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File photo - Pele acknowledges the fans before Soccer Aid 2016 at Old Trafford, Manchester Nigel French/PA Images

'An inspiration to generations': Tributes continue to pour in following death of Pele

The three-time World Cup winner died yesterday having been in hospital in Sao Paulo since late November.

TRIBUTES ARE CONTINUING to pour in from across the globe to Brazil great Pele following his death at the age of 82.

The three-time World Cup winner died yesterday having been in hospital in Sao Paulo since late November.

Pele, widely regarded as the best footballer to have graced the game, was a prodigious scorer of goals, and is credited with 1,281 of them across the length of his career by the official Fifa website.

A tweet from the Brazilian Football Federation (CBF) read simply “King Pele”, accompanied by three crown emojis.

The country’s government announced it would hold three days of national mourning for the “great man and superb athlete”.

The president of the federation, Ednaldo Rodrigues, said in a statement: “The CBF will pay all possible tributes to the greatest athlete of all time. Pele is eternal and we will always work to preserve his history and continue his legacy.”

Hollywood actor Will Smith led tributes from the world of entertainment, saying Pele was “the greatest to ever do it” adding in Portuguese: “Descanse em paz, Rei Pele (Rest in peace King Pele)”.

He was joined by fellow celebrities Naomi Campbell, Nigella Lawson, Boy George, Richard Branson, Russell Brand, Liam Gallagher, musician Billy Bragg, Scottish writer Irvine Welsh and actor Robert Carlyle in paying tribute to the footballing legend.

Branson wrote on Twitter: “RIP Pele. The original GOAT, and an inspiration to generations of football players and fans.”

US President Joe Biden said Pele’s rise from “humble beginnings to soccer legend is a story of what is possible”.

Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in Sao Paulo said in a statement that Pele died at 3.27pm local time (6.27pm Irish time) yesterday “due to the failure of multiple organs as a result of the progression of colon cancer”.

Pele’s daughter Kely Nascimento wrote on Instagram: “We are thanks to you. We love you infinitely. Rest in peace.”

Nascimento, who had posted before Christmas that members of Pele’s family would spend the holiday period in the hospital with him, added three heartbroken emojis.

A message on Pele’s official social media accounts read: “Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pele, who peacefully passed away today.

“Love, love and love, forever.”

Former England striker Geoff Hurst – who won the World Cup in 1966, scoring a hat-trick in the final – said on Twitter: “I have so many memories of Pele, without doubt the best footballer I ever played against (with Bobby Moore being the best footballer I ever played alongside).

“For me Pele remains the greatest of all time and I was proud to be on the pitch with him. RIP Pele and thank you.”

Fellow former England player Alan Murray – who played against Pele three times including the 1970 World Cup – called him the “greatest of the greatest”.

“This fella, he had to play against people like me that wanted to kill him. You know, I mean, I did kick him a few times,” he told Times Radio.

“In London, about 10 years ago… he pulled up his trouser leg. And he pointed to me, he said, ‘that’s what you’ve done to me’. We both got a hold of each other and gave each other a hug, and we started laughing.”

Pele’s global stardom saw him take on a lead role in the 1981 film Escape to Victory about Allied prisoners of war playing an exhibition football match against the Germans.

It also featured the likes of Hollywood A-listers Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine and Max Von Sydow as well as fellow players England captain Bobby Moore and Ossie Ardiles, the former Tottenham midfielder who was a World Cup winner with Argentina in 1978.

Ardiles posted a picture of him alongside Pele in the Allied team on Twitter. “The King of Kings has died. Extraordinary player. Unique. 3 times World Cup winner, more than a thousand goals,” he said.

“My idol when young. He made football the beautiful game and truly international. My time playing alongside him in Escape to Victory was a dream come true. RIP Pele.”

Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said: “Few Brazilians took the name of our country as far as he did.”

Former US president Barack Obama said Pele was “one of the greatest to ever play the beautiful game”, adding: “And as one of the most recognisable athletes in the world, he understood the power of sports to bring people together. Our thoughts are with his family and everyone who loved and admired him.”

Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni said Pele “left a mark even on the generations who weren’t lucky enough to see him play”, while London mayor Sadiq Khan described him as a “hero to so many and one of the greatest to ever grace the game”.

Santos, the club where Pele played in Brazil, said in a statement the public will be able to pay their final respects at his funeral at the Vila Belmiro Stadium, outside Sao Paulo, on Monday and Tuesday.

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