The remains of Pelé, the eternal number 10 who marked generations of football lovers, joined his final resting place on Tuesday: a 200 m2 mausoleum in the Vertical Cemetery in the Brazilian city of Santos, where a large crowd of fans paid him a heartfelt tribute .
“Now he will be able to rest,” Edinho, one of his six children who are still alive, told reporters at the entrance to the ecumenical necropolis, where the burial took place in the privacy of the family.
This necropolis, an ultra-modern 14-story building with an immaculate facade, is the tallest vertical cemetery in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records. On the first floor, the mausoleum where Pelé’s coffin was laid resembles a football stadium with its artificial turf and images of “The King”, a communications manager at the cemetery confirmed to AFP on Tuesday.
Before the funeral, the Brazilian people’s final tribute to the three-time world champion ended with a moving four-hour procession through the streets of Santos, a seaside resort and the largest port in South America, 75 km from Sao Paolo.
The coffin, which in the aftermath had remained open and covered with a veil of tulle, leaving only the deceased’s face visible, was sealed at Belmiro from Santos FC, where Pelé shone from 1956 to 1974.
More than 230,000 people gathered before his remains, a ceaseless parade, day and night, of admirers, often moved to tears.
Huge honor guard
Removed from the stadium in a carriage, the black coffin was hoisted atop a fire truck and then covered with two flags: Brazil’s and Santos FC’s.
Throughout the funeral procession, crossing the streets of the city, and especially past the sea, thousands of supporters formed a huge hedge of honor.
Some chanted: “1000 goals, only Pelé did it!”. The legendary Brazilian scored 1,091 of his 1,283 goals in the white and black shirt of legendary club Santos.
The most poignant moment in the procession was passing in front of the house of Pelé’s mother, Celeste Arantes. At 100 years old, but suffering from cognitive impairment, she is unaware of her son’s death.
The truck stopped for a few minutes in front of this residence with a beige facade, where a large green flag with the image of Pelé had been hung.
His sister Maria Lucia, 78, appeared on the balcony with other family members. Visibly moved, she greeted the supporters who had gathered in front of the house for a long time.
“He was the greatest player in the world, so it’s worth being here,” said 77-year-old retiree Maria Benedita, very moved, as the red-and-white fire engine passed by.
President Lula faces the “king”
The Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, came specially to Santos from Brasilia to pay his respects to the remains of Pelé at the end of the funeral.
Arriving near the stadium by helicopter, Lula, who took office on Sunday, immediately offered condolences to Pelé’s widow.
The head of state took part in a short religious ceremony near the coffin, where the priest evoked an imaginary dialogue in Paradise between Pelé and God, who would have said to him: “Here you are still king, but I am the Lord”.
“He was incomparable, as a footballer and as a man,” Lula said in a video released by Santos TV shortly after the president’s visit.
“No tribute would be strong enough for what he represented, for the history he wrote. It is a great feeling of pride and gratitude”, summed up his son Edinho, former goalkeeper and current coach of Londrina, club in the Brazilian second division .
“It’s a well-deserved farewell to the greatest player in history, a celebration fit for a king,” said Rene Rodrigo da Silva, a 29-year-old psychologist who attended the funeral procession.
Tributes have poured in from around the world since Pele’s death on December 29, with football’s biggest names, current and past, paying tribute to his genius for the “beautiful game”.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known as Pelé, spent a month at the Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo until his death at the age of 82 due to kidney and heart failure, bronchopneumonia and colon adenocarcinoma, according to the death certificate published by local media.