Pele revolutionized football, but it didn’t make him a revolutionary figure


In the 73rd minute of Brazil’s 2022 World Cup opener against Serbia, 25-year-old forward Richarlison, son of Nova Venecia Favela of Espirito Santo State, crossed into the box with his left foot. He then lifted the ball over his head, turned his body over, almost heeled over his head, and kicked the ball in the air with his right foot past the outstretched arms of the would-be defender and goalkeeper. rice field.

Of 172 goals scored in 64 games over 29 days, nothing has been more spectacular.

Thank you Pele, who died Thursday at the age of 82.

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, as Pele’s parents gave him his name, started playing soccer, or futeball, when he was called up to the Brazilian national team in 1957 at the age of 16., It was rarely played with the panache that Richarlison displayed, as it is called in Portuguese colonized Brazil. By the European aesthetics and sensibilities that imported the game into Brazil in the late 19th century and reserved it for the colonial class of settlers who eliminated the impoverished black Brazilians descended from the transatlantic slave trade. was still restricted.

As the acclaimed and criticized Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freire said of the 1938 World Cup, Brazil finished third in a field consisting of 12 European countries, Cuba and Indonesia. Qualities such as surprise, skill, cleverness, speed and, at the same time, individual brilliance and spontaneity. … our passes, our catches, our misleads, our pomp with the ball… there is something about dancing and dancing. Capoeira [an Afro-Brazilian martial art]It refines and often sweetens the stiff-playing game invented by the British by making it a trademark of how Brazilian football is played. ”

Pele started playing in America in 1975.

And no one, more than Pele, perfected and personified what Freire called “Futebol Arte.” As Brazilian sports broadcaster Marcelo Barrett recalled, Pele dribbled the ball through his opponent’s shin, not around it. Pele has developed a left foot that is as strong as his dominant right foot. He was the pioneer of the acrobatic bicycle kick and scissors his kick that Richarlison unleashed on football’s greatest stage last month. And like the Negro League players who added the excitement of speed to Major League Baseball when they were finally allowed to play, Pele was a faster footballer than football saw.

Pele revolutionized the way football is played and its popularity. But no matter how many photos of him with Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela and other icons of his time were shared, that didn’t make him a revolutionary figure. has spent most of his life refuting these synonymous comparisons.

Unlike Ali, Pele served for a period in his country’s armed forces a year after winning his first World Cup in 1958. And he didn’t have the courage to sacrifice his career like Ali did. I was right to do so and I did. When President Yanio Cuadros took office in the early 1960s, he mostly accepted indentured servants to the government. Declared Pele a “National Treasure”. The president did so to assuage public fears that European clubs would evict Pele, and Pele acquiesced.

And when the government attacked Brazilians in the mid-1960s, Pele didn’t stop it. His recent Netflix documentary, Pelé, opens with an elderly Pelé using a walker to stop and enter, from the mid-1960s to his mid-1980s, when Pelé was forced into the brutal military dictatorship of his country. Remind viewers that they were embracing the regime. President of General Emilio Garastaz Medici from 1969 to 1974, when the regime was at its most repressive. There is a photo of Pele embracing the Medici and his successor, General Ernesto Geisel. The filmmakers asked Pele if he knew of the torture of political dissidents, the disappearance of Medici opponents, and the murders allegedly committed by the state. Pele replied vaguely.

In fact, Pele was just an extension of the Medici regime. Behind Pele’s brilliance, the Medici took advantage of Brazil’s preparations for and eventual victory in his 1970 World Cup, with the national enthusiasm surrounding the team. sportswashed criticism of the government.

“I love Pele, but that doesn’t stop me from criticizing him,” Kaju, Pele’s former teammate, said in the documentary. I thought it was the actions of a black man who said, “A submissive black man. …Just one statement from Pele helped so much that it’s the criticism I hold against him to this day.”

But Pele instilled a new sense of pride in black Brazilians. He didn’t whiten his face with rice flour, as Mario Filho wrote in his influential text, “Blacks in Brazilian Football,” some of the first black players in Brazil’s professional league to benefit from the good graces of the elite. They said they hoped to get a class that would support their sport. It’s not Pele’s quality, but his latest incarnation, Neymar, that seems to have worn off.

But as Pele has done to black Brazilians in appearance, he has rarely followed up with the politics, actions, or words of his performance. Like an Argentinian Diego Maradona, he didn’t deck out his body with tattoos of revolutionary figures Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. As a superstar black athlete, he rivals Willie Mays and Michael Jordan in the United States, and his answers to questions about racial inequality are rarely lukewarm. When confronted by a hostile fan for harassing him on TV, Pele fired the player, not the abuser. Otherwise, we would have had to stop all games.”

So we have to remember Pele, who was the greatest footballer of all time. Global sports icons. And a person who smiles even to those who shouldn’t smile.

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