RIP Pele, football’s first superstar and ‘The Greatest’ of them all
The world of football lost its most precious gem to Pelé, but ‘The Greatest’ will live on in our hearts long enough.
The news of Pele’s death a few days ago shook the footballing world like nothing. While in the general anguish of the sad event, many came with their testimonies or obituaries; for me it took time to reflect and understand the significant loss to humanity.
Football is the game of the people and the world. And something everyone can relate to has its emotional appeal. Diego Maradona helped Argentina win a modern World Cup, and this memory has helped his fans maintain happiness and joy for over 36 years. While Lionel Messi may have finally ascended the throne from Maradona, the 1986 winner will forever live on in the minds of the South American nation as a divine figure.
Pelé died Thursday at the age of 82. pic.twitter.com/hxwFLFHfHv
— B/R Football (@brfootball) December 29, 2022
Pelé had almost three times the impact that Maradona had on the world of football and his nation. The Santos legend has won the World Cup three times, which automatically sends him to the top of the list titled ‘The Greatest’. Despite many lingering doubts among modern football fans, the Brazilian is by far the best.
Being the biggest isn’t just achieved by those stats that TV and media outlets use to make a player fatter at every given opportunity. The numbers are undoubtedly significant. But personality makes a human a superstar, and Pelé radiated that trait.
Pelé, “The Greatest”
There’s the whole argument from the majority of fans today who have never watched Pelé play that he’s not the greatest. Is there enough ammunition to argue the case of Pelé in the era of Ronaldo and Messi, sugar coated by legendary figures of Maradona or Zinedine Zidane?
“One day I hope we can play football together in heaven” – message from Pelé after the death of Diego Maradona in 2020.
Good game, legends 🙏 pic.twitter.com/t0l88bpILD
— GOAL (@goal) December 29, 2022
There certainly are. The consensus on Pele, from the perspective of his trophy collection, is that he has achieved the impossible by winning three World Cups. But the bigger argument is at club football level, and fans believe greatness should come in the European game.
Of course, Pelé has played his entire career at Santos. And while he was a national treasure in Brazil in 1962, there was no way he would move overseas. Second, Pelé came from a poor, black family in a society mired in racism. And for his rise to such stardom, a place of respect was greater than any football accolade could grant him.
Still, to say that Pele hasn’t played any games in or against the Europeans is an overstatement. Back then, South American football worked differently. Santos regularly toured Europe. And during this period, according to records, the Maestro played 130 games against European teams, scoring 144 goals.
While his overall goalscoring tally remains a hotly debated topic, the key thing to remember is that numbers don’t measure greatness. What the man brought to his nation, his neighborhood and his society is immeasurable even by today’s standards.
Moreover, not only did he win three World Cups, but Pelé put Brazil on the football map and built a legacy around him that has helped sustain it thus far. The national team’s famous yellow, blue and green kit was made relevant by Pelé, and no one can take that away from him.
The Man Who Lifted the Cup in Technicolor
There is a story circulating in the wake of Pelé’s disappearance. Until the 1950 World Cup final, which was also one of the most disastrous in history, Brazil wore a white jersey rather than the yellow jersey we all know.
Embed from Getty Images
After losing to Uruguay in the 1950 final at the Maracana, the white outfit was deemed unpatriotic and against the colors of their national flag. Brazil eventually adopted many new designs in keeping with its national colors. And for the first time, in March 1954, fans saw a team with a new look.
As the new tradition was built, Pelé, after helping Brazil win the 1958 World Cup, put those colors on the world map with his nation. Between then and 1970 he would dominate the big stage and scare some of the highest rated defenders known at the time.
“I said to myself before the match that he was just skin and bones, like everyone else. But I was wrong.” – Tarcisio Burgnich, the Italian defender, responsible for scoring Pele in the 1970 World Cup final.
The 1970 World Cup was the first time a World Cup was televised in Technicolor. It was a phenomenon at the time, even though color televisions were still very expensive. It didn’t matter; as Pelé scooped the big bucks for the first time, many witnessed the legendary striker’s true charisma.
Indeed, Pele became the first player to lift the World Cup in Technicolor, and certainly made Brazil’s yellow jersey more relevant than it ever was. There have been many over the years, such as Romario, Luis Ronaldo and Cafu, adding relevance to this shirt. But we still have to get closer to the impact that Pelé had years ago.
Football’s first true superstar and ‘the greatest’ of them all
Going back to an earlier point, Pelé really gave meaning to the word “superstar”. Those images of the Azteca Stadium, where people are lifting a shirtless Pelé onto their shoulders, remain a source of goosebumps for some who understand the magnitude of this moment.
Pelé remains the only player to have won THREE world cups 🏆🇧🇷 pic.twitter.com/RhLjjYyfq3
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 29, 2022
Before that, he was already a national treasure for Brazil. And this victory over Italy in Mexico propelled him to the rank of world superstar. After that, there was no looking back for the legendary star, who may have played with far less glamor beyond that point.
Yet Pele’s status as the greatest of all time was established while he was playing. And the trend has continued over the years for its portrayal of Brazil and football in general. He is the face of the game, and that cannot be debated in the modern halls of argument which only focuses on current footballers.
The image of Pelé will forever remain in the hearts of football fans around the world, perhaps even Argentines. Let’s cherish the greatness of “The Greatest” and look back at what he accomplished in and for the game. He will go down as a legend, and there can be no debate about that rationally or logically, because the world will miss his presence. , literally and otherwise.