NEW YORK (WABC) — As word spread about soccer legend Pelé’s passing, fans flocked to the Pele store in Times Square, where there is a growing tribute to the man who transformed the sport around the world.
“Pelé means everything to Brazil. He’s our history. He’s our history. He brought Brazil’s name in all over the world,” said Lucas Strabko.
The emotional reaction of the greatest player to have ever played the sport tells you all you need to know about his impact.
“I’m from Brazil. I’m sad. We lost our biggest idol. The greatest man of our history Pelé. And I’m in New York today. It’s so crazy to see Times Square the most important place in the world, and you see Pelé’s name,” added Strabko.
Pelé was the winner of a record three World Cups – the most transformative soccer player in the world.
In a 1983 interview on ‘Tiempo’ on Eyewitness News he talked about how his mother didn’t want him to play soccer because his father suffered an injury while playing the sport.
He was born in Brazil in 1940, grew up in poverty, and kicked a rolled-up sock stuffed with rags.
At the age of 15, coaches persuaded his parents to let him leave to join a professional team. In 1958, at 17, he became the youngest player to start in a World Cup final, scoring twice as Brazil beat Sweden. It was the first of three world titles he would help win for his country.
Pelé electrified audiences with his fancy footwork and his ability to seemingly score at will. During the 1960s, Pele was one of the most famous and highest-paid athletes in the world.
In 1967, he had the power to bring peace – he and his team visited Nigeria, prompting warring factions to call a 48-hour cease fire in the country’s Civil War.
“We stopped a war because the people were so crazy for football – they loved football, they stopped the war to see Santos play in Africa. This is fantastic, something you can’t explain,” Pelé said in an interview.
Pelé retired in 1974 but was lured to America to play for the New York Cosmos.
Former New York Cosmos player Tony Picciano played with Pelé in 1975. He retired from coaching in 2020 and lives on Long Island now. He says his friend and teammate was a mentor to him and so many others.
“He was an acorn. Put it inside the dirt and he would grow us as an oak tree and that’s what happened. Slowly things grew, but he was very good with certain players. Very very good. He really mentored some of the young players,” Picciano said.
The New York Cosmos released a lengthy statement that reads in part,
“Pelé’s name will forever be synonymous with sporting artistry and genius. His lasting impact on the sport of soccer is inestimable.”
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