Pele’s Brazil heroics made the World Cup a global success

Before the Champions League became what is now football’s global powerhouse, the World Cup was considered the pinnacle of the game, not only in terms of prestige but also in terms of set pieces, tactical development and individual performance. And the name Pele is synonymous with the tournament. He dominated the game as Brazil established itself as the world’s greatest and most attractive power, everyone’s favorite ‘other’ team.

Born in 1940 – just 52 years after Brazil abolished slavery – he says goodbye as the undisputed king of the global game. Originally named Edson Arantes do Nascimento after Thomas Edison, he was born when electricity was introduced to his remote hometown of Tres Coracoes, in the state of Minas Gerais. A fitting name for a player who would go on to brighten up the game of football.

He didn’t set out with a global mission. As a nine-year-old, he was overwhelmed by his father’s tears when he heard on the radio of Brazil’s loss to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup final. The child swore to avenge the father’s tears. In 1950 Brazil still wore white. Twenty years later, the yellow jerseys were synonymous with the beautiful game, with winning in style.

His story is one where natural talent meets drive and ambition. Pele’s father, known as Dondinho, was a senior player who sustained an injury that essentially ended his footballing prospects on what should have been his big break. The family fell into poverty and the boy earned some money as a shoeshine boy.

To take up the game, he had to overcome fierce maternal resistance; Football is an uncertain profession, his mother argued, where you’re always just one injury away from the junkyard. Young Pele — the origins of the nickname were never fully understood, and he originally hated it — paid attention. He gave himself the best chance of success by making the most of his enormous potential.



Brazilian soccer superstar Pele won three World Cups before retiring from New York Cosmos.

Pelé’s World Cup story is the classic drama in three acts. The hero performs in Sweden in 1958 as a 17-year-old and shines. But that progress has been punctuated by obstacles: an injury ended their campaign as Brazil triumphed again in 1962, and four years later they were eliminated early from the competition. With doubts about his claim to greatness, he goes back to his decision not to compete in another World Cup, crowning his fame in Mexico 1970, the first televised broadcast around the world, as the exotic quality of the images and the highest quality of The Team set the standard by which all subsequent Brazilian teams were judged.

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Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the story is that the World Cup didn’t see Pele at his best. In 1958 it was exuberant but raw, an outstanding work in progress. Twelve years later he mastered all the tricks, was technically brilliant and had the calm in the penalty area that most players can only achieve in wide midfield. But he had gained weight and lost some of the momentum of his prime.

His best World Cup goal came in 1962, at the tournament that, had it not been for his injury, could have marked his final declaration of footballing genius. He played no further role in the competition after injuring himself in the second game against Czechoslovakia. But in the opening game against Mexico, with all the virtues of a man in his prime, he sliced ​​through the opposition defense, seizing the opportunity and attacking with power and speed, rhythm changes and amazing two-footed control.

Pele’s dribbling wasn’t like Lionel Messi’s, who tied the ball to his left boot. In Pele’s case, the ball seemed to bounce around him like an obedient puppy. “If Pele had not been born a man,” wrote Armando Nogueira, one of his best chroniclers, “he would have been born a ball.”



Frank Leboeuf remembers the death of Brazilian soccer legend Pele, who died this week at the age of 82.

With skill and physique, diligence and intelligence, he became a football machine. All of these attributes are evident in the match, which he considered the best of his career. In 1962, the champions of Europe and South America met home and away to decide what was then considered the club world title. In the first leg, Portugal’s Benfica lost 3-2 away to Brazil’s Santos, for whom Pele had scored twice. The Portuguese were confident of closing the gap in Lisbon but Pele went berserk, scoring three goals and creating more as Santos took a 5-0 lead. Two Benfica goals in the last five minutes were just the consolation. Footage of this game shows a footballing force of nature, a player so conspicuous that he seems to belong to a different species.

A few years later, young Tostao was called up for the first time by Brazil in preparation for the 1966 World Cup. In 1970’s Mexico, the Pele-Tostao combination enchanted the world, but by then Tostao was little more than a young hopeful grateful to share training sessions with his idols from the 1958 and 1962 conquests. With his characteristic shrewdness, Tostao soon realized that most vintage cars were well past their prime. However, Pele was still in the lead. Tostao’s father, a football fanatic, went to one of the training sessions and burst into tears when his son introduced him to Pele. “It was like standing before his god,” Tostao told me many years later.



Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández paid tribute to Brazilian football legend Pele, calling him a “reference for a whole generation”.

Inevitably, in the course of time, such idolatry had a price to pay. Pele was surrounded by more than his fair share of “yes men” and those out to exploit him. Not all of his explanations and financial choices were wise. However, the balance is overwhelmingly positive. Not least because Pele worked hard as Brazil’s sports minister in the mid-90s to give Brazilian players freedom of contract – a push based on an admission that at the height of his influence as a player he hadn’t always made enough use of his power in the collective cause.

But he will and should be remembered as a footballer as he brought tremendous joy to untold millions. For almost 20 years he was part of a Santos team that was among the best club sides of all time. He came out of retirement in the mid-’70s to shine for the New York Cosmos and provide a major boost to the game’s development in the United States.

More than anything, however, Pele was a global king, the king of the World Cup. It seemed poignant that his health continued to deteriorate as the tournament progressed in Qatar. He was apparently still healthy enough to follow the competition and – more importantly – feel the love and respect that emanates from the football community.

And by leading Brazil to the top, Pele had also ensured that soccer would be the No. 1 sport on the planet and the World Cup would be its quadrennial celebration. The legends that came after him eventually inhabited the house he built. Pele’s Brazil heroics made the World Cup a global success

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