SANTOS, Brazil (AP) — The city where Pele rose to fame honored its favorite son Sunday, celebrating the life and career of the Brazilian football great while his country hosted the World Cup.
Hundreds of dignitaries were on hand in the port city of Santos to toast the 73-year-old Pele at the official opening of the Pele Museum — a 4,000 square meter complex inside the city's old town that cost about $22 million and houses more than 2,500 items related to his career, including trophies, jerseys and images of him with world leaders and celebrities.
Considered by many to be the greatest footballer ever, Pele rose to stardom at Santos FC, where he played between 1956 and 1974. During that period he also led Brazil to three World Cup titles.
Pele rode into the ceremony on a tram and was greeted by wild applause. Visibly emotional, he said the museum was a "dream" and that he was proud to represent the city and his country.
"In 1958 (Brazil's first World Cup victory) no one knew Brazil and today everyone's here at the inauguration of my museum," he said at the podium. "When I played in the 1958 Cup nobody knew Brazil, now we're getting the Cup of all Cups and all eyes are on us here."
To this day, he remains a national hero. He is also a successful businessman and a United Nations goodwill ambassador.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was supposed to attend the ceremony Sunday but had to cancel at the last minute. A recorded video address was delivered instead, followed by a video tribute that included Pele's career highlights.
Like other World Cup-related events, protesters awaited outside the barricaded compound. They delayed the dignitaries and their chants could be heard throughout the ceremony as a series of politicians took the stage.
But when it came to Pele, there was pretty much a consensus, said Anna Beatriz Ayroza Galvao, who works in the city of Sao Paulo's Brazilian heritage department.
"He is part of our cultural history. He is a reference, a symbol that every Brazilian is proud to follow," she said. "He is an example for everyone."