'Pele is eternal': Football stars Neymar, Ronaldo, Messi lead tributes to Brazil legend

Nicknamed 'O Rei' (The King), Pele scored more than 1,000 goals before retiring in 1977

By AFP

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Lionel Messi (left) poses with Brazilian football legend Pele (centre) and Brazilian forward Neymar during the 2012 Fifa Ballon d'Or ceremony in Zurich. — AFP file
Lionel Messi (left) poses with Brazilian football legend Pele (centre) and Brazilian forward Neymar during the 2012 Fifa Ballon d'Or ceremony in Zurich. — AFP file

Published: Fri 30 Dec 2022, 12:51 AM

Last updated: Fri 30 Dec 2022, 2:08 PM

Neymar led the tributes to Pele after the Brazil legend's death on Thursday as the Paris Saint Germain star said his iconic compatriot had "transformed football into an art".

Pele passed away aged 82 after suffering "multiple organ failure" following a long battle with cancer and the football world was quick to salute arguably the sport's greatest ever player.

Nicknamed "O Rei" (The King), Pele scored more than 1,000 goals before retiring in 1977.

Brazil forward Neymar hailed Pele, a three-time World Cup winner, in a social media post alongside two pictures of himself with the legend.

"Before Pele, '10' was just a number," the heir to Pele's famed shirt number wrote on Instagram.

"But that beautiful sentence is incomplete. I would say that before Pele, football was just a sport.

"He transformed football into an art, into entertainment... Football and Brazil gained status thanks to the King. He has gone, but his magic will remain. Pele is ETERNAL!"

Like Pele, France striker Kylian Mbappe shot to stardom after winning the World Cup at a young age.

Mbappe helped France lift the World Cup in 2018 and also scored a hat trick in Les Bleus' dramatic penalty shoot-out defeat against Argentina in the tournament's 2022 final earlier this month.

"The king of football has left us but his legacy will never be forgotten. RIP KING," PSG forward Mbappe tweeted.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal's all-time top scorer, paid tribute to "the eternal King Pele" on Instagram.

"A mere 'goodbye' will never be enough to express the pain that the entire football world is currently embracing," he wrote. "The love you always showed me was reciprocated in every moment we shared even from a distance."

Argentinian star Lionel Messi shared heartwarming photos of him and Pele on Instagram, with a caption "Descansa en paz, (Rest in peace) @pele."

Here's one of the photos he posted:

Former England World Cup winner Geoff Hurst hailed Pele as the "greatest of all time".

Hurst played against Pele in the 1970 World Cup, with Brazil winning a group stage match between the two countries 1-0, and rated the forward as the best he ever faced.

"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)," Hurst tweeted.

"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."

Hurst's record as the only man to score a World Cup final hat trick -- in England's 4-2 victory against West Germany in 1966 -- was equalled by Mbappe in Qatar.

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