Pele will al­ways be the great­est

Age has caught up with the Brazil­ian who cre­ated the mod­ern game

Gulf News - - FRONT PAGE - Deputy Ed­i­tor Sports BY MATTHEW SMITH

Age has caught up with Brazil­ian, but he still got the moves

While his body creaks and weak­ens with age, what he has achieved sets him apart from us mere mor­tals and the ‘King’ will sit on his throne in­spir­ing fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of su­per­stars.

It is the sad truth that even the great­est of men one day must ac­cept that no one stays young for­ever. It is dis­heart­en­ing to hear that the once seem­ingly im­per­vi­ous foot­ball legend Pele is now a frail fig­ure of a 79-year-old man who is ashamed to got out in pub­lic due to fail­ing health. Ac­cord­ing to his son, Ed­inho, Pele is “de­pressed” and barely leaves home be­cause health prob­lems have left him strug­gling to walk. Last week, Ed­inho re­vealed that Pele is em­bar­rassed about his phys­i­cal con­di­tion, given that he was once re­garded as the great­est ath­lete on the planet. Pele should know that what he achieved has al­ready made him im­mor­tal. He was revered by young­sters and adults alike dur­ing his play­ing days from the 1956-1977 and he is still the only player to win three Fifa World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970).

Global in­spi­ra­tion

Even now, the kids who dream of grow­ing up to be the next Lionel Messi or Cris­tiano Ron­aldo know his name. The cur­rent crop of pre­tenders to his ‘Great­est of All Time’ throne all have their tal­ents, and they all have one other thing in com­mon — they were all in­spired to play the game by Pele.

Messi, Ron­aldo, Ney­mar, even the young Kylian Mbappe ... You name him and he will have cited Pele as an in­spi­ra­tion.

The man born Ed­son Arantes do Nasci­mento sin­gle-hand­edly paved the way for foot­ball to be­come a truly global phe­nom­e­non and be­came the pride of

Brazil­ian foot­ball and foot­ball’s first icon — he is ar­guably still the big­gest.

When he first burst onto the scene for San­tos in the 1950s he could do things with a foot­ball never seen be­fore. Fans in the South Amer­i­can coun­try were used to his flair, skill and strength — even as a record-break­ing 17-year-old — but the world col­lec­tively dropped its jaw when he show­cased his unique tal­ents at the 1958 World Cup in Swe­den.

He set the tour­na­ment alight with daz­zling play, in­con­ceiv­able vi­sion and shoot­ing power that left goal­keep­ers twice his age quiv­er­ing. Six games, six goals, a heap of records and one World Cup win­ners’ medal later and both a star and ‘The Beau­ti­ful Game’ were born.

The Nether­lands star Jo­han Cruyff, who is re­garded along­side Pele and Por­tu­gal’s Euse­bio as one of the fathers of the mod­ern game, once said: “Pele was the only foot­baller who sur­passed the bound­aries of logic.” His star­dom and sway was such that it could stop a war. In 1967, the Nige­rian Civil War held a 48-hour cease­fire so both sides could watch Pele play an ex­hi­bi­tion game in Lagos.

In the years of sport­ing glory, one mo­ment showed how Pele cre­ated the mod­ern game in an­other way. Play­ers these days com­mand salaries that could fund a small na­tion, but they make just as much out of mer­chan­dis­ing, spon­sors and en­dorse­ments. Pele was smart enough to get in on the act way back in the 1970 World Cup.

Brand pro­moter

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, at the start of the quar­ter-fi­nal against Peru, Pele asked the ref­eree to de­lay kick-off for a mo­ment so he could lace up his new shiny Puma boots, while the tele­vi­sion cam­eras zoomed in on the big­gest name in the game and — un­be­known to the cam­era­men — cre­ated a nice lit­tle promotion for the brand and a nice lit­tle earner for Pele. Ac­cord­ing to au­thor Bar­bara Smit, Pele was paid what would now be $800,000 (Dh2.9 mil­lion) for just a few mo­ments of ‘work’. Who says foot­ballers are dumb?

Pele re­tired from in­ter­na­tional foot­ball in 1974 be­fore the World Cup and left San­tos af­ter his 19th sea­son with the South Amer­i­can gi­ants. He fol­lowed the money to the North Amer­i­can Soc­cer League when he signed for New York Cos­mos the fol­low­ing year. He helped raise aware­ness of ‘soc­cer’ in the States to lev­els that it is now lur­ing stars such as David Beck­ham, Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic and Wayne Rooney across the At­lantic for a pay­day be­fore they end their careers — some­thing else for which Pele proved to be a trail­blazer.

Once his play­ing days were over — he of­fi­cially re­tired in 1977 — he turned his at­ten­tion to help­ing the un­der­priv­i­leged, us­ing his fame to fund char­i­ta­ble work in Africa and South Amer­ica. He be­came a Good­will Am­bas­sador for Unesco in 1994, us­ing his sway to pro­mote hu­man rights is­sues, be­fore step­ping back due to his health is­sues.

Health con­cerns

Health has al­ways been at the fore­front dur­ing var­i­ous points in Pele’s life. His talent came with a price and he was of­ten the tar­get of heavy tack­les. Dur­ing the 1966 World Cup he was sub­jected to some bru­tal fouls in the matches against Bul­garia and Por­tu­gal which led to his in­jury and Brazil’s early de­par­ture from the tour­na­ment.

He only has one kid­ney af­ter doc­tors had to re­move the other when it was dam­aged by a rib he broke while play­ing.

Pele has un­der­gone nu­mer­ous hip op­er­a­tions — an­other price he paid for life as a foot­baller. He never fully re­cov­ered, leav­ing him de­pen­dent on a walker or wheel­chair.

While his body creaks and weak­ens with age, what he has achieved sets him apart from us mere mor­tals and the ‘King’ will sit on his throne in­spir­ing fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of su­per­stars.

SM Ar­shad/©Gulf News

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