Fifty-fourth installment in a series exploring very important people in my life.
Let me start explaining how this will work: I listed 65 idols of mine. Every Friday (with the exception of those reserved for the Rock Chain posts) I’ll draw one of the names (following a system that it’s really not important to be explained here) and talk about it.
Therefore, the order in which the names will appear doesn’t necessarily shows where they rank in my preference.
As a final introductory note, this is also not a biography article. I’ll just write how I feel about people represented in it, their talent and their importance in my life.
Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. It has been that way for a long, long, time and now even America is surrendering to its awesome power. If you read my blog, you’ll know I’m a sports freak but I first fell in love with sports in general through soccer.
However, there was in time in the United States when it was absolutely ignored and it was around this time that one person made it popular by simply getting there and showing his talent. And that would be Pelé.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento was born in Três Corações, Minas Gerais, Brazil, on October, 23, 1940. His father, Dondinho (João Ramos do Nascimento) was a former soccer player and his mother Celeste was a housekeeper.
Pelé grew up in poverty in Bauru (São Paulo’s countryside) and started playing with his friends on the street. Then he proceeded to play Futebol de Salão (indoor soccer) which allowed him to think quickly and hone his talents. Given his talent, he was spotted by Waldemar de Brito to play soccer for Bauru Athletic Club and led them to three youth state championships between 1954 and 1956. It was clear that the boy had something special and Waldemar took him to play professionally in Santos. And that’s when the real fun started.
Waldemar introduced him to Santos directors saying that Pelé would be “the greatest soccer player in the world”. He was just slightly wrong: he did not become the greatest soccer player in the world. He became the greatest soccer player of all time, alongside Michael Jordan the greatest athlete of all time and the two of them together with Paul McCartney, the three greatest human beings that ever lived. If they are actually human, that is.
But, for now, let’s go back to the story. In 1958 (at only seventeen) Pelé helped Santos win the Paulista League title scoring 58 (!!!) goals. A record that will never be matched. In the same year he helped Brazil win its first World Cup deciding a tough game against Wales, scoring against France in the semis and scoring twice in the finals against the home-team. But remember, he was SEVENTEEN!
Pelé was a force of nature. He couldn’t be stopped. He took Santos to FIVE consecutive Brazilian titles, two South American titles and two World titles. And actually, Santos didn’t win more, because they lost interest in the competitions, preferring to play in Europe for great amounts of money.
He helped Brazil win another World championship in 62 (although he was hurt right in the beginning) and he was kicked-out (literally) by the Portuguese team from the 1966 World Cup. He was almost killed in that game. But he never complained. However, in 1970 at his physical, technical and emotional pinnacle, he dazed the world: not only he was by far the MVP he made two of the most iconic soccer plays ever: the almost goal from midfield against Czechoslovakia (nobody had ever attempted that) and the move without touching the ball that left the Uruguayan goalkeeper wondering what happened.
But where Pelé exceeded was not in his wonderful plays, it was something far more simple: he wanted to win. His will to win was unmatched in soccer. He wanted to be champion. He didn’t care about beautiful moves or goals; that was second nature to him, he wanted to win. And that’s what set him apart from all great players of today.
I could be here writing a book about Pelé but it’s enough to say that:
- once playing in Africa with Santos, the two rival tribes that were at war stopped to see him play.
- There’s a photo in Mexico on the day Santos was playing there with a billboard that reads: “Today there’s no work because we’re going to see Pelé.”
- There’s an iconic image of Queen Elizabeth from England passing her crown to him.
- After becoming famous in America, he was leaving the Warner Bros. building with actor Robert Redford for lunch. On their way to the restaurant Pelé was recognized four times. Robert, none.
Oh yes, he was called in the mid-seventies to try popularize soccer in America. After a few games, his team the NY Cosmos was beating the Yankees in attendance.
Personally, I have a rather interesting story about Pelé’s popularity. I was at a cool Jazz Club and Restaurant in Atlanta (GA) called Dante’s Down the Hatch. After dinner the owner came to talk to us and wanted to show his wall of fame. There was him with Bill Clinton, Dominique Wilkins, a lot of singers and actors. However, right in the middle of all, the only framed photograph it was him and Pelé.
As a final note, I leave you with a quote from Benfica goalkeeper Costa Pereira after his team was beat by Santos in Portugal for the World Cup championship in 62: “I went away convinced I had been undone by someone who was not born on the same planet as the rest of us.”
Oh, I almost forgot: he scored 1281 goals.
Therefore, Pelé, please accept this humble honor of entering the Hall of Idols.
Be sure to check out my book “Straight and Lethal”
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