ModernGhana logo
25.03.2018 Feature Article

Pèlé : A Tribute To The God Of Soccer

Pèlé : A Tribute To The God Of Soccer
Listen to article

"...even the teams over which he triumphed ...share in his pleasure, for it is no disgrace to be defeated by a phenomenon defying emulation."

- Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State on Pèlé.

"He was called Gasoline for his energy, the Executioner for his finishing, the Black Pearl for his preciousness." - Hank Hersch on Soccer's Greatest Genius, Pèlé, Sports Illustrated June 01, 1999.

"I have had many great moments in my career, but the greatest honor was to play with Pele."

- Franz Beckenbauer, the West German hero and a Cosmo teammate who had followed Pèlé's lead to the U.S. (1977 in New York).

In the dying minutes of the World Cup Final in 1950, João Ramos Arantes variously called Dico or Dondinho was distraught and distressed. He couldn't control himself as he shed hot tears. Pèlé watched the tears cascaded down the cheek of his father as the Brazilian national team lost to Uruguay two goals to one. He was about ten years old. His father who once scored 5 goals in a single match, all with his head, and Pèlé's hero, was greatly pained by the loss. It was the first time Pele would see his father cry. Merely seeing the tears on his father's face was a sorrowful thing for Pèlé. He didn't know how to console his father.

But he tried. In trying, Pèlé felt the best thing was to give his father hope through promise. He consoled his father, as he helped him to wipe off the tears. With his bare hand, he repeatedly cleaned his father's face, unable to dam the stream of tears flowing down his father's chin. He appealed to his father to stop crying and promised that he would win a World Cup for him. The depth of feelings embedded in this emotional promise by Pèlé, which was elicited by the trauma exuded by his father, is better imagined. Whether this had any role to play in his exploits on the field of soccer later in the years, is better left in the realm of speculation.

"If Pèlé hadn't been born a man, he would have been born a ball."

- Armando Nogueira, Brasilian journalist.
On OCTOBER 23, 194O, yes, about 78 years ago, in a small village in Brazil called Tres Coraes in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, "G-O-D" also known as Pele was born. When someone's name spells "G-O-D" as the London Sunday Times spelt Pèlé, what that denotes is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. And in the art or game or profession of soccer, Pèlé, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento is without any doubt the one and only "G-O-D" of soccer.

On that day, the entire world never realized that the God of soccer was born in human flesh. But in less than a decade later, his immediate environment would become too limited, too constricted, too small a stage, too narrow a pedestal for his talent, for his gifts and his skills.It is one thing to be admired, especially if you are charismatic. But it is an entirely different thing if your records speak for themselves. No only that, most of those records are not just amazing, they are, in people's imaginations, beyond the realms of what mortals could ever aspire to.

Though, Pèlé is believed to be a human being, which presupposes that some of those records could be broken some time in the future. But the certainty that some of those records may remain unbroken forever has fueled suspicions in some quarters that he is "G-O-D" as he was once referred to by the London Sunday Times. That he was superhuman in the estimation of millions is just saying the obvious.

The only reason this quotation rings true is the seminal ability of Pèlé to communicate in the most effective ways with the round leather. Pèlé was not just able to adroitly communicate his intentions to the ball, he was dexterous at making the ball carry out his will proficiently. If anyone is able to do this at the level Pèlé did hundreds of times, then such person could himself have come from the tribe of the round leather to be able to communicate to another ball in such an effective manner to make on lookers deliriously euphoric. Journalist Nogueira probably did experience what millions of others have gone through wondering whether Pèlé was a human being, a ball in human` flesh or a "G-O-D" in human flesh to have been able to do all those excitingly exhilarating things with the round leather.

" .... a phenomenon defying emulation."
- Henry Kissinger (former U.S. Secretary of State)
He was a perfect study in ball control in most unusual and impossible situations. An amazing ability to control the ball while wrangling through cold, mean, brutal tackling was Pele's trademark. No soccer player in history has ever been subjected to as much flagrant fouls of the genre of blatant brutality, grueling cruelty and malicious meanness as Pele experienced. Many of those tackles caused Pele untold excruciating pains, numerous tortuous injuries and several lonely nights of crying. Some of those tackles would have been considered acts of murder these days. But they were the hurdles he had to scale, the sacrifices he had to make and the prices he had to pay to be the BEST of the bests that ever was.

With the kind of protection that are afforded soccer players nowadays, it would have been absolutely impossible to stop Pèlé. The defenders of this generation would have amounted to birds without wings since they would not have been able to soar with the eagle of Pele. Even, despite the murderous attacks, he was still able to excell in many ramifications, creating records, some of which are breakable and some of which would and could never be broken.

For millions who have been lucky to watch Pele play, and many billions who have gone to watch him on films, calling Pele "a phenomenon" like Henry Kissinger did would be an understatement. But when pulsating exudation of talent, scintillating showcase of skills and dexterous display of ability combine to create agonizingly nectarous feelings of ecstasy, words could and would definitely defy anyone.

Check out all the thirteen fundamental qualities of a complete player isolated by experts of the game: speed, vision, strength, dribbling, stamina, heading (jumping), balance, passing, goal scoring, free kick, penalty kick, equally deadly two legs and ball control. No other player in the world, dead or alive, active or retired has exuded these qualities simultaneous in his game. Some players have shown excellence in a number of them but not all of them simultaneously. Only Pele embodied all these qualities. Only Pele repeatedly showcased all of these qualities in his career in a synchronized seminal excellence that awed even his opponents and aroused the curiosity of those who hitherto had no interest or knew nothing about the game of soccer.

An average man of about 5'7 in height, his bewildering ability to out jump much more taller guys to score astounding goals is more than legendary. Decades before Michael Jordan discovered the art of hanging in the air to put balls into basket, Pele has been doing it to score goals all over the world. Those who watched the Brazil versus England in 1966 would always remember the save that made Gordon Banks "one of the greatest goalkeepers" that has ever lived. It was one of the hundreds of occasions in which Pèlé was not only phenomenal, but was also defying of emulation. He never had cocaine in his veins. He never had steroids in his blood stream. That header did not have anything to do with any "hand of God" It was PURE talent. It was UNADULTERATED skill. It was NATURAL ability.

His two knees obviously are packed with high functioning elastic springs; otherwise, there was no way he could have been able to jump higher than goal posts to head down some crossings. Pele was a complete two legged player whose either leg could do anything anytime anywhere on the field, with a balance that could only be compared with that of a spirit or a ghost. Pele was not only swift, he could run and he indeed out ran several defenders several times. In one of the games, he was so fast that the opposing player was not able to keep up with him. That opposing player had to pull Pele's pants and actually tore the pants. Another replacement pant had to be provided for him which he wore in the glare of all spectators.

"After the fifth goal I wanted to applaud him."
- Sigge Parling, Swedish defender that was marking Pele throughout the final of the 1958 World Cup.

When someone scores 9 goals in a single match, or dribbles 9 opposing players to score a goal and during a match, had the Referee of the game expelled for him to be able to continue the game, then, it would not be difficult to agree with Henry Kissinger that he, Pele, is truly "a phenomenon defying emulation."

It is not many people who could be as candid as Sigge Parling. If you have chased around a player all over the field in a game for over an hour and still could not stop him from scoring spectacular goals, one should be able to understand why you would not be able to applaud his wizardry. This is not bitterness, it is helplessness. And Parling's comment is a candid act of candor. This is because there is no way butter could prevent a hot red knife from slicing through it. That 1958 World Cup and that particular game heralded the genius known as Pele on the world stage. At such a younger age of 17, he was just not a breathtaking beauty to behold; he was a soccer wonder-boy with a mouth-widening wizardry.

Over and over, in several games all over the world, he proved this. In 1960, in Mexico City, Pele was injured in a match against an Argentine team. Responsibly, the coach had to rest him during the next game in Guadalajara, another Mexican city. For the entire first half, the crowd was chanting Pele's name non stop. He was not even dressed for the game. He was just 19 at that point. But no one would deny this crowd. Pele was the one they had come to see. And they were determined to have him. No one would deny them the opportunity. Not even Pele himself who was hurting. Pele agreed to dress for the second half. It was the only thing that would satisfy the crowd, but not prevent them from chanting his name, endlessly. Pele played. And he did not disappoint.

But not everyone was like the Swedish Parling. On May 28 1967, during a match against the Senegalese national team in Dakar, Senegal. It was the first half of the game. Pele received a pass from Zito and "dribbled past the Senegalese defenders and the national goalkeeper" who at that time was a legend in that country, before scoring a beautiful goal. The goal "completely surprised the Senegalese goalkeeper who was angry with himself and felt highly embarrassed." The man "kicked the goal post, burst into tears and walked out of the field." Pele followed the goalkeeper off the field and apologized for making the goal. The Senegalese keeper would not be comforted. He refused to shake Pele's hand because he was too upset with Pele for humiliating him in front of his people the way and manner he scored the goal. He was reported to have said that he has never been so humiliated by anyone in his life. He was very bitter towards Pele.

"Scoring 1,000 goals like Pele is not difficult, but scoring one goal like Pele is."

- Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Brasilian poet.
The fundamental attraction that makes the game of soccer beautiful is the goal(s). Not only that, the way and manner in which it is done can make people joyful and miserable at the same time. A beautiful goal so scored, can make a lover of the game joyously snivel and convulse deliriously while at the same time inflict debilitating emotional throes on others. Without those beautiful goals, the game would be drab, dull, dreary and dingy. Thus when the lovers of the game are fortunate to have someone not just score those goals, but do so in very special ways that evoke unalloyed joy, anyone who understands rudimentary human psychology and the innate workings of human physiology would be able to appreciate the adulation that such gifted miracle makers elicit.

Now, elevate this to another pedestal. The pedestal of being able to do this many more times than any other human being; the pedestal of having been able to do this in beautiful ways that words could not describe; or in seminally creative ways beyond what imagination could fathom and the pedestal of being able to celebrate each of those goals with contagious elation that has become legendary. On that pedestal, Pele is solely perched. It is the main reason the London Sunday Times spelt his name as "G-O-D."

There are countless average players. There are so many good players. There are more than few great players. But only one is the GREATEST and the BEST, and his name is Pèlé. Comparing him with some players who are obviously less talented, less skilled, incomplete and are at best average achievers with steroid fueled ability, could only be interpreted as mischievous and ridiculous attempts to trivialize Pele's awe inspiring feats and preeminence. It is like comparing a well fed frog with a voluptuous elephant.

Thus, often, I am amazed when players like Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona are elevated to the same plane on which Pèlé is perched. The intention is not to put down any player or dismiss what they have contributed. But it is a monumental error to assume that sleeping and being dead is the same. The records not only speak for themselves, anyone who takes the time to do a research to evaluate the skills as displayed on the field as well as the statistics would recognize that the gap between a father and a son is far more than infinitesimal.

By June 24, this year, Lionel Messi would be 31 years old. So far, he has scored over 600 goals. By age 29, Pele had scored 1000 goals. Maradona does not even come close because he only had a little less than 400 goals in his career. Arthur Friedenreich, another Brazilian scored more career goals than Pèlé at 1,329 goals. That is 45 more goals than Pèlé, though he played for 26 years as opposed to Pèlé's 23 years, but he never played in any World Cup and as a result remained much unknown and uncelebrated. He played from 1909 to 1935.

Josef Bican, an Austrian scored 805 career goals. He is closest to Pèlé. He played 217 times with Prague and scored 395 goals. Romario de Souza Faria, another Brazilian scored an amazing 688 goals in 886 appearances. This included a run in PSV in which he scored 165 goals in 167 appearances. He also scored 55 goals for Brazil to make his career goals total at 743. Gerd Muller of Germany scored 711 career goals followed closely by the Hungarian, Ferenc Puskas with 700 career goals. Zico of Brazil comes next with 650 career goals, followed by the Portuguese Eusebio "the black panther" with 621 career goals. As for Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo who are both over 600 goals currently, they still have opportunities to increase their tally since they are still active. But I don't see any of them getting close to Pèlé. Even, I don't see them beating Josef Bican. But Romario, may be, but no guarantee.

Comparing Maradona with Pèlé, with due respects, amounts to monumental insult. This is because everything Maradona ever did, Pèlé did three times better. Maradona does not even come close to many of the greats mentioned above, many of which are very distant behind Pèlé in accomplishments. Comparing highly talented one legged players with a complete package like Pèlé is a trivialization of beauty, excellence and, I dare say, perfection. It is an exudation and a manifestation of unguarded enthusiasm stemming from attenuation of History and facts. But that is a topic for another day.

For the tappers of sour grapes, they like to point to the fact that Pèlé never played in Europe and as such could not be considered better than either Messi or Maradona. What a balderdash! The WORLD CUP is where the best meet every four years. It provides the opportunity to watch and see the best of the best from all the corners and crannies of the World. Pèlé never played in Europe, but he vanquished their best of the best every time they met on the field during World Cup competitions. Pele showed up four times (one of the very few to do so) and defeated everyone 3 times. The only time he lost in 1966 was because of debilitating injury caused during a match. With Pèlé out of the team, the team became less potent and was defeated. It gave the English team the opportunity to win one.

By age 30, Pele had three World Cups in his pocket. At age 31, Messi is still looking for one. Maradona squeezed one at age 26. Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima a.k.a. "The Phenomenon" or simply as Ronaldo at 30 already had two World Cups despite serious injuries. Ronaldo de Assis Moreira also called Ronaldinho had a World Cup at 22. Romario de Souza Faria had a Word Cup at 28. If you can't perform at the World class level, you can't claim to belong to the greats. You may be the best in Europe, but Europe is not the World. You may be the best in the Americas, but that is not the World. You may be the best in Africa, but Africa is not the World. To claim your place among the greatest, you have to perform in the World Cup and excell, otherwise, you are just an averagely successful player.

Despite all the marketing, all the hype, advertising and all the ballyhoo, Lionel Messi still remains a Continental Class player as opposed to World Class. I hope that he would be more successful in the 2018 tournament to elevate himself to a World Class player. Even then, he would just be one of the greats. And so far, the only soccer player in History ever to be declared by Law as National Treasure by his country is Pèlé. The Law essentially made it impossible for him to be bought by any Club in the world except the Brazilian Clubs. But every time Pèlé showed up on the World stage, he unequivocally excelled. He distinctly, decisively and emphatically stamped his authority, his exceptionality, his grandeur and his class for orders to behold with awe. He was that excellent. He was that precious. He was that valuable. He was that fantastic. He was that worthy.

To really appreciate Pele's true greatness, the untutored must educate themselves about the exploits of so many other great players: Johan Cruyff (Dutch. Scored 33 goals in 48 caps), Alfredo Stefano (Argentine who capped for two other countries), Bobby Charlton (England, Scored 49 goals in 109 caps. Scored 4 goals in 3 World Cup competitions), Kevin Keegan (of England. He scored 238 carrier goals), Zagalo of Brazil; the man who popularized the scissors kick and won the World cup as a player and coach), Mario Kempes (Argentina: Scored 20 goals in 43 caps for his country. He was top scorer in 1978 with 6 goals). Gerd Muller (Germany. Scored 68 goals in 62 games for his country and was the leading goal scorer in 1970 with 10 goals. He had 14 goals in 13 World Cup matches. Scored 365 German League goals in 427 matches and led the scoring chart 7 seasons. He scored 555 life career goals).

Ruud Gullit (Holand, World Soccer Player 1987 and 1989. Scored 17 goals in 66 caps and had 175 goals for 6 different League teams across Europe), Stanley Matthews (England. Scored 5 goals in an international match against Scotland at age 40 in 1955), Ferenc Puska (Hungary. He scored 84 goals in 85 matches for his country and scored 512 goals in 528 matches for Real Madrid), Juan Schiafino (Uruguay. Scored 7 goals in 9 world cup matches) Zico (of Brazil, the man who perfected the art of "dead ball" goals. Scored 51 goals in 71 caps for Brazil and has about 650 professional carrier goals), Grzegorz Lato (Poland. He scored 42 goals for his country and was the leading goal scorer in 1974 World Cup with 7 goals) Franz Beckenbauer (of Germany who also won the World Cup as a player and a Coach), Juste Fontana (France. Scored 13 goals in the 1958 World Cup., the highest in single tournament).

Emilio Butragueno, "The Vulture" (Spain. Scored 26 goals in 69 matches, 5 goals in 9 World Cup matches), Teofilo Cubillas (Peru, scored 10 goals in 13 world cup matches), Enzo Scifo (Belgium, one of the 14 players to play in 4 World Cup competitions), Eusebio Da Silva Ferreira a.k.a "The Black Pearl" (Portugal, one world cup appearance in which he scored 9 goals in 6 matches. He scored 41 goals in 64 matches for Portugal. He scored 319 goals in 313 matches in Portuguese League and 2 times top scorer in Europe 1968 and 1973), Roberto Baggio (Italy. He scored 27 goals in 55 appearances for Italy and scored 9 goals in 3 world cup competitions), Michel Platini (France. 368 carrier goals. 41 goals in 72 caps for France), Garrincha a.k.a "The Little Bird"(of Brazil, the man who was born crippled, but later became one of the greatest footballers of all time. He invented and perfected "banana shots." He scored 5 goals in 12 World Cup matches). Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (Germany, Scored 9 goals in 19 World Cup matches and 45 goals in 95 caps for his country), Uwe Seeler (Germany. He scored 43 goals in 72 caps. One of only two players to score in 4 World Cup competitions), Guillermo Stabile (of Argentina. He scored 8 goals in first World Cup), Lothar Matthaus (of Germany. He is the only player to play in 5 World Cups), Luigi Riva (of Italy. He is the all time scorer for Italian national team).

Ronaldo Lima of Brazil, has the record of highest goals, 15, in World Cup Finals. By age 23, he has scored over 200 goals. In 98 caps for Brazil, he scored 62 goals, only second to Pèlé's 97. Won two World Cups. Roger Milla (of Cameroon. Played in 3 world cups and turned Cameroon to a World class team. He is the oldest player to score in the World Cup at age 42). Jurgen Klinnsman (Germany. He scored 11 goals in 17 World Cup matches), Diego Maradona (Argentine. He scored 34 goals in 91 appearances for his country and 8 goals in 4 World Cup competitions. Had 311 life time career goals for 7 League teams in Europe and South America). Leonida Da Silva a.k.a "Black Diamond" (Brazil. He invented the "bicycle kicks". Scored 21 goals in 23 appearances for Brazil and 8 goals in 5 World cup matches. He was the leading goal scorer in 1938). All these and many more that space would not permit, some younger and active are the eminently greats over and above whom Pele towers.

The records of Pèlé's feats are not just awe inspiring, they are scary and could be described superhuman. During a career spanning 22 to 23 years (1954-1977), Pèlé played in 375,000 games and scored 281,000 goals. This fact is much more unknown to a lot of people. Much more common and much more known is the fact that Pele scored 1,281 (or 1284) goals in 1,363 professional games.

Pele is the youngest soccer player in history to win the WORLD CUP at age 17 in 1958 and by implication, the youngest player to score in the FINAL of the World Cup Finals. Ronaldo Lima was also in a winning World Cup squad at age 17 but did not have the privilege that Pèlé had. Pèlé is the youngest soccer player in history to score in the WORLD CUP when he scored against Wales in 1958. He was then only 17 years and 239 days old.

Pele is the youngest player in the history of organized soccer to lead the scoring chart of any country at age 17 with 66 goals for the season. This was in 1957. Pele is one of the only two players in WORLD CUP history to have scored in four different World Cups. Uwe Seeler of Germany is the other player who attained that feat. Seeler reached three semifinals, but never won the cup as opposed to Pele who won 3 championships.

Pele is also one of only 4 players to have scored in two WORLD CUP finals FINAL1958 and 1970). The three others to have achieved this feat are Vava of Brazil (1958 and 1962), Paul Breitner of West Germany (1974 and 1982) and Zinedine Zidane of France (1998 and 2006).

Pele is the only person to have won three WORLD CUPs as a player (1958, 1962, and 1970). Pele holds the world record for INTERNATIONAL GOALS scored by any player for any country at 97 goals for Brazil.Pele is the only player in the history of organized soccer to ever scored 9 goals in one match. On November 21, 1964, he scored the goals in the game against Botafogo of Rio de Janeiro.

Pele is the only soccer player in history to score hat tricks (3 goals in a single match) 92 times. He also scored 4 goals in a game 30 times and 5 goals in a match 6 times. Pele is the only player in the history of organized soccer to score more than 100 goals in three seasons. He scored 127 goals for Santos F.C. in 1959, 110 in 1961 and 101 goals in 1965. His statistics are all the more than amazing when compared to today's top players who can barely score more that 30 goals in a season. Once in 1961 he dribbled 9 opposing players in a game at Maracana Stadium to score a goal. L'Equipe of Paris wrote, "We have now seen the supreme work of art. Pele infiltrated through his opponents like Novocain through a sick man's tissues."

On November 19, 1969, he scored his famous 1,000th goal from a penalty kick on the 34th minute of the game against Vasco da Gama and dedicated it "...para as criancinhas pobres do Brasil...." (to the poor little children of Brasil and to the elderly and suffering peoples of Brasil." Pele is the only player in history of organized soccer to have scored in the same match and substituted an ejected goalkeeper in the same game and made "two spectacular saves." On January 19, 1964, he substituted Santos goalkeeper Gilmar, who had been ejected, in the semi-final game of the Brazil Cup. For five minutes, after scoring three goals, Pèlé played with the number one jersey and made "two spectacular saves" that saved Santos the spot in the finals.

"Wow, man, you're popular!"
Robert Redford after seeing Pèlé give dozens of autographs in New York while he was not asked for one.

To be able to understand the profundity of this statement about Pele, it is important that one understands the context in which this statement was made and who exactly Charles Robert Redford is. Robert Redford is an American Film Actor, Film director, Film producer, and Businessman. He is an environmentalist and s big philanthropist. "One of Hollywood's biggest superstars, whose appeal has lasted several decades."

Redford received credit for acting in 52 movies, producing 24 movies and directing 7 others. He also received Special Thanks for 2 other movies. Redford has been nominated for American Academy Awards 4 times and won 2 times; Nominated for the British Academy Awards 3 times and won 3 times; nominated as Best Director for Directors Guild of America Award 2 times and won 2 times and nominated for American Golden Globe Awards 4 times and won 2 times. He has also won the National Board of Review Award one time.

To imagine that this kind of man with this kind of achievement would be totally and completely ignored by autograph seeking fans in the City of New York because Pele was present speaks more than volume. More so, this is New York City the epicenter of Yankee baseball kingdom where soccer is not even popular, the City where actors are deemed to be something else!

Is Pele popular because he is charismatic or because of his exploits on the field of soccer? It firstly had to be his unmatched skills on the field of play. His charisma only served to extend the horizon of his adulation. It only served to expand the pedestal on which he elicited passion. His exploits on the field inebriated millions with delirium and elevated him to a myth. Touching him is like touching Jesus Christ for salvation and healing. Getting him to autograph anything is like getting an admission ticket into paradise.

If you ever watched Pèlé play or watch his films it would not be difficult to agree that Pèlé is an experience, an experience such as in religion, the effect and feeling of which love, devotion, adulation and adoration would not fully define or describe. Pele is a fountain of fervent fecundated feeling permeated with exultant gratification, unalloyed elation, climaxing at euphoric delirium which unwittingly engenders sustained inner peace and satisfaction.

To really grasp what is being explained here, try to fathom this scenario: Pele has just been brutally tackled just to stop him. He was sprawling in pain, writhing in agony and squirming in anguish. The crowd was aghast. The sigh of the crowd pierced through the air of the stadium as it echoed ominously. The fear in the air was eerily palpable. The crowd felt that Pèlé had been murdered. After a minute, Pèlé stood up and hit the culprit on the face. The Referee gave Pele a red card. Pele did not contest this and was walking out of the field.

The spectators were bewildered, befuddled and baffled.They were petrified, perplexed and puzzled. They were in the stands to watch Pele. Without Pèlé, to them, nothing else held value on that field. They concluded that Pèlé could not be sent out of the game, more so because he was provoked. He was the reason they were there. They broke the guards and invaded the field. The Referee had to be scurried to safety. He was ultimately expelled and replaced with the reserve Referee. Pele was brought back into the game. The crowd went back to the stands. The game recommenced. Pele resumed his flawless display of skills and talent to the delirious cheering of the crowd.

This is a true life story. It has never happened before that day. It has never happened since that day. It is not likely to ever happen again, to any other player. That is a record - to have the referee expelled for you - that only Pèlé could have. In fact, to have a player recalled into the same game from whence he was given a Red Card, never happened before that day and has never happened since that day. That is another record that is only worthy of Pèlé. And it is not likely to ever be broken.

Only Pèlé could evoke that level of emotions. Only Pèlé could command that amazing level of adulation. Only Pèlé could command that intoxicating level of adoration. Only Pèlé could command that level of respect. This is why Pèlé is an experience: a "G O D" with fervent religious followers. If you have never seen Pèlé play or never watched him on films, you may never be able to understand. Only those fortunate to have worshipped at the shrines (stadia) across the world could attest to the experience he represents and envision his revelations. Only they could appreciate and understand his essence. Only they could understand why HE IS THE BEST AND THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME.

Pèlé is the only soccer player in history for whom a civil war was stopped so that the two sides of the war could watch him play. This was in 1967 when a 48-hour ceasefire was called so that Pèlé could play an exhibition match in Lagos, Nigeria.

Pèlé is also the only soccer player in history whose presence caused an international war buffer zone to be violated by two opposing sides. This was at the border between Hong Kong (Crown Colony) and Communist China. On seeing Pèlé, the Chinese border guards and their Hong Kong counterparts laid down their machine guns and crossed the buffer zone to shake his hand. This crossing would normally have invited instant death for these guards on both sides. But with Pèlé's presence, the rule of engagement was different for that moment.

Pèlé is the first and the only soccer player in history to be declared a NATIONAL TREASURE by his home country, BRAZIL, in order to prevent him from being traded outside the country. Over the years, Italian clubs tried to lure him with millions, but he wouldn't leave Santos because of loyalty and couldn't leave Brazil because of law. In 1961 President Janio Quadros had Pèlé declared a national treasure.

Pèlé is the only player in history for whom the Queen of England broke protocol in order to see him and shake his hand just to be sure that Pèlé was "flesh and blood." Pèlé is the only soccer player in history to have been the personal guest of more than 55 heads of state. Pèlé is the only soccer player in history to have been the personal guest of three Popes.

Pèlé is the only soccer player in history after whose soccer stadia have been named in countries other than that of his birth.

Pèlé is the only soccer player in history that has had to take the same marriage vows two times in two elaborate weddings to the same woman because the Pope insisted that he had to do it in Vatican City.

"I thought: he is made of flesh and bone like me. I was wrong."

- Tarciso Burnigch, Italian defender that was marking Pèlé throughout the final of the 1970 World Cup.

Mr. Burnigch in the above statement underscored the natural endowment of Pèlé as a soccer player. In this statement, he was not wrong about the fact that Pèlé was probably made "of flesh and bone" like him, but he was not entirely right too. When a person like Burnigch was isolated to mark Pèlé in a game of that magnitude, he (Burnigch) obviously was deemed the best that his country could bring forth. And if that country is also ITALY, one of the most defensive oriented soccer countries in the world, then it really means more than a lot. If at the end of the day, he was still made to look ordinary by Pèlé, and ended making the above statement, everyone would agree that Pèlé was just not another player.

But Mr. Burnigch was not alone in his wonderment about what kind of genius was Pèlé on the field. Some off the field also wondered what kind of human being he was. According to James Haskins, Pèlé's physical abilities were so remarkable that "a major university" requested Pèlé to undergo "some tests so medical experts could find out just what it was that made Pèlé tick.'" After several weeks of wiring Pèlé's head for readings measuring his muscles, they came up with some interesting results.

"When he was in training, his heart, they found, beat about 56-58 times per minute. The heart of an average athlete in training beats up to 90-95 times per minute. The average athlete must rest several minutes after performing some feat before he can repeat it. Pèlé could repeat a great effort within 45-60 seconds. His "peripheral vision," the ability to see both sides while looking ahead, was found to be 30% greater than the average athlete. The bone in his heel was found to be exceptionally strong and well developed, so that when he ran he was forced to bend forward. This explains his great speed. The same bone act as shock absorber after a jump or a high kick.

Pèlé could run 100 meters in 11 seconds and jump almost 6 feet high (that puts him far above the height of the goal post). He jumped earlier than other players to head the ball because he had the ability to hover longer in the air. With each new measurement the university medical experts were more amazed. Concluding all their tests, they announced that he would have been a genius in whatever physical endeavor he had chosen."

Pèlé was not impressed about these findings that made him out different from any other soccer player. He made the following comments:

"I feel the divine gift to make something out of nothing. You need balance and speed of mind and strength. But there is something else God has given me. It's an extra instinct I have for the game. Sometimes I can take the ball and no one can foresee any danger. And then, two or three seconds later, there is a goal. This does not make me proud, it makes me humble because it is a talent that God gave me."

According to James Haskins, this "extra instinct" of Pèlé "may have been a God-given one but Pèlé nevertheless worked hard to develop it." He reportedly spent "hour upon grueling hour, training, day after day." "He pushed his body to the limits of its endurance, then pushed it more. He also trained his mind... He also took lessons in geometry and learned to play chess in order to perfect his game." In fact, the occasion in 1961 at Maracana Stadium when he had dribbled 9 opposing players before scoring a goal was reported to have been influenced by his forays into chess playing. "...Sometimes out on the soccer field it did appear that he was playing as if on a giant chess board. He seemed to know what his opponents would do five or ten moves ahead of time."

As a result of this mental acumen, the medical experts who tested him, not just physically but also mentally, concluded that he would have been a genius in any mental endeavor he chose as well.

" a well-rounded grandeur."
Hank Hersch of Sports Illustrated in Soccer's Greatest Genius

Apart from being the best soccer player in history, Pele is also an incredibly decent human being. Despite his incredible achievements, he remained as humble as ever. This has endeared him to millions more. He has brought more followers to the game than any human being dead or alive just by being such a great talent on the field and a decent, humble, and respectful person off the field. He has campaigned and pleaded on behalf of the children of the world. He has advocated on behalf of the poor of the world. He has preached LOVE at every available opportunity.

"It seems that God brought me to Earth with a mission, to unite people, never to separate them," he wrote in New York Times in 1977. He also said once, "Every kid around the world who plays soccer wants to be Pèlé. I have a great responsibility to show them not just how to be like a soccer player, but how to be like a man." This among many other reasons must have prompted J.B. Pinheiro, Brazil's ambassador to the U.N. at the time of Pèlé's retirement to comment that Pèlé had "spent 22 years playing soccer, and in that time he has done more for goodwill and friendship than all of the ambassadors ever appointed." Pèlé could not have done less after being the personal guest of 55 Heads of State and 3 Popes.

For a man who is still able to make about $30million annually from endorsement and his other businesses decades after retirement, Pèlé is indeed, "a well-rounded grandeur."

At the 1970 finals in Mexico, the 29-year-old Pèlé, led one of the greatest teams ever assembled to win Brazil's third World Cup. In the 4-1 title triumph over Italy, Pèlé scored a glorious goal. It was Brazil's 100th World Cup goal, and the one he remembers the most. "I have a special feeling for that goal because I scored it with my head," he said. "My father was a soccer player and once scored five goals in a game, all with his head. That was one record I was never able to break."

Well, to this I say, you did not have to break that record. You did more than enough to remain immortal. You cane, you saw and you conquered. Cheers to the BEST of the best and the GREATEST of the greatest, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, a.k.a. Pèlé.

"Heroes walk alone, but they become myths when they ennoble the lives and touch the hearts of all of us."

- Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State on Pèlé.

©® Remi Oyeyemi

ModernGhana Links

Join our Newsletter