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Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Pelé’s hometown attracts curious onlookers

In Pelé’s hometown in the interior of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, news of his passing has renewed curiosity among locals and visitors alike, eager to learn more about the life and exploits of soccer’s first superstar.

Located in the southeast of the country, between Belo Horizonte, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Tres Coraçoes has 75,000 inhabitants and is surrounded by coffee plantations.

But it is known worldwide for only one thing: being the birthplace, since 1940, of Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pelé. 

At 82 years of age, the star is suffered from colon cancer and had been hospitalized in a Sao Paulo hospital for a month. According to his doctors, the disease had advanced and Pelé had “renal and cardiac dysfunctions”. 

This news attracted new visitors to Casa Pelé, a replica of the home where he was born and lived his early years, located on a sloping street of low houses, named after him.   

“I had never been here before and the house is already 10 years old. But with the news of Pelé being hospitalized, we were curious,” says Neilor Henrique, a 41-year-old neighbor.

Built based on the memories of his mother, Celeste Arantes do Nascimento, now 100 years old, the house shows the humble origins of the family: little furniture, straw mattresses, an old radio under an oval portrait of his parents on the wall. 

A few blocks away, the small Terra do Rei museum exhibits objects such as autographed Santos jerseys, a ball used by Pelé and his birth certificate. 

Both places are maintained by the municipality. 

As a child, Pelé moved to the interior of Sao Paulo, and as a teenager he joined Santos, a club in the port city of the same name, where he began the career that would make him the only footballer in the world to win three times with his national team (1958, 1962 and 1970).

A little taste

That’s why the largest collection about him is in the Pelé Museum, in Santos. And in his homeland, some visitors are left with a taste of little. 

“I saw few images of him scattered around the city, almost none,” says businessman Rafael Antunes, 43, who made a detour on his family trip to visit Tres Coraçoes. 

At the city gates, visitors are greeted with a statue of Pelé leaping in celebration over three red hearts.  

“I think it lacked a little respect for the history he had in soccer and for our country,” adds Antunes. 

Fernando Ortiz, a family friend and idealizer of the Casa Pelé, believes that the figure of the ex-footballer faces resistance of a different kind.

“Many Brazilians can’t stand to see other compatriots being successful. And when it’s a black Brazilian, the rejection is even greater,” claims this white, bald man. 

“If he were white and light-eyed, his acceptance would be unanimous,” he argues. 

After the tributes he received at Qatar-2022, the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) suggested to the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) to replace three of the five stars on the shield with hearts, in honor of Pelé’s three world titles and his hometown.

For Rosa Cosvoski, a 48-year-old tourist, Pelé “brought in his heart love for the homeland, for soccer and for Brazil.” 

“His legacy for future generations is very important,” she adds. 

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