Brazilian football legend Pele on Tuesday was declared well enough to leave the Sao Paulo clinic treating him for a kidney complaint, 15 days after his admission shocked his soccer-mad nation.
“I wasn’t afraid of dying as I am a man with three hearts,” joked the 74-year-old, alluding to his birthplace, Tres Coracoes, which means “three hearts” in Portuguese.
Grinning broadly despite walking somewhat gingerly, he told reporters he felt fit enough to play football for Brazil in the Rio Olympics in 2016.
“I am preparing for the Olympics! Three professionals can play in the Olympics. I’m one of the three!”
Thanking his medical team, Pele, who earlier in November underwent kidney stone treatment at the same clinic before returning days later after complaining of abdominal pain, admitted he had had a “fright” at first after he was briefly placed in intensive care.
“It was a real fright. We were at the Pele museum in Santos when I caught an infection and couldn’t attend an autograph signing session.
“But thank God I am well, I’m better now,” said the three-time World Cup winner, thanking the many well-wishers from around the world who had passed on their regards during the past two weeks.
“I was very touched to receive messages from China, Pakistan, countries across Europe. I didn’t know so many people were keeping abreast of my situation.
“And of course I especially thank Brazilians for always supporting me. It’s good to know that as well as God’s help I have the support of so many people around the world,” he told a news conference at the Albert Einstein hospital.
The star was hospitalized on November 24 with a suspected urinary tract infection requiring antibiotics.
Three days later, the hospital placed the man nicknamed “O Rei” — “The King” — in intensive care after his condition became “clinically unstable,” briefly alarming fans.
Some Brazilian media reported Pele had septicemia, a blood infection, after he initially failed to respond to treatment.
But the clinic stopped renal assistance three days later and moved Pele to semi-intensive care after extensive tests.
Pele has only one kidney after the other was removed following a rib injury he suffered while playing for the New York Cosmos in the 1970s, his agent Jose “Pepito” Fornos told AFP.
Pele was named athlete of the 20th century by the International Olympic Committee in 1999 and he helped Brazil to world titles in 1958, 1962 and 1970.
Widely regarded as the best footballer ever, Pele won his first World Cup at just 17, scoring twice in the final win over hosts Sweden.
Although injured early on in 1962, when Brazil retained the trophy, he scored in Brazil’s 1970 final win over Italy.
Pele ended his career with a spell in the then-embryonic US league with the New York Cosmos and scored 77 goals in 91 games for Brazil and a total 1,281 in his career.