Brazil and football fans around the world are mourning Pelé, the man celebrated as the greatest player in the history of the sport, who has died at the age of 82.

The death of one of the most popular and recognisable athletes of the 20th century was confirmed on Pelé’s official Instagram account, which carried the message: “Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pelé, who peacefully passed away today.”

He had undergone chemotherapy treatment for cancer and died at the Albert Einstein Israelite hospital in São Paulo, where he spent the last month of his life.

Doctors said the cause of death was “multiple organ failure, a result of the progression of colon cancer associated with his previous clinical condition”.

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento but better known by his nickname, Pelé burst on to the global stage at 17 as a member of the Brazilian team that won the 1958 World Cup, the first of three he would go on to lift.

His style of dribbling and prolific goalscoring dazzled spectators, earning the adoration of a nation famous for its obsession with football as well as the respect and awe of opponents.

Decades after his retirement the star remained an iconic national figure and was still referred to as “o Rei do Futebol” — the King of Football.

While he mostly withdrew from public life in recent times, battling cancer after a diagnosis last year, Pelé remained prolific on social media and posted regularly ahead of the World Cup in Qatar.

“In 1958, I walked the streets thinking about fulfilling the promise I made to my father,” he wrote on Twitter earlier this month, above a photo of himself as a young man on a street in Sweden, which held that year’s World Cup.

“I know that today many have made similar promises and are also going in search of their first World Cup”.

Following hospitalisation with a lung infection aggravated by Covid-19, family members kept vigil by Pelé’s bedside in his final days. His daughter, Kely Nascimento, posted on Instagram: “all we are is thanks to you. we love you infinitely. Rest in peace.”

As news of Pelé’s death spread tributes poured in from around the world, including from famous figures in the sport.

Brazil’s current star player, Neymar Junior, wrote on Instagram: “Before Pelé, football was just a sport. Pelé changed everything. He turned football into art, into entertainment. He gave a voice to the poor, to black people and especially: He gave visibility to Brazil.”

On Twitter, French forward Kylian Mbappé posted: “The king of football has left us but his legacy will never be forgotten. RIP KING”.

A mural of Pelé by Brazilian artist Aleksandro Reis in São Paulo
A mural of Pelé by Brazilian artist Aleksandro Reis in São Paulo © Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images

Hailing from the town of Três Corações in the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais, Pelé made his debut for the São Paulo-based Santos in 1956 at the age of 15. He came on as a substitute and scored. A year later, he made his international debut against Argentina.

His trio of World Cup wins with Brazil — in 1958, 1962 and 1970 — is a record that remains unequalled in international football.

“The last time I wore the jersey of the Brazilian team we put three stars on the shield,” he wrote on Twitter last month, referring to the three World Cup victories he participated in.*

Pelé spent all his Brazilian club career at Santos, before moving to the US to play for the New York Cosmos in 1975 for three seasons, a stint that helped boost the sport’s popularity in the states. He earned 92 caps for Brazil’s national team, scoring 77 times. Between 1995 and 1998, Pelé was the country’s extraordinary minister for sports.

Brazil’s president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, spoke of his “privilege” to have watched Pelé play live at stadiums in São Paulo.

“Few Brazilians took the name of our country as far as he did,” he tweeted. “Foreigners from the four corners of the planet soon found a way to pronounce the magic word: “Pelé””.

Lionel Messi, who captained Argentina to World Cup triumph this month, posted a picture of the two men together, with the caption: “Rest in peace, Pelé.”

*This article has been amended to clarify that Pelé participated in three of Brazil’s five World Cup victories

Additional reporting by Carolina Ingizza

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