Brazilian genius, the embodiment of the beautiful game, dies aged 82

Sad news today, but not unexpected, that Pele has left us. Scorer of over 1200 goals in a storied career. Three World Cup triumphs with his native Brazil. A million breathtaking memories left to football fans all around the globe.

To the so-called baby boomer generation, debates about the greatest player ever to lace up a pair of boots usually end up with one conclusion. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known from his early school years as Pele.

The ‘Edson’ is thought to be in honour of Thomas Edison, the American inventor who had such a phenomenal impact upon the developing world. The young footballer born in 1940 proved to be very well-named indeed.

Scored on his debut, aged 15. Made the national team the following year, netting once again. Took the world by storm in 1958, aged 17 (above centre), by helping Brazil win the FIFA World Cup in Sweden. His ascent was meteoric.

We’d had Puskas, and Di Stefano. Players who defied the monochrome, long shorts ‘feel’ of fifties football, but Pele was something else. All the tricks and flicks you’d associate with a modern-day star, or a Best, a Cruyff. Whatever you see, it’s a pound to a penny that Pele showed us first.

He was the conduit, the catalyst that ushered in football’s global dominance as a ‘thing’. After Pele, there was no turning back. We were hooked.

He was part of the 1962 World Cup-winning squad too, in Chile, but had been side-lined since early in the competition through injury. He was effectively kicked out of the 1966 tournament, held in and won by England, but it’s for 1970’s contest in Mexico that he’s arguably most fondly remembered.

The Brazilian side led by Carlos Alberto but inspired by Pele was for me the greatest ever to set foot on the field of play. Think about some of the great man’s teammates – Gerson, Tostao, Rivellino, Jairzinho, Clodoaldo, Everaldo, Felix. Best I ever saw. Period. Poetry in motion. Sublime. High art.

The skipper’s 86th minute goal in the final against Italy was teed up by Pele after a beautiful passing interchange involving several of the above-mentioned. Pele casually, effortlessly, almost dismissively rolled it into Alberto’s path, centimetre-perfect, for the raiding full-back to lash the ball violently into the far bottom-corner. Show me a greater goal. It’s ok, I’ll wait.

That was his finest achievement for me – a virtuoso in the best footballing orchestra ever assembled. He went on to be an evangelical pathfinder in America as the game began to catch fire there, and for the rest of his life he’s been adored because, quite simply, he’s Pele. A one-off. The greatest.

Everyone who loves football, sport, will be deeply saddened tonight. But we also give thanks for the life of a true sporting genius, who showed just what could be done with a football at his feet.

Wonderful tribute acts have followed, but we’ll never see his like again.


Photo – courtesy Aftonbladet