Pele was “a man who became a culture” and changed the world’s perception of Brazil forever, a cultural leader has said.
The footballing legend died aged 82 on Thursday after being admitted to a Sao Paulo hospital in November.
Simone Dias, director of the Brazilian Cultural Centre in Nottingham, said Pele had become “immortal” and reflected the Brazilians’ spontaneous and free attitude towards life on the pitch.
She told the PA news agency: “I’m still shocked. I haven’t lived in Brazil for a long time but it’s like someone from my family is dead. It’s like one part of my culture is dead as well, but gone to live forever. It’s a strange feeling.
“Pele is a man who became a culture, everyone knows about him. He is amazing, he just passed away but he is not dead, he’s going to be forever in our hearts and our culture, he changed everything. He is immortal.
“We knew that he wasn’t well, we knew the time was coming but at the same time it is very sad to hear that an idol for us unfortunately is not with us any more.”
Pele helped Brazil to its first World Cup victory in 1958 when he was just 17 and quickly became a superstar in his home country.
Injury prevented him from playing in the next World Cup when Brazil retained the trophy in Chile in 1962 and he was criticised for not speaking out against the military coup in Brazil two years later.
In 1966 in England, Pele was exposed to some brutal treatment from defenders, particularly those in the Portugal team, and the South Americans failed to qualify from their group.
There was debate about whether Pele, at only 29, should participate in the 1970 finals but he answered his critics by helping his team to lift the trophy in Mexico.
Ms Dias said: “He changed everything about football. He made Brazil the country of football for us. I was born in ’76, he stopped playing in ’77 so I was just one year old, however when I was growing up I heard about what he had done, the first player to win three World Cups, the goals he had.
“At the same time he united us around the Brazilian squad. When he was playing it was like we were playing and that became something that passed from generation to generation and it infected, in a good way, all the players.”
Tributes have flooded in from across the world including from former US president Barack Obama, who tweeted about Pele’s legendary status.
Ms Dias said: “He gave us a voice. As Neymar said, for the poor, the vulnerable people, we all unite as one when Brazil play because of this man and everything that came after him became a culture and became engraved in the Brazilian way to live.
“He could show our happiness. The way we conduct our life… we have something about happiness and being in the present, taking our time and he could show this on the field and I think other people in the world they could see, oh Brazilians are like that, so when I go to Brazil I’m going to find these kind of people there.
“Back in Brazil when we had the World Cup, everything was closed, all the shops. We got the streets all dressed up with the Brazilian colours, we stopped what we were doing to watch the games because of this man, because of the beautiful things he has done on the field and outside.
“And when I go out and about in any place, when I say that I come from Brazil they say samba, Pele, carnival. This man is just amazing, he is the king of football.”