Respect where it’s due.
I’d be the first to admit that Pelé is a paranoid, narcissistic defender of his own legacy. His footballing rhetoric is nauseating to say the least, especially when he opines about himself. Nevertheless, regardless of your opinion or preference as a football fan, you have to acknowledge that he is an all-time great.
Look, I don’t know who is the greatest player no-one knows in truth. Nor do I care, it’s an argument that cannot be proved or disproved adequately enough. But unless you’re someone who really hates this man, it’s difficult not to watch any Pelé clips in a stunned silence.
My barber constantly announces that Maradona was a better player, and in addition that O Rei was garbage because “the level of football then wasn’t as good as today”. That’s a load of trash really.
Don’t get me wrong, I love El Diez. He’s not only Argentina’s greatest player, but also their cultural icon like Ernesto Guevara and Eva Perón. My argument has always been; while you may prefer the man famous for his “Mano de Dios” in 1986, Pelé should be universally respected in his own right.
Truth be told, O Rei was ahead of his time. I think that was the secret to his phenomenal success in the game at that time, similarly to why Messi and C. Ronaldo are seemingly miles ahead of their colleagues. At that time it was not uncommon that talented players would go on an alcohol drugs and sex binge in between matches. Garrincha (RIP) Pelé’s equal during the early sixties, was a testament to this. Back then (in Brazil at least) there was a week between matches. A week where Garrincha would go missing days at a time turning up the day before the next match to train.
Pelé didn’t do this. He understood the importance of peak physical condition. So he matched his technical ability, natural skill with his superior conditioning, ultimately steering requisites of the sport into the future.
It’s difficult no, near impossible to quantify into words the things Pelé did or could do during his prime. He would blast past seven players (sometimes beating the same player more than once) and still have the composure and energy to cut the ball back across the area to create a goal. He was two-footed, literally ambi-dexterous which to this day is a rarity in football. And the kind of things he did without a moment’s pause had defenders either bewildered and wanting to destroy him at the same time.
“It’s difficult no, near impossible to quantify into words the things Pelé did or could do during his prime.”
My barber (again, because he is a Pelé blasphemer) said that Maradona , and even Messi has more attention to deal with from defenders than Pelé did. Messi and all modern superstars are protected by comparison in this pansy-ish postmodern era of football. Even in modern football video games you get penalised for just walking into a player accidentally. Scratch Messi. Maradona on the other hand I’ll admit was sent to the slaughter house very often. The most famous example being Claudio Gentile’s thuggery at the 1982 World Cup. But a lot of people are ignorant of the abuse inflicted upon Pelé.
The 1966 World Cup was notorious for the myopic refereeing that favoured European teams. In a World Cup that boasted Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina, none of these teams featured in the last four. The Argentina-England quarter-final clash was remembered for the Argentinian animals - the propaganda of British sports journalism. I’d forgive most for forgetting that Pelé had chunks kicked out of him against Bulgaria and post notably Portugal, where he had his right knee heavily bandaged and used only his left foot for the entire second half. And let’s not go down the road of the Libertadores clashes with Boca Juniors. One Boca player ripped his shorts, while another scythed him with both legs - with nothing more than an apathetic wave from the referee!
Most modern stars would wilt in such a hostile environment. Pelé’s legacy of brilliance is largely unparalled. I think what makes him immortal and applicable (for the most part) to all football eras was his consistent brilliance. A lot of people say that it’s easy to be brilliant when you play against defences in the Brazilian league. I think I’ve heard that said about Messi in la liga (yawn). Oh, and my favourite; he never played in Europe. Most people ignore the fact that even when Santos went abroad on tour, they decimated their European counterparts, including Milan and Benfica. And again reiterate defences in those days consisted mostly of savage brawlers who got away with their X-rate tackling.
At the end of the day he is a footballing icon. His nonsensical self-promoting rants are unbearable and often irrelevant yes, but the things he could do look amazing even in the stop motion black and white world of the 1950s and 60s. Would he have been the best player in the world today? I’m not sure and frankly I don’t care. He was definitely the master during his prime - Respeito.