Love is more important than what we can take in life,” Edson Arantes do Nascimento told an emotional crowd of 75,646 at his final game for the Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. “Please say with me, three times, Love! Love! Love!” That was last October. Two weeks ago Nascimento, better known as Pelé, 37, surprised his closest friends, and millions of fans, by announcing that he and his love of 12 years—his wife, Rose—had separated.
Friends say there is no other woman in his life, nor man in hers. Rose, 33, had simply grown weary of Pelt’s unending absence. “I have been traveling for 22 years,” Pelé explained. “Rose says it has to stop, but I cannot change my life at this stage. I love her and she loves me, but sometimes it is better to live separated. Sometimes God wants it that way.” Rose and their three children—Kely Christina, 11, Edinho, 7, and 6-week-old Jennifer—will continue to live in their regal apartment in Manhattan. Pelé, meanwhile, packed his bags and checked into a nearby hotel. (He lives six months in the U.S., six in Brazil for tax reasons.)
They first flirted when Rose was only 12, the daughter of a stevedore living next door in Santos, Brazil. Her suitor had just begun to win fame as Pelé, a nickname of unknown origin. During their secretive courtship, he once commented, “I want a wife that likes Edson, and not Pelé.”
Married during Brazil’s carnival in 1966, the couple hoped to avoid newsmen. Some 500 of them showed up. One day after Kely was born in 1967, Pelé had to leave with his team for 40 days. He missed the birth of Edinho altogether. “That is what I do not like about being Pelé’ he said, “and that is why I will retire.” Before he did, he led Brazil to three World Cup championships, scored a record 1,281 goals and became the world’s highest-paid team athlete. His three-year contract with the Cosmos was for $4.7 million.
Even in retirement, Pelé has hardly slowed down. He is a consultant for Warner Communications, which owns the Cosmos, and head of a vast Brazilian-based business empire. When Jennifer was born in June, Pelé was in Argentina broadcasting the World Cup games. He returned to New York two days later and after four days at home took off again. “A lot of little things like that probably added up,” observes Julio Mazzei, director of the Pelé Soccer Camps and one of his closest friends. “I think they will eventually realize it’s better to live together.”
In Santos they shared a $600,000 mansion with a 40-seat movie theater and a darkroom for Rose, an accomplished photographer. The move to New York in 1975 so Pelé could play for the Cosmos apparently changed both of them. In Manhattan Rose transformed herself from a nondescript brunette into a stunning blonde. Still, she remained inconspicuous enough to shoot pictures in Central Park without being recognized.
“Pelé will never die,” the king of soccer mused after his retirement. “But Edson lives also. I wish the people H could understand this. Edson, he: makes mistakes like all men do.”