealing that the body had asked its 211 partner countries to name a stadium in Pele’s honor, “so that the new generations.” know and remember him.” .
Neymar has sent his father on his behalf while he trains in France. And President Lula, a Corinthians fan who enjoyed the King’s art from the stands, will attend the wake early Wednesday morning. Pelé’s coffin will be on display for 24 hours in the center of the pitch at Vila Belmiro Stadium, located in a popular area of this port city that has seen hundreds of thousands of immigrants that Brazil invited to populate its country (and lighten the race) . after the end of slavery.
Claudio Nascimento da Rocha, 64, railway engineer inspector, stood in line at 8 a.m. with his son, grandson and nephews. Santista, he saw him play too. Even better, he was able to train close to his idol as he was a member of the Santos youth team when O Rei was in the final stages of his Brazilian career. “They say if I played today I wouldn’t score 1,000 goals [que hizo con el Santos], I do not agree. I think he would make 3,000 because now you play on beautiful grass, light jerseys, good shoes… everything was more difficult in his day. They drew him very hard and he kept going. Now they throw themselves at the minimum,” says Da Rocha.
He says the idol, who still has a box at the stadium, has been nice to the youth players, he joked with them. And he proudly recalls having a brief scene in a documentary about Pele where they shared some passes. His 16-year-old grandson Kaiu Gregorio reports that they could see Edinho, Pelé’s son and coach, carrying the coffin on his shoulders. The king of football lies with an open coffin. “He has the face of a man at peace.” Impossible to stop, the line keeps moving and most of those present dedicate the precious moment to immortalize it with their mobile phone.
The hundreds of Brazilians – families, men, women, elderly and children – who queued for hours under the scorching sun for more than a kilometer, came mainly to say goodbye to their neighbor, the flesh and blood man you or their majors have ever crossed in life. Many wore the colors of Santos, black and white stripes. Most of them are residents of Santos, but they also come from the rest of the state of São Paulo or from much further afield.
Faded photo in hand, Ferreira Júnior recalls that Pelé was already Pelé when they went to college together in the early 1970s. “He had two Mercedes, he came to class with imported sneakers, with Puma sports pants, also imported, but at the entrance to the college he did not stop greeting a black woman who was selling acarajé. [un plato típico de Bahía]. “Good morning, aunt,” he used to say to her. That shaped me. He was simple even though he was an idol. Charismatic, he had a big heart,” he explains, before lining up to say goodbye one last time to the old classmate who didn’t attend the program’s annual meeting last year.
Some people remember that his car had a license plate that said “A Thousand Goals” or that the headlights of one of those Mercedes that a chauffeur was driving had windshield wipers. Small anecdotes for a man who was always attentive. Emerson Meneses, a 49-year-old taxi driver, says he was a teenager with a broken arm when he passed him on the street, who was dating Xuxa, the famous TV presenter. recently turned into a scourge of Bolsonaro. “I asked him to sign the cast and he signed it for me,” he recalls with a smile.
Helcio Acioli Verissimo, 71, saw him play when he was 13. It was in Ileus, Bahia state, near his hometown. “It was like from another planet. I was from Flamengo then. But Santos came to one game and scored six goals, five of them from Pelé. I threw away the Flamengo shirt… To this day I’m from Santos,” says this man, the proud grandfather of Gabriel Silva Miranda, a Santos U-20 player.
When the wake ends, Tuesday morning at 10am, the coffin will travel across town to the home of the footballer’s mother, Mrs Celeste, who recently turned 100. He can’t get out of bed. The king is later buried in the alcove he bought 20 years ago in one of the largest vertical cemeteries in the world. Overlooking the lawn of Vila Belmiro where he was happy and made so many happy.
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