Erling Holland, Kylian Mbappé, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Marco van Basten, Diego Maradona, Michel Platini Each generation has its own superstars in football people who go far beyond their clubs and national teams, and become the property of the Game, as such, making football a phenomenon on a truly global scale.
However, on this great list, there is always someone who stands a little apart, a little above the rest. His name is Edson Arantis do Nascimento, better known as Pele. The superiority of the Brazilian "King of Football" is not in purely football achievements, but in the fact that in many aspects of football as a social phenomenon, it was he who was the first.
Comparing Pele with either Maradona, or Messi, or with any more or less talented young Brazilian footballer is a favorite pastime of football journalists around the world. Nevertheless, any comparison of athletes of different generations looks inadequate, due to the fact that the game itself is constantly changing and improving from pharmacology to the evolution of tactical thought.
In the popular mind, Pele remains the “King of Football” to this day, because he was the first real football superstar and in the above list, Pele will always be 1, purely chronologically. It's hard to say in which direction football would have gone if someone else had become the world's first football superstar sooner or later than Pele.
One thing is certain the influence of the Pele phenomenon on the formation of modern football as a mass phenomenon is enormous. What is the Pele phenomenon and what made him the first real football superstar on a global scale?
To understand this, it is necessary to travel back to the very beginning of the career of the "King of Football" and to his first great triumph, which was the 1958 World Cup. Pele, 17, scored his first goal in this tournament in the quarterfinals against Wales. For many years to come, Pele himself will consider this very goal the most memorable and beautiful in his career.
Igor Fesunenko's wonderful book "Pele, Garrincha, Football" quotes the "King of Football" himself, describing this goal: "At the moment I received the ball, I probably did not think about anything. thought before In the field, a player must think before he takes the ball.
The one who ponders what to do with the ball when the ball is at his feet cannot be a good striker That is why I always strive to think over two or three options for further continuation of the game even before my partners hand over to me ball…".
This was followed by a hat-trick in the semifinal match with France and a double in the final, against Sweden.
Thus, the 17-year-old boy, who rode to the World Cup as a reserve player ("young and promising" as we like to say), became the main discovery of the World Championship. By 1958, broadcasts from the World Cup, if not on television, then on radio, were already available almost everywhere, so the fame of the phenomenal youth quickly reached a global scale.
Already in those years, the richest, strongest and most interesting football was in Europe, therefore, of course, European clubs immediately became closely interested in the Brazilian diamond. 3 years after that World Cup, Juventus, Inter and Milan offered 600 million lire for Pele, which would become a world record (at that time, the transfer record was 250 million lira (approx. 152 thousand pounds) for this amount Inter in the summer 1961 bought from Barcelona Luis Suarez Miramontes).
Pele also aroused interest from Real Madrid, treated kindly by the tutelage of Francisco Franco's regime and for which Ferenc Puskas had already played. There was also interest from Bavaria.
This keen interest in Pele worried then-Brazilian President Janiu Cuadrusha. He expressed concern in a special note addressed to João Mendonce Falcao, President of the National Sports Council. In it, the president said that he was concerned about "the repeated transfers of Brazilian footballers to foreign clubs," while pointing out that the Europeans want to "import Pele", and this process would lead to "weakening the champion team."
The note ended with a call to Falcao to "take action." As a result, Kuadrush took measures himself, more than decisive ones, declaring Pele a "national treasure" by a special decree, which in fact prevented the possibility of his departure abroad. Such a presidential decree was criticized, because in fact, Pele was deprived of part of the constitutional rights guaranteed to every citizen of Brazil.
It's funny that Cuadrusha's presidential term lasted less than seven months - already in August 1961, due to the political crisis in Brazil, he resigned as president. And the story with Pele remained the brightest page of his short cadence. Thus, thanks to Pele, football for the first time became a matter of national importance at the highest level.
However, even before the history of the assignment of Pele the status of a national treasure, Santos found an extremely successful and very popular way of earning money in modern times. Benefiting from the star status of its players, many of whom were world champions, the club began holding regular tours and friendly matches in other countries on other continents.
Today, it is common for top European clubs to travel to the United States or China for friendly tournaments in the offseason, gathering full stadiums and a good box office. In the late 50s, early 60s, this was know-how and it became possible precisely thanks to the overwhelming popularity of the Brazilian national team and its young genius, Pele. Santos regularly performed in several countries in South America, in the United States, traveled to Trinidad and Tobago and even to African countries.
The story became well-known that in 1969, at the height of the Nigerian civil war, Santos came to Benin City for a friendly match with a local team. According to legend, for the duration of the duel, the opposing sides signed a peace treaty. Using a beautiful occasion, many describe this story as "Pele stopped the war."
However, the fact of the conclusion of a peace treaty has not been established, and after that match, the war lasted another year. Probably, such an "agreement" was tacit, silent, when it is already clear to everyone that a holiday of this magnitude should not be overshadowed.
Last fall, Pele recalled those events on his Twitter account:
"We were asked to play a friendly in Benin City at the height of the civil war, but Santos was so loved that they negotiated a ceasefire on match day. This became known as the day Santos stopped the war."
Naturally, Pele's immense popularity could not but be embodied in his phenomenon in popular culture. If today footballers who have become actors or players to whom songs are dedicated are not unusual, then at that time, Pele became the first footballer to become a real phenomenon of mass culture.
Including in the Soviet Union, where Vladimir Vysotsky, inspired by the vicissitudes of the Mexican World Cup-70, wrote a football song-sketch, one of the key characters of which was Pele.
In Brazil, Pele became a cultural phenomenon even during the performances for Santos. I give the floor to Igor Fesunenko and his book "Pele, Garrincha, Football":
"Another hobby of the" King "suddenly turned into an additional and very
a lucrative source of his income: it is about his passion for the performing arts. At the end of 1968, the Excelsior TV station in Sao Paulo signed a contract with Pele, according to which he was involved in the filming of a grandiose (several hundred episodes) television film for one of the main roles.
Every Monday (a day of rest for Santos footballers), "The King" arrives in Sao Paulo and transforms into a science fiction and police novelist who has to face the heroes of his novels when a spaceship from another planet arrives on earth.
Along the way, as required by the holy traditions of Brazilian television, Pele has to jump over abysses, perform air somersaults on helicopters and parachutes, pursue bandits in the ocean depths and the stratosphere, twist the jaws of his numerous opponents and save the fairer sex from all sorts of encroachments on their life and honor.
However, with regard to the last point, the creators of this enchanting TV epic are constantly faced with very serious difficulties: the wife of Pele Rose-Meri, having agreed to her husband's participation in these filming, set a categorical condition: no "strong" scenes with half-naked beauties!
The producers are not very happy, but they try not to grumble, because they know the decisive nature of Rose-Mary. A year and a half ago, she mercilessly destroyed the no less grandiose idea of some foreign camera knight, who set out to shoot a tape about love affairs with Brigitte Bardot and Pele in the lead male role ...
Judging by the first several dozen episodes, the experiment turned out to be very successful,
the film enjoys immense popularity among viewers and will soon be sold to a number of foreign countries. The main positive side of this venture is the fact that for the first time on the screen of world television a black man appeared not in the usual role of a jester, bandit, shoe cleaner or morally defective being, but in the guise of a hero, a clever, intelligent, charming fighter, protector of the offended.
Pele's next big film role took place, of course, in Hollywood, after the end of the career of the great Brazilian. In the company with Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Bobby Moore and other movie and football stars, Pele played in the sports drama "Flight to Victory" - about the football team of prisoners of war in occupied France during the Second World War.
Legend has it that in one of the episodes, Pele, who at that time was already 41 years old, scored the ball in the fall over himself from the very first take. And Sylvester Stallone played the goalkeeper, not the fielder, because he was extremely unconvincing with the ball ...
Needless to say, Pele became one of the first footballers to regularly appear in commercials, and his autobiography, published in 1977, became a real bestseller, and in this he also became one of the pioneers of football as a mass phenomenon?
Let's return for a while to Pele's playing years, or rather to the last years of his career. In 1974, 34-year-old Pele, after 18 years in Santos, left the club and had to retire. In the matter, however, intervened ... US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The politician traveled to Sao Paulo to convince Pele to return to the game.
This is how Pele talked about it in one of his recent interviews: “He invited me to go with him to a cafe, and there he said:“ Listen. You know that I am from the United States, and I am involved in politics there. Would you like to help us promote football in the United States? "
A little later, before Pele signed a contract with New York Cosmos, Kissinger sent him a telegram stating: "If you choose to sign a contract, I am confident that your stay in the United States will significantly contribute to closer ties between Brazil and USA in Sports ".
Pele's friendship with Kissinger has survived to this day.
Pele's influence on the development of football in the United States is a separate large and interesting topic (write in the comments if you would like to see a separate article on this topic on Football.ua). Let's just say that at that time the American "soccer" was, in fact, semi-amateur and aroused interest only among enthusiasts, and among recently arrived immigrants from Europe.
Pele's arrival gave impetus to the first football boom in the history of the United States, when the stadiums were filled to capacity, and dozens, if not hundreds of journalists were accredited for matches - all in order to see and tell about the game of the best football player in the world.
Pele spent the final two years of his career in the United States and in 1977 became the champion of the North American Football League. In this regard, he can also be called a football pioneer. If now the departure of a player at the end of his career to the United States, China or Arab countries for a long dollar is a common occurrence, then in those years it was a curiosity. And again, this was the result of Pele's enormous popularity around the world.
Pele could also become the first footballer to become the president of his country. Anyway, in 1990, the "King of Football" announced that he was considering running in the 1994 elections. These plans were not destined to come true, but from 1995 to 1998, Pele worked as the Minister of Youth, Tourism and Sports of Brazil.
Already in the 21st century, the political careers of former athletes became more commonplace, at the same time, the entry of a former football player into the Cabinet of Ministers was an exception. Who else but Pele could be such an exception?
Pele was the first. The first phenomenon, the first football superstar, the first soccer player to become a national treasure, the first player to influence international relations, the first soccer phenomenon in pop culture, the first soccer player-actor, the first soccer player politician.
Thanks to this, Pele's career and life determined the direction of football development and the way we see football today was largely shaped by the role that Pele played in the history of football. And for sure, for this colossal contribution to our beloved game, it is worth saying "Thank you!" and wish health to the "King of Football" on his 81st birthday.