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Tributes Pour In as Brazil Readies for Pelé’s Funeral

SANTOS, Brazil — As Brazil prepared for Pelé’s funeral, condolences and reminiscences for the most famous soccer player in history poured in from around the world.

Pelé’s body will lie at midfield at the Estádio Urbano Caldeira, known popularly as Vila Belmiro, in Santos, Brazil, for 24 hours, from Monday morning to Tuesday morning, to allow what is expected to be a throng of mourners to pass by. The stadium, in the state of São Paulo, is home to Santos F.C., the club where Pelé spent nearly his entire career.

The body will then be taken through the streets of Santos to the Ecumenical Necropolis Memorial for a private burial.

On Friday morning, fans gathered at soccer’s main landmarks in Santos, a port city of about 430,000.

Across the street from the stadium, Eva de Souza Nunes, 84, hung an oversized black-and-white flag bearing the club’s crest from her balcony.

“I’m in mourning today,” said de Souza Nunes, a retired nurse. “And it’s not just me. Brazil is in mourning; the whole world is in mourning.”

Across town, fans streamed to a bronze statue depicting Pelé’s famous “air punch” goal celebration, laying flowers and taking selfies. Rafael Barbosa, a 32-year-old bar owner, and his daughter Livia, 10, drew close to the statue for a picture, lifting their fists and striking the famous pose.

“Pelé is our king,” said Barbosa, who had traveled more than 300 miles from the city of Paraguaçu Paulista to pay his respects. “He’s history. He lives on in our memories, in the memories of our grandparents.”

Vilma Mattos de Lima, a 69-year-old special education teacher, wore a white jersey that Pelé had signed, and laid a hand on the statue with reverence.

“I was 10 years old when I saw him play for the first time,” she said. “And I was enchanted from that moment. Losing him is heartbreaking.”

As befits a player who transcended his sport to become an iconic figure for his nation, and who transcended his nation to become a symbol for soccer worldwide, praise and memories of Pelé have poured in across social media since his death on Thursday.

“I had the privilege that the younger Brazilians did not have: I saw Pelé play live at Pacaembu and Morumbi,” Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s incoming president, said, referring to two stadiums in São Paulo. “Not merely play. I saw Pelé presenting a master class. When he got the ball, he always did something special, often ending in a goal. I confess I had a lot of anger issues regarding Pelé, because he always slaughtered my Corinthians. But first of all, I admired him. And the anger soon gave way to passion of watching him play with the 10 jersey of the Brazilian national team.”

“Pelé changed everything,” said Neymar, the Brazilian superstar. “He turned football into art, into entertainment, he gave a voice to the poor, to Black people and, above all, he gave visibility to Brazil. Football and Brazil raised their status, thanks to the king. He is gone, but his magic will remain. Pelé is eternal.”

“He will be immortalized in every magnificent goal, in every moment of genius, but mainly in each one of us who were inspired by him and his generation,” said Cafu, the former Brazilian great.

“By your feet we were and will continue to be blessed by your art,” said Marta, one of the best women’s players ever. “I love you, king.”

“Michael Jordan was the Pelé of basketball,” said Antonio Tabet, a Brazilian comedian. “Muhammad Ali was the Pelé of boxing. Michael Phelps was the Pelé of swimming. Roger Federer was the Pelé of tennis. Pelé was Pelé. Eternal, unrestricted and an adjective.”

Pelé had a worldwide impact.

“For a sport that brings the world together like no other, Pelé’s rise from humble beginnings to soccer legend is a story of what is possible,” President Biden said.

“Pele made millions of young boys in the Global South to dream,” said William Samoei Ruto, the president of Kenya. “His profile as a global icon of sporting excellence and high athletic achievement was an inspirational model which encouraged young men to transcend their limitations and defy all economic, social, cultural and political barriers.”

“The most divine of footballers and joyous of men,” the English commentator and former star player Gary Lineker said. “He played a game only a few chosen ones have come close to. Three times he lifted the most coveted gold trophy in that beautiful yellow shirt.”

Leonardo Coelho contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro, and Victor Mather from New York.

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