Vale Pelé: A champion on and off the pitch

Vale Pelé: A champion on and off the pitch

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known as Pelé died in hospital in São Paulo, Brazil, on December 29, 2022, aged 82. He had been suffering with colon cancer. 

In commemoration of the man and the legend, we share the extract (below) from Philip Micallef's book Quote, Unquote - My Top 100 Football Stories from an interview Philip conducted with Pelé on 7 March 2006.

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So was Pelé the world’s greatest footballer of all time or wasn’t he?

The popular Brazilian is widely regarded as the game’s finest and most accomplished player. Yet many contend that Argentine heroes Alfredo di Stefano and Diego Maradona are entitled to the same accolade.

Pelé covered himself in glory during a magnificent career that earned him three World Cups in 1958, 1962 and 1970 and gave him everlasting fame and fortune.

Di Stefano never played in a World Cup but led the legendary Real Madrid side that won five straight European Cups from 1956, scoring in every final.

Maradona inspired Argentina to the 1986 World Cup and helped Napoli win two Italian championships. When Pelé, 65, lobbed into town last week on promotional work for MasterCard, the question had to be put to him, albeit in a roundabout way.

“It’s not polite to make comparisons,” he replied when asked who was his second best player of all time.

“Especially since everybody seems to remember the top strikers and not the top defenders.

“I’ll tell you one thing, though. Those Argentines were always challenging me.

“In the 50s and 60s they claimed that Di Stefano was better than me.

“Then when he quit they compared me with Omar Sivori (who played with John Charles for Juventus in the '60s) and in the '80s they brought up Maradona.

“What Argentina should do first is make up its mind as to who was its best player … then we can have a debate (chuckles).

“I mean no offence … I have lots of friends in Argentina.”

Having sorted that one out, the ‘Black Pearl’ was asked if he would have had any problems fitting into the Brazil side that is strongly favoured to win the World Cup in July.

“Today’s footballers have it easy,” he said with a blend of protest and mischief.

“They have much better facilities and conditions. And what about the protection they get from referees?

“You can’t go anywhere near an opponent today because you get a yellow or red card.”

Pelé is believed to have scored more than 1,200 goals in his stellar career that spanned three decades.

Yet when asked which one gave him most pleasure, for once he was lost for words. After a while he said: “Perhaps it was the solo goal I scored against Sweden in the 1958 World Cup final as a 17-year-old because it made my career.”

Pelé spent an entire afternoon giving interviews and when my time with the great man was up, he said “ciao amigo” before he was whisked away to yet another engagement.

Pelé looks drawn and tired these days, yet he handles the media hounds who have been wanting a piece of him for decades with the same enthusiasm he has shown ever since he became a celebrity in the late 1950s.

He still exudes genuine warmth and friendliness and has a beaming smile for everyone.

Pelé may or may not have been the greatest of all time - that's a matter of opinion - but as a human being he will always be a champion.

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Photo: 1958 World Cup Final, Brazil vs Sweden. (Suddeutsche Zeitung via Alamy)

Quote, Unquote is available from us, good bookstores and online in paperback and as an e-book. 

Happy Holidays!

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