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CIFA pays tribute to football legend

Friday 30 December 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Soccer, Sports

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CIFA pays tribute to football legend
Pele has been described as “the king of football” and “footballing immortality” after the Brazil legend died at the age of 82. GETTY IMAGES/22122905

Cook Islands Football Association have joined in the outpouring of tributes to Brazil football legend Pelé, who has been widely regarded as the greatest of all time.

Pelé, the Brazilian king of football who won a record three World Cups and became one of the most commanding sports figures of the last century, died on Thursday in Sao Paulo. He was 82. 

The national football association joined the rest of the world to pay tribute to the mighty king of the “beautiful game” who succumbed to multiple organ failure as a result of colon cancer.

Cook Islands Football competitions manager Pauline Dean said: “Pelé has inspired aspiring football players all over the world including many here in the Cook Islands. Anyone who knows about football know Pelé, he is one of the greatest footballers apart from today’s generation’s stars (Lionel) Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo that aspiring footballers look up to.”

“He will sorely be missed by the footballing community all over the world. People will not forget him, they will remember him and talk of him for years and generations to come. Our condolences to his family and the footballing community.”

For the finest footballer New Zealand, and Oceania, has ever produced, Pelé will always be the GOAT (greatest of all time). And Wynton Rufer, who recently visited Rarotonga to run football clinic, has the stories, the perspective and, would you believe, the tattoo on his chest to back it up.

The symbolism was off the charts when Rufer unwrapped a 60th birthday present from his sons, Caleb and Joshua, on Thursday (NZ time). In the package were Pelé football shirts and a hoodie bearing the great man’s name on the back. Just hours later the Brazilian legend, and standard-bearer of “the beautiful game”, died after a battle with cancer.

“Pelé died on my 60th birthday,” Rufer told Stuff in an emotional and reflective journey down memory lane after an outcome he said he “knew was coming”. He added: “He’s my idol. The only one greater than him is Jesus for me as a Christian. But before I was a Christian Pelé was my god.”

Rufer has plenty of Pelé stories. Some gems too. His wife met his idol before he did. He missed him by seconds at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. He was a mumbling wreck when he finally crossed paths with the great man as part of Fifa’s football committee, and they went on to become good friends.

“He’s the GOAT to me, He’s No 1, (the late Diego) Maradona is No 2 and then Messi 3, It’s close at 3, and I’d put Marco van Basten and (Johan) Cruyff on the same level as Messi.”

Pelé was a figure on TV for most New Zealanders - but the 1982 All Whites team had a chance meeting with him before their final game of the World Cup against Brazil.

Goalkeeper Frank van Hattum said it was chaos in the changing room as Pelé walked in, handing out signed shirts.

“It was just huge, you know. Five minutes later we’re going to go out and play Brazil, we’re all a little bit twitchy and nervous about the whole process.

“And there's Pelé, large as life, and he didn’t speak English but everyone got photos, and it was really quite special because he was, and is, a legend.”

  • Additional reporting by AP, Stuff and RNZ