I’ve seen Brazilian football god Pele play a few times. Two of my most enduring memories of him are the goals he didn’t even score.
Both occurred during the 1970 World Cup in Mexico City. Seleson He was aiming to win the World Cup for the third time in ten years. No. 10 was in superlative form, as evidenced by his two incidents of magical audacity, improvisational genius and polyrhythmic glee.
In the semi-final against Uruguay, after catching a breakaway pass from Tostan, Pele pulled out the Uruguay keeper and ran the ball to the left of the goalkeeper before Pele sped past the right and recovered the ball with a flush. , looped back and missed. on a shot to the far post.
Brazil, who beat the cynical and unimaginative Italian team 4-1 in the final, had seven Brazilians play keep away near midfield until the ball reached Pele.
In Brazil, where my wife and I lived for several years, these dramatic moments coalesced into a kind of secular catechism surrounding sport for Brazilians, and for Argentines, Mexicans, and their Latin American neighbors. I was. More than just state religion. Since football was imported into this hemisphere more than a century before her, Latin America has not only radically reimagined the game and produced many illustrious personalities, but has also transformed football from poverty, racism and despair. I changed it to an escape hatch. Even if it’s not true.
This is a legend and a promise that Pele embodied, a dream that vanished violently in the slums of Buenos Aires, the dirt fields of Jalisco, the slums of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Never mind that the modern sports industry complex has converted promising young children, especially those from Brazil, into exchangeable units which they barter and sell to the highest bidders in London, Paris and Barcelona. Please stop the frenzy to ‘discover’ the next Pele, the next Maradona, the next Messi, even in tragedies like the 2019 fire that killed 10 young players at Rio’s Flamengo club training ground. You can not.
Pele continues to be a role model for these young players. But he was no rebel like other global superstars of his contemporaries. Muhammad Ali brandished his fists when the Pentagon tried to send him to Vietnam. Jim Brown, the scourge of defensive backs, and Black Power’s avatars never ride motorcycles. No Billie Jean King paddling the back of a chauvinist pigsty.
Pele and his teammates were too iconic to be counterculture heroes for the brutal military regime that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. That task fell to later generations of Brazilians, including the great midfielder Socrates, who took the lead in bringing Brazil back to democracy.
Pele’s destiny was to become a brand ambassador. I got to meet him in person at least three times (although his prime was over). An exhibition with his Brazilian club, Santos, and my hometown of the night, the North, in the 1970s, against the Rochester Lancers of the American Soccer League. . A few seasons later, he and his new team, the New York Cosmos, again defeated the Lancers in the regular season and playoffs.
Officially, Pele’s job at the Cosmos was to score goals. His real job was to get the richest market in the world, the United States, to embrace football. he succeeded in both.
I met him again as the pitchman for the 2014 World Cup hosted by Brazil and knocked out in a humiliating manner. Football remains Brazil’s blessing and curse, a glorious distraction from its daunting challenges and its dazzling potential.
Pele was a disruptor in the most important way for him and for football. He pushed the boundaries of what was possible. What did he really think of the spoiled, well-groomed, billionaire playboy of the modern global game who changes his hairstyle every week and modestly wins world championships? Pele won two, including an injury early in the 1962 World Cup in Chile (although Brazil still won) and a series of ugly hacks at the 1966 World Cup in England (where the organizers He could easily have won four in a row without him. nation).
he was great he was unique. he was the best
This story was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.