A tribute to Pelé.

29th December will forever remain a black day in football and the world, after the loss of football’s first global star, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, more famously known as Pelé at the age of 82.

In the 20th century (and the early part of the 21st), there was always one clear, indisputable ‘King’ of anything. The Greatest Boxer was Muhammad Ali, the King of Reggae was Bob Marley, King of Pop was Michael Jackson and the basketball court was Michael Jordan’s throne. But then there was Pelé.

This article tries to put into words, the impact Pelé had, not just in football, but in the whole world through summarized real-life, factual historical events

1. Uganda is a great start. In February 1976, Pele visited Uganda, attending a football clinic for kids at Nakivubo Stadium. He paid a courtesy visit to the country’s president by then – Idi Amin Dada, who he gifted a Santos FC jersey with his famous number 10. He also visited Queen Elizabeth National Park after talking to the national team- The Cranes who were preparing for their Africa Cup of Nations Campaign. The Cranes went on to reach the final of the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations losing 2-0 to hosts Ghana, which is the greatest feat the national team has achieved in the history of the competition.

2.  In 1967 as the Biafra war raged in Nigeria pitting the Igbo of Biafra against the federal government in Nigeria, a miracle happened because of Pele. The two combatants in the brutal civil war agreed on a 48-hour ceasefire so as to welcome Pele and watch him play against Nigeria. The two warring groups of Soldiers, carrying arms, jointly provided security for the general population and those who had come to watch the game. After the match, they waited for Pele to leave the following day, then war resumed. Never before and never again have soldiers paused a war because of the talent of one man.

3. When Pele met one of the most iconic US Presidents, Ronald Reagan, before the American people and millions watching all over the world, Reagan introduced himself. “I am Ronald Reagan, the President of the United States.” And turning to Pele he said, “Please don’t introduce yourself. Everybody knows Pele.” Another extraordinary incident was when the Secret Service let Pelé bounce the ball off President Ford’s head.

4. In the World Cup of 1970. Adidas and Puma had agreed to a “non-aggression” pact which was that neither one would sponsor Pelé during the World Cup. However, Puma broke the pact, and reached a deal with Pelé in the World Cup, in which he wore Puma boots, and the impact of that was that for a long time thereafter, Football boots and ‘Puma’ became interchangeable, as if they meant one and the same thing! At the quarter final match of that World Cup edition, between Brazil and Peru, Pelé asked the referee for time to fasten his boots in front of the whole world, resulting in one of the best marketing plays in memory. Puma’s sales rose 30% after that and Pelé received more than $100,000 at the time plus a sales percentage.

5. India, a nation known mainly for its love for cricket, with almost close to no interest in football, immortalized him with a Golden Statue of his signature scoring posture, the Bicycle kick, in the middle of one of its biggest cities. Furthermore, North Korea, a nation of despots with almost no love for any foreigners, immortalized his name and image on their national postage stamps.

6. Three Catholic Church Popes, led by Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), invited Pele to the Holy See as a guest of the Papacy and the Vatican, to thank him, bless him and give the Holy Trinity sign to his face on behalf of God and the billion plus Catholics on the planet. As if that’s not jaw dropping enough, Six Emperors, 15 Kings and 72 heads of State played host to him just to revel in his presence. The Shah of Iran, one of the most consequential leaders of the 70s, waited for 3 hours, just to look at him with his own eyes, hold him, thank him and take a photo with him.  Pelé, was one of only five foreign football players, to be granted the ultimate privilege of being honored by the late, Queen Elizabeth ll.

7. Pele never played for any big league, high paying clubs in Europe because President Janio Quadros passed a law through parliament declaring Pele a National Treasure thereby forbidding him from being transferable from Brazil to any other country. The Juventus Chairman even offered him shares in FIAT to lure him. It was never to be. He only played in the US after his retirement, and in the sunset of his footballing career. As Pele was barred by the government and by law from playing for any other club outside Brazil he was given two concessions. One, the government made sure he was always the highest paid footballer in the country, and two, allowed him to travel around the world to play exhibition games. In one exhibition game some rough play by opponents led to a melee which made the referee to send Pele off for his involvement. This action infuriated fans so much they started rioting because they had only come to see Pele. Match officials intervened by sending off the referee and restoring Pele to the game to cool down the fans and for the game to continue.

8. When Pele was asked if his fame compared to that of Jesus Christ, he cheekily answered that, “there are parts of the world where Jesus Christ is not so well known.”

9. Pelé gave football its now enduring name, “Jogo Bonito”, the beautiful game.

King Pelé scored 1,283 goals, won three World cups and inspired billions of hearts all over the world during his lifetime.

Records are meant to be broken. So maybe one day, Pelé’s incredible football statistics will be surpassed and perhaps the football world, in its wisdom, will curve out another King. But Pelé’s impact on and off the pitch, will always render him football’s one true King.

Continue to Rest in Peace, King Pelé.

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