Like most football lovers of my generation, and perhaps a few before me, we did not get the opportunity to watch the late great Pele play what he described as “the beautiful game”.
But long before one got to understand the laws of the game and intricacies of football, street soccer was the order of the day in most townships and the football that we played with had Pele’s signature engraved on it.
It was a hard black and white ball, it rolled very well on any surface — grass, tar, pavement and of course, the dusty fields. If draped in mud and if it unfortunately hit you on the face, it was lights out. Rings a bell, right?
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Pele has been described in many ways. Some call him the ‘Goat’ (greatest of all time) while some refer to him as the king. I think there is no better way than to call him football in four letters.
Fortunately with the aid of modern day social media platforms like YouTube and the like, we got to see Pele’s brilliance.
For a long time, I was never really convinced about the man’s talent, always thought ‘arg, he was just an average oak scoring goals against weak-ass defenders’. And if I am not mistaken, the offside rule was not as it is what we know it to be today.
It was not until I bumped into a video on Facebook posted by Poju Oyemade on December 15. It is a minute and a half of pleasure and brilliance. In that video, you will find the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Andres Iniesta, Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona and Cristiano Ronaldo all dazzling in their flair and skills.
But, in this video, it shows Pele doing all of today’s skills. The stunning bicycle kick that Ronaldo did against Juventus in the Uefa Champions League — Pele did that first.
Zindane’s famous Champions League goal against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 final — Pele did that first. Messi running past everybody and scoring? Pele did that just as good. Please do yourself a favour and watch that video.
And of course, this man managed to step on the grandest podium of world football to claim football’s biggest prize – the Fifa World Cup.
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Not just once, but he has three winners’ medals. Many players only dream of winning it, and in today’s level of competition, most great players might only just win it once while others will never get their hands on it.
In 1961, then Brazil president Janio Quadros made a bizarre decision to declare Pele national treasure. This was a move to stop him from being transferred out of the country as he, of course, attracted big teams in Europe whenever Santos toured that region of the world.
However, Pele did get a chance to play abroad and it was in the United States of America where he turned out for New York Cosmos.
This was when he was teammates with an equally celebrated footballer — at least locally — Ephraim Sono. You might know him as Jomo.
You can decide who your goat is, but today the world is mourning one of the best to have graced a football pitch. One thing for sure is that the afterlife’s starting 11 has gained a prolific striker.