Recalling a classic Pele display
tHE pre-season transfer of Neymar from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain for the price of a medium sized planet prompted me to look back at a performance from another Santos old boy that was rated by everyone who saw it as out of this world.
The player in question was, of course, Pelé, the then emerging star of world football.
It was Santos’ golden jubilee in 1962 and, as if to emphasise the point, the club set about voraciously claiming silverware.
The club had put together a team with all the right components. They had an assured goalkeeper, Gylmar (who went on to win 94 caps); a solid, no-nonsense defence; their captain was Brazil’s silky-smooth playmaker, Zito, with his Zorro-like moustache, who would slice open opposing defences as if at will; and up front they had the swashbuckling duo of Pelé and Coutinho, the guy they called ‘Pelé’s twin’ (which suggests he might have been half decent).
The 1961-62 season had seen the club retain their Brazilian regional league title. Added to this came the Brazilian Cup and, with a victory over Penarol of Uruguay, the Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club competition. This saw Santos claim an unprecedented treble. But they were by no means finished. By beating Penarol over three incident packed matches, Santos also qualified for a tilt at the Intercontinental Cup; which, in effect, meant the world club championship. Their opponents for the (unofficial) world club title were to be the Portuguese champions, Benfica, who had recently conquered the mighty Real Madrid 5-3 to be crowned champions of Europe (Benfica had also been the previous year’s world club runners-up to Penarol). They also had the new star of European football, Eusebio (who was actually born in Africa, in Mozambique). In the first leg, played before a crowd of 85,459 at the ginormous Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Benfica played a typical European away tie, by defending in depth and playing on the break. Despite such tactics, Santos still managed a narrow 3-2 win, with Pelé scoring two and his ‘twin’ adding the other. It was generally believed, though, that a third match would eventually be necessary as aggregate scores didn’t count. Benfica were fancied to take advantage on home soil, especially as their injured star goalkeeper Costa Pereira was expected to return for the second-leg, so provisional plans were put in place for a play-off in Paris.
But such arrangements were soon kissed au revoir as Pelé put on what is widely regarded as his greatest ever performance. Lisbon’s Stadium of Light had never been quite so illuminated.
In an astonishing match, Santos won the second leg 5-2. The 21-year-old Pelé scored a superb hat-trick, set up the other two and, for good measure, put on an array of ball skills which have probably never been bettered.
Benfica’s two late goals only came once Santos were coasting at 5-0. That’s FIVE-NIL. Away from home. Against the champions of Europe.
I used to own a video tape (remember them?) titled Pelé O Rey whose best sequence was a montage of highlights from this particular game and, when watching the grainy black and white footage, one was struck by how when Pelé was on the ball, it’s as if his play had been speeded up compared to that of the players around him. He was simply electric. (Pelé was also unmistakably two-footed, which can’t always be said about some of the players that he occasionally gets compared to.)
At the final whistle, spectators poured onto the pitch and, in a rare instance (unique even?) of it happening to an away team player, Pelé was carried from the pitch as the capacity 73,000 crowd hailed: “Pelé, O Rey, Pelé, O Rey, Pelé, O Rey… (Pelé the King, Pelé the King).”
So, you can ignore (if you wish) Pelé’s muchadmired performances from the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. When it comes to recognising his best-ever game, look no further than this.
Unstoppable: Pele celebrates scoring for Brazil in the 1970 World Cup final against Italy Move: PSG’s Neymar