Pelé: In a League of His Own

By BRICS JOURNAL

Considered the greatest player of all time by many around the world, the legendary Brazilian footballer achieved records which remain unbeaten today. BRICS Journal looks back on his electrifying career.

“I arrived hoping to stop a great man, but I went away convinced I had been undone by someone who was not born on the same planet as the rest of us.” – Costa Pereira

To any fan of the beautiful game, Pelé is much more than just a retired footballer: He is a global icon. Even after 39 years in retirement, the world is yet to produce a soccer player that comes close to Pelé’s talent and skill. Costa Pereira, who was a goal-keeper at the time, is famously quoted saying this of Pelé after playing against his team in 1962: “I arrived hoping to stop a great man, but I went away convinced I had been undone by someone who was not born on the same planet as the rest of us.”

In 1958 the 17-year-old Pele was the youngest player in the FIFA World Cup tournament held in Sweden. He was also the youngest player to ever play in the World Cup, a record which was broken by Norman Whiteside, who was six months younger than Pelé, in 1982.

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, he became known as “Pelé” along the way. While there is a tale that he picked up this name because he couldn’t pronounce one of his favourite player’s names – Bilé – properly, Pelé stated in his autobiography that he had no idea what the name meant, or where it came from and neither did his old school buddies.

His 1958 performance cemented his name in the minds of football lovers around the world when the then teen scored two of the five goals that would secure Brazil’s first-ever World Cup win. He went on to secure two more World Cup wins for his country, a feat no other soccer player has achieved to date. At the age of 75, Pelé reflected on that moment in a letter to his younger self with the words: “At the 1958 final, I passed out and fell to the ground. The emotion was simply too much for my body.”

In 1968 he made history yet again, this time with his now famous bicycle kick. The technique is one of the most difficult to execute and rarely perfected. Not only does the player need to maintain good form when executing the move, he must simultaneously exhibit exceptional accuracy and precision when striking the ball. Pelé pulled it off without a hitch in a game against Belgium.

By 1969 Pelé’s fan base had reached Nigeria too and Santos was scheduled to play in the country, which was in the throes of a civil war. The games had been arranged well in advance, and for financial reasons the Brazilians decided not to cancel. The two sides agreed to a 48-hour truce and soldiers from both sides reportedly attended the matches. The war resumed after two-day period had lapsed.

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