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Pele fans search Brazilian football legend’s hometown for souvenirs

By AFP - Dec 29,2022 - Last updated at Dec 29,2022

In this file photo taken on December 22, 2010, Brazilian football legend Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known as 'Pele', poses with his six Brazil's ch ampion medals during a ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (AFP photo)


TRÊS CORAÇOES, Brazil — The deteriorating health of sports legend Pele has rekindled curiosity about the quiet town of Tres Coracoes in southeastern Brazil, where the football prodigy was born 82 years ago.

Fans seeking rare mementos of the Brazilian star are scouring the town of 75,000 inhabitants where Pele was born to a poor family and spent the first years of his life.

A month ago, Pele was admitted to Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo, where he had been undergoing treatment for colon cancer since late 2021.

Eight days ago, the hospital announced Pele's cancer was showing "progression" and he needed "more extensive care to treat kidney and heart failure".

Tres Coracoes, which means "three hearts" in Portuguese, is located some 250 kilometres from Brazil's three major metropolises: Belo Horizonte, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

The small town is surrounded by coffee plantations and is famous for just one thing: the birth, in 1940, of Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known as Pele.

Pele moved away from Tres Coracoes at a young age before joining his longtime club, Santos FC, as a teenager.

Santos, a port city near Sao Paulo, now hosts the Pele Museum, where most of his trophies and other memorabilia are displayed.

The football star's declining health has drawn fans to the museum and to Tres Coracoes, where they can visit Pele House — a replica of his first home.

"I had never been to this house, which is already ten years old," said Neilor Henrique, who lives nearby.

"But the news of his hospitalisation made me want to visit it," the 41-year-old told AFP.

Built based on the memories of Pele's mother, Celeste Arantes do Nascimento, now 100 years old, the house shows the family's modest origins, with a few pieces of wooden furniture, straw mattresses, an old radio and a framed portrait of his parents on one wall.


Immense statue 


A few metres away, the small museum Terra do Rei (Land of the King) exhibits Santos jerseys signed by Pele, a football he played with and his birth certificate.

But some fans say they wished Tres Coracoes had more mementos of the man dubbed "The King".

Rafael Antunes took a detour during a family trip to visit the town in search of Pele souvenirs.

"I found few traces of him in the town, almost none," said the 43-year-old entrepreneur, unimpressed by the huge statue of Pele that stands at the entrance to the town.

"I think it shows a certain lack of respect for the role he played for football and our country," he said of the only player to ever win the World Cup three times.

But Fernando Ortiz, a family friend, has a different reasoning for why there aren't more monuments to Pele.

"Many Brazilians can't stand to see their compatriots succeed. And when it's a black Brazilian, the dismissal is even stronger," said the 60-year-old, who spearheaded the construction of Pele House.

"Unfortunately, I think that if Pele had been a white man with light eyes, he would have been accepted by everyone."

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