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The Artist & His Canvas

Pelé (born Edson Arantes do Nascimento; October 23, 1940 – December 29, 2022) used to be a blessing to the people, living in a miserable world. The former Brazilian forward was not a representative of the so-called happy world. Instead, he was a veteran of a particular sport that has had (and continues to have) a link to the long history of poverty, deprivation and humiliation.

There are several heavenly countries in this world. Those Developed Nations are a dream place for many, and some of them are lucky to visit there. Being able to live in Developed Nations or getting citizenship of those countries is equivalent to Dream comes True for those people. There are also some impoverished countries in this world, which seemingly possess much lesser wealth.

Although India has sufficient wealth, only a few enjoy its ownership. Behind it, there are various levels of governance and business lobbies. The economic situation is bound to have an impact on the social organisations, as well as sports, in such a country. It is due to the nature that citizens of India often choose football as their childhood pastime, as this sport requires little preparation. Football, at times, is considered as the sport of subaltern class. Perhaps, that is why it has become the most popular sport in Brazil.

No matter how much the structure of the game changes and business gets involved in it, the historical roots and tradition of the game remain the same. Here lies the importance of Pelé (in the history of the game). Pelé, one of the most successful and popular sports figures of the 20th Century, was born in Brazil, a Developing Nation. The world got him as the Pole Star in trying times, as he had taken the subaltern’s sport to a new height.

Once, Pelé had reportedly said: “I was born for football, just as Beethoven was born for music.” If anyone else makes such a comment, s/he would be considered as an arrogant person. However, the King of Football may well has been the right person to make this statement. He had played four World Cups, and emerged victorious in three (1958, 1962 and 1970). He had scored a total of 1,283 goals, including 12 in the World Cup.

Just as Beethoven means more than just a few tunes, Pelé means more than just goals and statistics. A survey had revealed that only two athletes were the most popular across the globe: Pelé and Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr; January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016). Pelé and his teammates were products of a genre of Brazilian football, as they had set a tune with the ball… the tune of Samba. All of them had unbelievable skills, blistering pace, and superb ball control ability. The Brazilian squad had popularised the yellow-green jersey around the world in the 1970s. Pelé was the principal artist of that orchestra. He turned himself into a strong athlete long before the invention of the modern training system. Apart from shooting the ball like a cannon, he used to fire bicycle kicks effortlessly.

Pelé ‘s father Dondinho (born João Ramos do Nascimento; October 2, 1917 – November 16, 1996), too, was a footballer. However, injuries had spoiled his career. Although Dondinho had failed to live a comfortable life by opting football as his career, he always inspired his son to play the game. As Pelé grew up in poverty at Bauru in the Brazilian State of São Paulo, he used to earn extra money by working in tea shops as a servant. Fortunately, Waldemar de Brito had discovered Pelé’s talent, and started coaching the latter. On his recommendation, Pelé joined the Bauru Athletic Club in São Paulo at the age of 14. de Brito took him to Santos a couple of years later (in 1956). Pelé would play for the Brazilian club for the next 18 years. In Santos, he became known as ‘The Black Pearl‘ (‘A Pérola Negra‘).

Pelé’s rise to the global stage happened during the 1958 FIFA World Cup, held in Sweden. He missed a couple of matches due to injury at the initial stage of the mega event before starting his World Cup venture against the Soviet Union in Brazil’s final Group Match. Vavá (born Edvaldo Izidio Neto; November 12, 1934 – January 19, 2002) netted the ball twice in that match, and he scored the second goal from Pelé’s assist. Pelé scored his first World Cup goal against Wales in the Quarterfinal, as Brazil won the match by a solitary goal. He went on to score a hattrick against France in the Semifinal, and another two, including one incredible bicycle kick goal, against Sweden in the Final. Brazil eventually defeated the host nation 5-2 to win their first World Cup.

At the age of 21, Pelé played his second World Cup at Chile in 1962. He stamped his authority in world football by scoring a 73rd minute goal of stupendous proportions, a right-footed solo past four defenders and the goalkeeper before a ferocious left-footed strike, in Brazil’s 2-0 victory against Mexico in their opening match. The goal against Mexico was emblematic of Pelé, a player in pristine form at the peak of his playing days. He embodied, perhaps for the first time, the notion of a modern-day player. He artfully brushed the ball and intelligently outmaneuvered opponents, all while being the fittest player on the field. Pelé simply encompassed football. Unfortunately, an injury prevented him from further excelling at the 1962 World Cup. However, Brazil won their second World Cup in Chile, with Pelé missing the rest of the matches.

From the very beginning of the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England, opponent defenders started targeting his legs, and Pelé suffered from a brutal tackling. Eventually, Brazil were knocked out of the 1966 World Cup after suffering a 1-3 loss to Portugal. A disappointed Pelé announced that he would never play in the World Cup again.

However, he returned like a king at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. In their group stage match against defending champions England on June 7, 1970 at Guadalajara, Brazil went on an attack with Jairzinho, beating his marker, Terry Cooper, with ease, and lifting in a cross from the right for Pelé. The only thing better than the cross was Pelé’s run and leap, as he floated his 5ft-6inch frame above the English defence to head the ball down into Gordon Banks’ goal and landed back assured that he had broken the deadlock. The English custodian, who was readjusting his position from the near post, instead of diving toward the bounce of the ball, chose to dive backwards to his right. Choosing not to parry it, fearing the presence of Pelé and Rivelino in the penalty box, Banks manipulated the ball with his fingertip, lifting it above the crossbar to safety. Banks’ attempt was popularly known as the Save of the Century. However, Brazil reached the Final, beating Peru 4-2 and Uruguay 3-1 in their next matches. In Brazil’s 4-1 victory against Italy in the title clash, Pelé scored a magnificent goal with a header. The Jules Rimet Cup was permanently awarded to Brazil, the then three-time winner, (1958, 1962 & 1970) in 1970, and a new trophy, called the FIFA World Cup, was put up for competition.

After quitting international football, Pelé continued playing for Santos. He signed a three‐year contract with the New York-based Cosmos Club for a record USD 7 million in 1975. Finally, Pelé hanged his boots in 1977. Later, he served as Sports Ambassador, and also as the Sports Minister of Brazil.

Pelé was not just a footballer, but also a legend who had experienced poverty and humiliation in his early years. Had Pelé played any other sport, he might have created history as well. It happens only with persons who are termed genius. He possibly still remains a symbol of Fighting for Survival to countless ordinary people. Pelé’s appeal is eternal, as his name has somehow become synonymous with Resilience. That is why he has reached near immortality.

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