King Pele no more, long live the king

SR Suryanarayan



. Photo: AFP

Just eleven days after the Qatar edition of the World Cup concluded came the final moment for King Pele on this planet. Even from his sick bed, Pele still perhaps had the satisfaction of watching another great spectacle of football in Doha. Much though he would have wished Brazil, one of the pre-tournament favourites, to lift the trophy again, that was not to be. Still, it must have given him some happiness that the Cup had come back to the South American continent after a gap of 20 years, with Argentina ensuring a Latin American triumph this time. The only player to have been associated with three World Cup wins, Pele even had the strength to give expression to his delight in an Instagram post, congratulating Lionel Messi on his achievement and Mbappe the French star for scoring four goals in the final. And then, as it were all was over. King Pele is no more, long live the king! One of the greatest names in the sport has become history. The great footballer has left this world, but Pele the legend, will remain alive as long as this sport thrives on this planet.

Photo: AP

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, if that can be pronounced easily, was the name of this great man. How he came to be called Pele is not clear, but miracles do happen, and this miracle happened on the football fields to make him a legend in his own way. From a humble setting to the throne, that in short was Pele’s story, one that usually can happen only in fairy tales but that happened in real life in Brazil, the country where they say football is a religion and in the football world too. Coming from an impoverished home, Pele, in his childhood days, used to sell peanuts at the Bauru’s aerodrome. It is said that watching the planes and gliders take off fascinated him immensely, as also seeing the pilots in their smart attire. To be a pilot was apparently his initial dream until he saw a glider accident, the wreckage, dripping blood of a severed arm of the pilot, and that jolted him away from this dream! Football then grabbed him virtually, and when he saw his father cry after Uruguay beat Brazil in the 1950 world cup, the footballer in him took wings so to say. He was just 11 then. Ambitions gained ground, and the rest as they say is history.

Every sport has its greats and legends in their own right, but Pele was different in that he had become one of the greatest of them all because of being in a sport like football, acknowledged as the world’s most popular. The footballer in him gave such expressions to this sport that it enthralled the lovers of the sport the world over. What is more, he was to become a national treasure in Brazil, something that meant he could not be poached by European clubs! One of the most recognisable faces in the 21st century, Pele’s fame was such that he could even bring a brief cease-fire to a raging civil war in Nigeria in the 60s just for all to watch him play an exhibition match in Lagos!

Unbelievable stories have been written about him, not because he could speak much but because of the magic, he could create with the ball at his feet. At the age of 17 plus, Pele’s stunning performance in the 1958 World Cup helped Brazil to grab its first title. He scored six goals there, including two in the final against Sweden. One of his goals in the final was described by that celebrated football writer Brian Glanville in his book ‘ The story of the World cup’ as a “marvellously impertinent goal. Catching a high ball in the thick of the penalty box on his thigh, he hooked it over his head, whirled around and volleyed mightily past (goalkeeper) Svensson.”

Photo: Getty Images

Indeed, there must have been several such famous moments in his career. Injuries did affect him, like in the 1962 and 66 world cups but that did not affect his overall fluency on the field. His career statistics reveal his goal-scoring deeds, with over 1250 career goals scored in more than 1350 games. He had scored 12 goals in all in 14 matches in the World cup. In the end, it can be said Pele was Pele, a goal-scorer, as Glanville would say, ‘par excellence, gymnastically agile and resilient and a tantalising juggler of the ball’. Fame took him to all parts of the globe. Pele, it is said, was a big influence in the rise of football in the US. The Brazilian legend did not miss India too. Thrice he had come, but it was his first in 1977 that he provided an exhibit of his prowess when he appeared for New York Cosmos against Mohun Bagan at the Eden gardens. Pele even scored in that match, and for the 80,000-plus crowd there, it was a mesmerising sight watching the ‘black pearl’ performing right before their eyes!

A journey that started at the age of 16 years and coursed through such tantalising years of action and brilliance finally ended soon after the Qatar World cup. When the news of his failing health and hospitalisation made the headlines during the Doha competition, there were collective prayers for his recovery. The Brazilian team carried a photo of the great man while walking onto the field. That was figurative to be the one last time on the field for the greatest legend of football. The man who transformed football into an art, as Neymar was to fondly say, quite sums up Pele, the King!

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