With a halo round his head, Pelé packed lightning in his right foot, thunder in his left; the reason his footsteps sparkled, the reason he shone like a million stars, the reason he was named Edson after the inventor of the light bulb, Thomas Edison: the reason he turned football to ‘jogo bonito’ – the beautiful game.
Pelé was born in the morning of October 23, 1940 when electric light arrived in his hometown of Três Corações, a city in Minas Gerais, light and sunlight heralded the son of light to the delight of mother Celeste and father Dondinho, a foregone Fluminense forward reputed to have scored five headed goals in a match, a record Pelé eyed but could’t match.
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento but globally called Pelé, a nickname he picked up as a child when teammates derided him for the way he pronounced Bilé, his father’s goalkeeper teammate; Pelé, the misnamed, has become Pelé, the main name.
If the ball was blazing at his feet, it was also magnetic in his hands. As a striker, Pelé was a terror to defenders just as he was a nightmare to strikers whenever he kept the goal, shouting, “Segura, Bilé,” a battle cry to his teammates. Segura means safe in Portuguese language, and the young Pelé was so talented that he was also Santos’ second choice goalkeeper, according to online sports medium, en.as.com.
After 18 years of exotic football at Santos FC, Pelé hung up his boots on October 2, 1974, following his club’s 2-0 victory over Associação Atlética Ponte Preta, and looked forward to life after retirement.
But fate had the first laugh. In a 2013 biography, “Pelé: A Importância do Futebol,” the legend recounts the surprise visit of his accountant. “I remember the moment he entered the house as if it were yesterday. He was sweating profusely. He was pale, he looked like he was about to faint. I could tell something was wrong so I made a little joke: ‘How many million have we still got?’ I nearly had to call the doctor when he replied: ‘Look, this is very difficult…’” Pelé discovered that all his money had gone and he had lost all the 41 properties he invested in.
Never say die, Pelé picked the bits and pieces of his life together, thereafter, and considered the prospect of returning to football and accepting a long rejected offer to play in the US for the New York Cosmos.
Popularly referred to as ‘O Rei’, Portuguese term for ‘The King’, Pelé met a former President and General Manager of New York Cosmos, Clive Toye, in Brussels, where he had gone for an international friendly. On the cliff edge of financial doom, Pelé felt it was time he listened to Toye, who offered him a $2.8m contract when the highest paid NBA player, Kareem Abdul-Jabber, was earning $450,000 a year. Light shone in again.
At 34, Pele, who had retired eight months earlier, debuted for New York Cosmos on June 15, 1975, scoring a goal and providing an assist in a 2-2 draw against Dallas Tornado. For the three seasons he played for Cosmos, Pele netted 37 goals and won the NASL title known as the North American league crown in his final season, swimming out of bankruptcy to financial harbour. Pelé had the last laugh.
Growing up, Pelé knew the colours of poverty having been apprenticed to be a shoemaker. But football gave the son of destiny his first break when he won the World Cup and played for Santos, and when he faced financial suffocation, football also rescued him, changing his status from penury to prosperity as he made most of his money after he retired from Cosmos.
Thus, Pelé first rose to fame, then slipped into insolvency and later rode onto the pantheon of all-time sports greats, nestling at the apogee of soccer immortality for over 40 years until death sold cancer to Pelé’s colon and metastasized the entrails of the lethal striker. And Pelé kicked the bucket!
Death blew the final whistle on Pelé just when the samba king was about to dribble into 2023, hacking him down in the 18-yard box. Cruelly, death did not give Pelé a penalty, it gave him a red card, marching him out of the pitch of life.
When Pelé was writhing in pain from the fatal tackle from death, he didn’t run abroad for medical treatment like Nigerian prodigal leaders would do. He stayed in Brazil, taking treatment at the Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital located in Morumbi, southern São Paulo.
Pelé invested his hard-earned football income in Brazil, creating jobs and supporting the economy in a commendable demonstration of patriotism, unlike public treasury-looting Nigerian leaders who stash their heists abroad, refuse to pay taxes and inflict suffering on the masses through multiple taxes and neglect of hospitals, schools and roads.
The Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital is renowned as the best in Latin America even as it reportedly ranks in the top 50 globally. It is owned by a group of Jewish community members in São Paulo. If the Brazilian government didn’t provide a secure atmosphere for the hospital to operate since 1971, the hospital would not be a pride of Brazil today, providing top-notch medicare to humanity.
Not only have Nigerian political leaders abandoned healthcare services provided by even foreign experts in Nigeria, they flee abroad to treat dandruff and hold political meetings while commending the masses to utilise decrepit public healthcare facilities they won’t recommend for pets.
As long as telecommunications companies and banks oil legislature palms without ceasing, blindness will continue to afflict legislative oversight functions that should check fraudulent bank charges and insane billing by telecommunication firms. Today, a mere ‘hello’ is costlier than a New Year broadcast from hell.
Brazilian pastors and imams didn’t go online to predict that witches and wizards were behind Pelé’s sickness like fake Nigerian clerics would do. A notorious Nigerian celestial cleric with a chest like a barrel of liquor from the Tibetan region of the Himalayas, shamelessly claimed God told him that France would defeat Argentina in the recent World Cup final, mopping his burnt face and foaming in the mouth like a rabid dog.
Pelé, the winner of three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970), still has a mother, Celeste, who is 100 years old. He played football on the streets but wasn’t shot dead by a police officer like pregnant lawyer Bolanle Raheem was shot dead by an accursed Assistant Superintendent of Police, Drambi Vandi.
Before he dropped out of school in fourth grade, kidnappers didn’t storm Pelé’s school to cart away pupils into the night like they did in Chibok, Borno State, and Dapchi in Yobe State.
As a budding player, Pelé was in various football camps, lodging in different hotels. There was no report of Pelé or any of his teammates being molested not to talk of being killed like an Obafemi Awolowo postgraduate student, Timothy Adegoke, was allegedly murdered in his sleep at Hilton Hotel, Ile-Ife.
If Pelé was shot dead by Brazilian soldiers like ‘zombie’ soldiers massacred Nigerian youths at the Lekki Tollgate, how would Brazil have profited from Pelé’s prodigy? Who knows how many Pelés, Albert Einsteins and Thomas Edisons have been sent to early graves by the Nigerian leadership?
As a mark of respect to the late Pelé, I decided to halt the conclusion of the two-part series I began last week, entitled, “Pelé can’t untie Messi’s shoelace (1).” Football tempers flared over the article which garnered thousands of likes on PUNCH Facebook page as well as some criticisms.
I must admit that the conversation over who football’s GOAT is will never end as long as football remains round. But I stand by Lionel Messi; he’s my GOAT. I shall return.
Facebook: @tunde odesola