But football isn’t a ledger, and Pele’s magic doesn’t fit in the trophy room. The country lost a bit of its soul when he died of colon cancer on Thursday at the age of 82. From 1956 to his 1977, he brought grace and dignity to the world’s most popular sport. He also became Brazil’s most enduring brand, incorporating his power soft into his shorts and happily blending his own name with a Brazilian name, halogen his smile boyish his star. I was.
To see Pele perform at the 1969 exhibition game, just ask any Nigerian who saw combatants easily lower their weapons during the bloody civil war. Alternatively, Brazil-led UN peacekeepers promoted a “peace game” in conflict-torn Haiti in 2004, parading the stars of the national team in armored vehicles through the streets of Port-au-Prince. Invented by Pele. Even if the truce was short-lived, Pele’s aura remained and the Brazilian Traveler earned instant bonhomie.
But Pele’s most lasting influence was at home. He was more than just a star player, he was a symbol of a nation in transition. He was born at a time when Brazil was moving towards international ambitions and world-class industry. Bossa Nova is riding a Victrola and Carnival has turned his party up to his 11th street. Pele slid across the grass, making impossible moves look effortless, and parabolic his kicks from ridiculous angles. of beauty. He looked like a dance that epitomized Brazil’s confidence and enthusiasm.
In the 1980s, cinemas in Brazil played grainy reels of classic football matches, scored to the infectious sound of “que bonito e,” or “how beautiful.” This was the game that defined Brazil, the beat, and Pele was its icon.
Pele has never used his charisma for political ends. He repeatedly refused invitations to run for public office or join the party. This suited the generals who ruled Brazil from 1964 to his 1985 and wanted a genuine cultural hero to add a popular sheen to the brass. It was Pele’s misfortune that his dominance on the pitch coincided with the destruction of democracy. He was continually blessed by the military government, especially by the most hardliner, General Emilio Garastaz Medici.
This nosy attention has resulted in Pele’s criticism and unflattering comparisons. In particular, his outspoken remarks against racism and the Vietnam War made Pele a paragon of political defiance and a target of official resentment. Veteran Brazilian sports analyst Djuca Kufori wrote yesterday that Pele’s lack of confidence “may have prevented him from becoming a more influential citizen than he was before”.
But Pele was a star, not a saint. He became a World Cup hero at age 17 and was soon named football’s “King” by the media and fans alike, and loved handing out autographs and posing in fake crowns. He spoke of himself in the third person. He fathered seven children. Five of them were by his side during his final moments.
But if Pele did not challenge the generals, he did not insult them either. And although his participation in their plea has frustrated the country’s democratic opposition, Pele has always had his most eloquent statements on the pitch.
And Pele’s greatness outstripped his brooding politics. Playing brilliantly, he helped mend the divisions caused by the dictatorship. Even the Generalissimo’s staunch opponents couldn’t help but drop their fists and cheer when he led Brazil to his third World Cup in Mexico City in 1970. Compared to today’s Brazil, which is torn apart by partisan choirs, Pele was an instigator.
He was also a beacon.Futebol, Brazilian anthropologist Roberto D’Amatta once told me: It’s not just bread and circuses. Brazilians know it’s a game played on a level playing field with fair and transparent rules. What matters on the pitch is how you play, not your color, bank account or people you know. “Pele became king because he made a clear effort on the open green field,” D’Amatta wrote on Friday.
In a country as socially divided and unequal as Brazil, where money is power and politics always seemed like a rigged game, Pele showed another possibility.