Football’s first world superstar Pele was laid to rest on Tuesday after thousands turned out to pay their final respects.
Brazil’s three-times World Cup winner, who died on December 29 at the age of 82, was interred on the ninth floor of the vertical Memorial Necropole Ecumenica – reportedly at his own request so he could look over the nearby Urbano Caldeira stadium, the home of former club Santos – amid an outpouring of affection.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, who was known throughout his career as Pele, had lain in state for 24 hours in an open coffin draped with both Brazil and Santos flags on the pitch at the stadium in the city’s Vila Belmiro neighbourhood to allow fans and dignitaries to file past.
The country’s newly-installed president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was among them on a day when a country deeply divided by politics united to celebrate the life of perhaps its most famous son.
Lula said on his official Twitter account: “Pele’s death is an irreparable loss for Brazil.
“I was in Vila Belmiro today to say goodbye to our football king, as President of the Republic, but also as a citizen who admired the art he produced on the pitch. Rest in peace.”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino also took to social media, in his case to defend himself against criticism for apparently posing for “selfies” as Pele lay in state nearby on Monday.
In an Instagram post, Infantino said family members and former team-mates of Pele had asked him for a photograph and he was happy to oblige.
He added: “I have so much respect and admiration for Pele and for that ceremony yesterday that I would never do anything that would be disrespectful in any way whatsoever.
“I hope that those who published or said things without knowing and without seeking information could have the decency and courage to admit they were wrong and correct what they said.”
Infantino, who has urged each of FIFA’s 211 member associations to name a venue after the former Brazil striker, revealed that the pitch at the governing body’s headquarters in Switzerland would now be known as ‘Estadio Pele – FIFA Zurich’.
For most who turned out, it was not a day for politics, sporting or otherwise, but rather one on which to mark the remarkable life of a man whose talent and goals – he scored more than 1,000 of them during a glittering career – made him a household name as a player, but one whose stature was not only maintained, but enhanced after his retirement.
Pele’s coffin was placed on the back of a fire engine and driven through the streets of Santos, where thousands more, many of them clad in either his club or national colours, said their own farewells, and poignantly passed the home of his 100-year-old mother Celeste.
There was sadness at his loss, and also gratitude for the joy he brought, not only to his compatriots, but millions around the world from his emergence on the international stage as a 17-year-old at the 1958 World Cup finals.
A post on Santos’ official Twitter account said: “Rest in peace, Edson Arantes do Nascimento. Watch over us, King Pele. Our love story remains alive, because just like you, it is eternal.
“Thank you for everything.”
Ultimately, the final goodbye was a private affair as he was buried after a family funeral service, away from the wave of public mourning which greeted the news of the death of one of the game’s best-known and most-loved names.