Considered by many to be the greatest footballer of all time, Pele will celebrate his 80th birthday Friday, confined to his home in Brazil because of Covid-19 but meeting the milestone with his trademark laugh.
“The King” has suffered from a series of health problems in recent years, but has not lost his charisma or sense of humor.
“I’m fine, it’s just I won’t be able to play” on his birthday, he joked this week in a video conversation with the head of the Brazilian Football Confederation.
The only player in history to win three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970), Pele plans to celebrate his birthday quietly — as he does almost every year, he says, coronavirus pandemic or not.
But several tributes are planned in Brazil, from an exhibit in his honor at the Sao Paulo Football Museum to a mural designed by renowned street artist Kobra in Santos, the city where Pele started his professional career as a 15-year-old prodigy in 1955.
Pele also recorded a song with Grammy-winning Mexican duo Rodrigo and Gabriela, billed as “a little birthday present for his fans and himself.”
“Thank you to Brazil and all Brazilians. I was always very happy wearing this jersey. Thank you for all your warm wishes for my birthday,” he wrote Wednesday on Instagram, posted with a photo of himself celebrating one of his 1,281 goals.
Whether captured in grainy black and white early in his career, or with his yellow and green number 10 Brazil jersey flitting across the screen in the era of color TV, many of those goals were spectacular displays of athletic prowess, setting the standard for the “jogo bonito,” or “beautiful game,” that would come to define Brazilian football.
His legacy looms so large that FIFA named him the greatest footballer of the 20th century in 2000, alongside Argentina’s Diego Maradona — who celebrates his 60th birthday on October 30.
Born October 23, 1940, in the city of Tres Coracoes in southeastern Brazil, Edson Arantes do Nascimento — Pele’s real name — has grown increasingly frail with age.
His public appearances had become rare even before the pandemic confined him at home in Brazil, where Covid-19 has now claimed 155,000 lives, the second-highest death toll in the world after the United States.
Pele has been in and out of hospital in recent years for various health issues.
Last year he was rushed to the hospital for kidney problems after traveling to Paris for a promotional appearance with French star Kylian Mbappe.
In 2014, he was placed in intensive care for dialysis after contracting a severe urinary infection.
“The King” has only one kidney, after a broken rib during a match forced doctors to remove the other.
He has also suffered a series of hip problems, forcing him to use a walker.
Earlier this year, his son Edinho said health problems had left his father depressed and reclusive.
“Just imagine, he’s the ‘King,’ he was always such an imposing figure, and now he can’t walk normally,” he said.
Pele quickly reassured fans that he was fine.
“I have good days and others that are less good. That’s normal for someone my age,” he said.
Pele said he was happy for his good mental health in a video sent to the media Tuesday.
“I thank God for giving me the health to make it this far lucid. Not very intelligent, but lucid,” he joked.
“I hope when I die God will welcome me the same way I’ve been welcomed all over the world because of our beloved football,” he added.