The 80 years of ‘O Rei’ Pelé

Fernando Kallas


Pelé is eternal. But before the legend was created Pelé was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento. And Edson, who all his life spoke of Pele in the third person, is a human being. “Pelé is perfect, Edson is a person like any other,” he often says.

On October 23, 2020, Edson turns 80. Reach eight decades of life with surprising health and energy. Mainly because it takes almost a decade fighting serious physical and health problems.

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World Soccer Ambassador, Pelé was always present at the main events of international sport. But that figure that was always smiling was disappearing. Since, in November 2012, surgery to put a prosthetic hip turned his life into hell. Since then, he underwent several surgeries, he was admitted several times, some in critical condition. And several doubts arose about his real state of health. However, in recent months it has reappeared. More fragile, it is true, and with some difficulty walking. But lucid, animated and recovering the illusion.


In recent months, Pelé has reappeared. More fragile, it is true, and with some difficulty to walk, but lucid, animated and recovering the illusion

I got here on a walker, but the only thing I’m not doing today is riding my bike. I preferred to be walking normally, without a walker, training from time to time, playing soccer. But, thank God, I’m recovering, “he said in a recent interview with CNN.

During all these years of suffering, Edson remained what he always was, Pelé’s number one fan. And he never changed his way of talking about Pelé, as if he were a different entity. A being apart. “I never saw anyone like Pelé,” Edson often says. It was like this during his 21-year career and the more than 40 years after his retirement, when from genius he became a myth and Edson dedicated himself to going around the world receiving tributes and talking about Pelé. Edson always understood that it is necessary to separate the man from the footballer. The legend of the human being.

Pelé was born poor, in little Três Corações, inland of the State of Minas Gerais, about 300 kilometers from São Paulo. It was a difficult childhood. “I got to go hungry,” he says. And no one goes hungry with impunity. These scars from hard times served to stone his character and personality on and off the court. A footballer who never gave up, who was never satisfied, who fought for the ball like a hungry child would fight for bread. An international star who, despite having accumulated fortune, always lived a simple and discreet life. Without forgetting everything that happened.

His father, Dondinho, they say, was a great footballer. But he suffered a career-ending knee injury while Edson was still in his mother’s belly, in April 1940. A few years later, the family moved to Bauru, inland São Paulo, where Edson spent the rest of his childhood. He sold peanuts and shined boots on the street to help the family. His shoe shine box is one of the items he was most proud to have kept and is on display in his museum.

Edson Arantes Do Nascimento

I was born for football like Beethoven for music

Pele does not die. Pelé will never die. Pele will go on forever

Wherever I go, there are three icons everyone knows: Jesus Christ, Pelé and Coca-Cola.

There will never be another Pele, my mother and father closed the factory and broke the mold. I am unique and unrepeatable.

The only important header goal Maradona scored was with his hand

My mother told me: “don’t play football. Your father played and got injured, and now he can’t support the family

It is not known very well when Edson began to be Pele. The Rio writer Ruy Castro, Garrincha’s biographer, tries to unravel this mystery in his book “Os Garotos do Brasil”, where he analyzes the relationship that exists between the two. Edson and Pelé.

“When you look at the details of Pele’s biography, you conclude that, at least initially, it was not a multiple-choice story. Things had to be exactly as they were for him to stop being Edson and become Pelé, ”writes Ruy Castro. “In 1956, at the age of 15, Edson left Bauru for the Santos quarry. Her legs were thin and she always wore shorts. But when he appeared at the club, Pelé already took his place and made him wear long pants for the first time. Something that Edson found strange, perhaps because he didn’t feel like an adult to deserve them. Pelé was given the option of living in the Santos residence, but Edson did not accept because he had promised his parents that he would stay in the pension of a woman who was known to the family… Two years later, scorer for Santos, world champion with the Brazilian team, having left Europe mesmerized, Pelé could have bought as many apartments and cars as he wanted. But, by Edson’s decision, he continued to live in the same pension, going to the club every day by tram, “says the writer.

At 16, Pelé was already a national idol. In 1957, the boy was the starter of Santos and was top scorer in the Paulista Championship. Record of precocity that is his until today. In the Peixe He played for almost his entire career, until 1974, where he won 20 titles: ten state, six national, two continental and two world.

His debut with the jersey alvinegra It was at the age of 15, a month after arriving in the coastal city of São Paulo. It was in the friendly against Corinthians de Santo André that Santos won 7-1. Pelé entered the second half and scored the sixth goal.

But the legend was not born until the 1958 World Cup. And it was about to not happen. A few days before boarding for Sweden, in a preparation friendly against Corinthians, Pelé suffered a hard tackle from central Ari Clemente and was seriously injured. He almost gave up. But, nobody knows very well why, the legendary coach, Vicente Feola, took him although injured. Pelé recovered, he joined the team in the third game of the World Cup, against the USSR, and everything else is already part of history.

At 17, the youngest player in the World Cup scored six goals in four games and left Sweden to become ‘O Rei do Futebol’.

The 1958 World Cup in Sweden left us one of the most emblematic images in the history of football. Pelé dominates the ball with his chest as he untangles himself from a defender. He immediately makes a hat to another rival and finishes first to score an epic goal. That of Brazil’s comeback in the final against the host team. The first of the two goals that the 17-year-old boy scored that afternoon in Stockholm. Brazil won their first World Cup and Pelé came out on the shoulders of his teammates. The planet was presented to the ‘Rei do Futebol’.

But the road to glory for Brazil and Pelé in 1958 was not easy. He was on the verge of not going to Sweden in two moments. First, by age. And later, due to an injury that prevented him from playing Canarinha’s first two games in the World Cup. Behind the risky bet on a 16-to-17-year-old teenager was a genius from the benches. A visionary named Vicente Feola.


Behind the risky bet on a 16-to-17-year-old teenager was a genius from the benches. A visionary named Vicente Feola

Feola had been Flávio Costa’s technical assistant at the 1950 World Cup and suffered personally with the trauma of the ‘Maracanazo’, when Brazil lost the final to Uruguay. A stick that made him rethink the way soccer should be played. At a time when the world was trying to copy the tactical rigidity of European teams, Feola implemented a hybrid system that harnessed the talents of great players like Zagallo, Garrincha, Didi, Nilton Santos and Pelé. Against teams that at that time were defending with three center-backs, Feola presented an innovative proposal for the occupation of spaces on the court, with two players, Zagalo and Pelé, who acted as wild cards. They were excellent in the offensive game and also helped in the defensive recomposition, they allowed him to defend with a 4-3-3 and attack with a 4-2-4, surprising the systems with three centrals.

Pelé had played only twice for the national team, in 1957, before being called up for Sweden. Feola fought with the then president of the federation, João Havelange, to bring a boy to the World Cup who did not even have a driver’s license yet. Zagallo explains very well the surprise that the most veteran of the team had when they arrived at the concentration and saw the Santos kid among those called up: “I, Nilton Santos, Garrincha, Vavá or Didi did not know him, I had no idea who he was . But he quickly showed us all why he was there. ”

Feola was clear that Pelé would be the starter. It did not matter the age or the criticism of the leaders. But in one of the last friendlies before the trip to Sweden, against Corinthians, Pelé suffered a very hard tackle from central Ari Clemente and left with a sprained ankle. Dida started the World Cup with an easy victory over Austria (3-0) and a goalless draw against England. Pelé made his debut in the last match of the group stage, against the USSR, which Brazil won 2-0, with two goals from Vavá.

The canarinha advanced leading the group and faced Wales, when Pelé showed for the first time in the tournament why Feola bet on him. The young man scored the only goal of the match, that of qualifying for the semi-final against France. The French arrived with the best attack (25 goals) and the top scorer of the tournament, Just Fontaine, with 13 goals.

But that day the one who shone was Pelé, who scored a hat-trick in the 5-3 victory. Same score as the final against the Swedish hosts, when Pelé scored a double and finished as the second scorer in the World Cup (six goals in four games ) that will be forever remembered as the Pele World Cup.

After the success of the 1958 World Cup, Vicente Feola would have been Brazil’s coach in 1962. But the various health problems caused by obesity forced him to abandon the team that was commanded by Aymoré Moreira in search of the two-time World Championship in Chile.

The couple formed by Pelé y Garrincha was considered the most spectacular of the planet and the young striker of Santos, then with 21 years, it was already called ‘O Rei do Futebol’ by the international sports press.

Extraordinary athlete, Pelé suffered very few injuries during his more than two decades of career. Bad luck, the most serious injury he suffered was in the groin suffered after attempting a shot with his left foot against Czechoslovakia, in the second game of the group stage of the 1962 World Cup. An injury that “hurt the whole nation”said the narrator of the game on the radio, defining the anguish felt at that time by the fans green and yellow.

But what no one imagined was that his replacement would end up being one of the great stars of the tournament. “The Possessed” was Amarildo’s nickname. The great Botafogo striker entered a starting lineup that already had four teammates of his: Nilton Santos, Garrincha, Didi and Zagallo. Is Botafoguense connection -then the best team in Brazil- was the ace up Aymoré Moreira’s sleeve, who saw Garrincha dress as a superhero and make the World Cup of his life: he was the tournament’s top scorer and the star of a historic cover of the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio that titled the edition the day after the victory in the final against Czechoslovakia itself 3-1: “Garrincha, what planet do you come from?”

“I promised myself that I would never play another World Cup”. The decision that Pelé claimed to be final was taken after the biggest debacle in the history of the national team Brazilian, the only time she was left out of a World Cup. It was in England 1966 the first time that the canarinha was eliminated in the group stage of the most important national team tournament on the planet. And that which reached the championship super favorite, having won the last two editions, with the couple Pelé and Garrincha up front, promising youngsters like Gérson, Tostão and Jairzinho and the return of the genius strategist from 1958, Vicente Feola, to the benches. What could go wrong?

Well … everything! After a disastrous preparation for the tournament, which came to have 47 called up and a five city tour from the Brazilian interior and no friendly, the Canarinha team arrived in England unrecognizable, confused. The debut victory against Bulgaria (2-0) was the last time that the so-called “Dream Couple” performed together with the yellow jersey. In the defeat against Hungary in Puskas (3-1), Pelé did not play, injured. And in the elimination against Eusebio’s Portugal (3-1), Feola left an aging Garrincha on the bench and saw Pelé being hunted relentlessly by the Portuguese defenders, who stopped Rei with sticks before the referee’s collusion and the Brazilians’ apathy.

Pele came home sunk. And the Canarinha spent the next three years discredited, without the support of the population, who lost interest in football in the first years of a cruel military dictatorship that came to rule the country after the 1964 coup. It was when, on 4 February 1969, the federation decided to take a radical and invited the prestigious and charismatic journalist João Saldanha, former coach of his lifelong team, Botafogo, to assume command of the selection. In his presentation, he lined up his starting eleven before giving his first roster or doing his first workout. That moment they were born “Las Fieras de Saldanha” with Pelé, Carlos Alberto Torres, Gérson, Jairzinho, Tostão, Rivellino and company, which a little more than a year later would go down in history as the best soccer team that humanity ever saw.


Brazil toured Mexico and became the first three-time World Champion, scoring 19 goals in six games. And plays that will live forever in everyone’s memory

Saldanha’s Brazil won all six qualifying games for Mexico 1970, with an average of almost four goals per game (he scored 23 points) and conceded only two. A team that enchanted and that gave back the illusion to Pelé. “The lesson I learned is that you should never be afraid to change your mind,” commented ‘O Rei’ about the decision to play the 1970 World Cup..

Saldanha left the national team two months before the World Cup under much controversy. Declared militant of the Communist Party and fierce critic of the military regime, the journalist was dismissed and in his place Zagallo entered. World champion in 1958 and 1962 as a footballer and former partner of the vast majority of the internationals that made up that squad, Zagallo’s mission was to get in as little as possible and let “Las Fieras” go hunting. And it was what happened: Brazil toured Mexico and became the first three-time World Champion, scoring 19 goals in six games. And plays that will live forever in everyone’s memory.

Pelé was 29 years old and became the first and only player to win three World Cups. Some of the most beautiful plays in history came off his feet in Mexico. That go far beyond the four goals he scored in the tournament. It is because of the shot that came from behind the center of the field against Czechoslovakia and that did not enter by two millimeters. Or for the header that gave us one of the most spectacular saves ever seen, by Gordon Banks, in the game against England. Or the dribbling of Uruguayan goalkeeper Mazurkiewicz, which ended in a beautiful shot that did not enter by a true miracle. Or the pass without looking, the last, for the fourth Brazilian goal in the final against Italy, by Carlos Alberto. Pelé was the face, body and soul of the most loved and admired team in the history of our sport.

It was October 1, 1977. In front of 75,646 fans who packed Giants Stadium on the outskirts of New York, Pelé said goodbye to the Cosmos and football. The rival for his farewell match could not be another, Santos. Pelé played 45 minutes in each jersey and, in his farewell speech, showed his gratitude for the two years he played for the American club. “I believe that love is the most important thing that you and I can offer each other. Everything else goes one day. That is why I ask you to repeat with me three times “love, love and love.” Much obrigado“Said Pelé through tears.

But what few people knew was that his retirement should have been years before, when he played his last game with Santos, on October 2, 1974. After the victory against Ponte Preta (2-0) for the Paulista Championship, ‘O Rei ‘knelt in the center of the field and, in front of more than 20,000 passionate Santos fans, said goodbye.

His plan was to live a quiet life in the city with his wife and two children.. But everything changed when, according to Pelé himself, in his biography “Pelé: A Importância do Futebol”, published in 2013, the former player received a visit from his accountant.

“I remember as if it were today the moment he entered the house. He was sweating profusely. He was pale, it looked like he was going to pass out. I felt something was up and made a joke: “How many million do we still have?” And I almost had to call the doctor after his answer: ‘Look, you, it’s complicated’… ”, says Pele in the book, explaining the moment he found out he was broke.


Pele didn’t have millions. He owed millions. The player had lost practically all of his 41 properties to the banks, blocked after a series of poorly made investments

Pelé didn’t have millions … He owed millions! The player had lost practically all of his 41 properties to the banks, blocked after a series of poorly made investments in at least six companies that went into debt under bad management since the end of the 1960s.

At 33 years old, with three World titles and the Rei do Futebol crown, Pelé found himself in a critical situation. He had to play again. And salvation would come from the least likely place, one of the very few countries in the world where soccer was a minority sport: the United States.

The person responsible for convincing Pelé to go to the United States was the British businessman Clive Toye, partner of the New York Cosmos and one of the biggest investors in the dream of making soccer great in North America. Toye had been trying to convince Rei since 1971, who had already rejected offers from Real Madrid and Juventus. “I will never … NEVER go to play for another team other than Santos,” Pele repeated to his friends. But Toyes was insistent. And he ran into Pelé several times between 1971 and 1974, when the player went around the world to campaign for João Havelange to be elected FIFA president. The answer was always the same, a polite “no.” Until, on March 27, 1975, everything changed.

Edson Arantes Do Nascimento

When God created Pele he put everything in him: speed, strength, momentum, technique, shooting, pitching, dribbling, everything


Why do you compare me to Pelé? My mother said I’m better and he played with footballers who couldn’t move


I told myself before the game; It is flesh and blood like all the others. I was wrong

Tarcisio Burgnich

Sometimes I feel like soccer was invented for this magical player

Bobby charlton

An artist is someone who can light up a dark room. I will never find the difference between Pelé’s pass to Carlos Alberto in the 1970 final and Rimbaud’s poetry

Eric Cantona

Pelé was the only footballer who exceeded the limits of logic

Johan cruyff

Pelé was in Brussels for a friendly match alongside several international stars. ‘O Rei’ already knew he was broke when he found Clive Toyes in the lobby of the G.B. Motor Inn. And still he thought about saying no, but this time, he was at least convinced to listen to the values ​​of the Cosmos offer. And what he heard was crazy for the numbers of the time: a contract of 2.8 million dollars. The highest salary in the history of an athlete, more than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar earned, the richest player in the NBA at that time, who earned $ 450,000 a year.

Pelé was 34 years old and hadn’t played for eight months competitively. He made his debut on June 15, 1975 with a goal and an assist in the tie against the Dallas Tornado. And he finished his first season with five goals and four assists in nine games.

ABC Photo Archives (ABC Photo Archives / Getty Images)

The following year they were 15 goals and 19 assists in 24 games and in 1977 he scored 17 times, gave seven passes for goals and led his team to the title of the NASL, the American league.

‘O Rei’ caused a revolution in US sports. The Cosmos tripled the attendance at its stadium, broke audience records on television and other idols such as Cruyff, Beckenbauer, George Best, Carlos Alberto and Chinaglia arrived in the country.

After Pelé’s goodbye, soccer in the US continued with ups and downs. But since 1990, when the US team qualified for the World Cup in Italy after 40 years of drought and, four years later, with the help of Pelé, when the country managed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time, the sport took off. Today the USA have the best women’s team on the planet and are preparing to host the men’s World Cup for the second time. All for a seed planted by the arrival of Rei.

To say that a striker who scored 1283 goals is in love with the goal may seem commonplace.. Football lives for the goal and every striker spends his life looking obsessively at that ring. But in the case of Pelé, his passion for goal was so intense that he was not limited to just paying homage to it with goals: Pelé loved to play goalkeeper.


In pachangas, Pelé was always the goalkeeper and it was impossible to remove him from the goal. He was pissed off a lot, he was obsessed with it


Y it wasn’t just a whim. According to his former club and Brazilian team mates, Pelé was a tremendous goalkeeper. So much that Santos went years without a substitute for the function, where the legendary Gilmar, Manga, Cláudio or Lalá played. Pelé was the club’s second goalkeeper.

Or Rei ‘always stayed under the sticks after training, practicing with their partners the fundamentals of the position. And although the historical figures say that he only had to act four times as a goalkeeper in official matches, His former teammates say that Pelé wore the Santos (and rivals) jersey many more times.

“In many games on the tours we did around the world, mainly in games in Africa, the sponsors asked that Pelé play the second half in the goal of their teams. It was curious, but he loved it ”, says Lima, a former right-back for Santos, who has written a memoir about those times and has a whole chapter dedicated to the goalkeeper Pelé. “In the pachangas Pelé was always the goalkeeper and it was impossible to remove him from the goal. He got mad a lot, he was obsessed with that, ”laughs the Santista legend.

Another former clubmate, the Santos Lalá exporter, goes further by talking about Pelé’s talent in his role and affirms that ‘O Rei’ “He would be the absolute head of the Brazilian team” if he changed position. “He was incredible under the sticks, a pass, it is not an exaggeration, he had the perfect foundations,” explains the former Santista goalkeeper.

Of all the games that Pelé played as a goalkeeper, the most emblematic was in the Taça Brasil semifinal against Grêmio in 1964. Santos had won the first leg 1-3 in Porto Alegre and a draw in São Paulo was enough to reach the final. But Grêmio surprised the favorite and was leading by 1 to 3 when Pelé appeared and scored no less than three goals to come back for Peixe. In the 84th minute, the referee sent Gilmar off for a complaint and Pelé had to go to the goal. And what he did in the final minutes of that meeting is well explained by the owner of the front page of the newspaper ‘Gazeta Esportiva’ the following day: “Pelé, a crack with the ball at his feet and in his hands”.

Since Pele retired, every new star that transcends the talent of his generation ends up being compared to ‘O Rei’. Maradona, Socrates, Zico, Platini, Ronaldo Nazário, Zidane, Ronaldinho … Every era has ‘its’ candidate for Pele. But perhaps no one has left more arguments for a more interesting comparative debate to be created than ‘the Pelé’ of this generation, Lionel messi.

The Argentine has been at an extraordinary level for more than a decade. The best of the best. In an increasingly internationalized and global football, Messi shines almost that alone. His only rival is Cristiano Ronaldo, who is only capable of competing with Messi year after year for the Ballon d’Or thanks to a historic effectiveness against goal and titles with Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

When Messi won his sixth Ballon d’Or in December 2019, the Argentine stood within a trophy of matching Pelé’s mark. A record that ‘O Rei’ reached many years after his retirement. In the times when the Brazilian played, France Football only awarded European footballers. A rule that was maintained until 1995, when the magazine also began to accept those who play in Europe, regardless of their nationalities. Since 2007, the most traditional award for the best player in the world is global.

The change in the Ballon d’Or rules allowed France Football to make a historic correction. In 2014, the magazine reviewed its entire list of winners using the same criteria currently valid and gave Pelé seven trophies as the best player in the world: 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1965 and 1970.


With that, Pelé became not only the record holder in number of trophies, but also the Youngest winner, aged 17, beating Ronaldo Nazário, who had won in 1997 at 21 years and three months.

During the ceremony held in 2014 by France Football, Pelé was very moved. And he thanked his colleagues and workers of the clubs and selection for the conquest. “I promised my family that I was not going to cry, but it’s just too much. I just have to thank God for giving me health to play for so many years. And he didn’t play alone. All that I have gained was next to my friends. People remember the players, but we cannot forget the people who prepare the boots, the physios, masseurs … I share these trophies with all of you, ”said Pelé through tears.

Pelé himself with his characteristic humility has already said, many times, that “It is much more difficult” to play soccer today. That in their time “they had more freedom.” But ‘O Rei’ forgets that in his time there were other difficulties.

The ball and the boots, for example, were made of genuine leather and, with each kick, you could hear even the last moo of the animal that that leather descended”, Explains Ruy Castro in his book‘ Os Garotos do Brasil ’. “They were rustic and heavy, and, with the wet grass, they weighed twice their original weight,” says the writer.

The grass and fields of yesteryear are a separate chapter. They were potato fields, goat paths, with so many potholes and holes that the porters had to wear knee pads. The shirts were not ‘dry fit’. They were made of sailor cloth, which at the end of 90 minutes weighed almost as much as carrying a partner on the shoulders. Between boots, ball, jersey and field, imagine the effort required to shoot a header a corner or center in those days.

But in addition to the three-time World Championship won with the Brazilian team, something that no other footballer has achieved, perhaps the best argument in favor of Pelé is that he has achieved practically all his conquests in a football where there were no cards. Pelé started playing in 1956 and the FIFA did not create the warnings until May 1970. Ex-players say that the main tactic of the rivals against Santos or Pele’s Brazil was to go for ’10‘. They took turns giving it. One can only imagine what Pelé 15 years would have done in a football with yellow and red cards.

In those days there was no scouting, videos, tactical analysis. A team was up against opponents who had little or no idea how they played. Who was the good, the bad … it was a russian roulette.

If today the dispute to be the best in the world is a fight between two phenomena, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, then it was also very different. Di Stefano, Puskas, Bobby Charlton, Garrincha, Evaristo, Kopa, Fontaine, Eusébio, Gerd Müller, Tostão, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Cruyff… Pelé was the best among different generations of cracks that marked his time. That without counting the defensas and goalkeepers who faced: Yashin, Banks, Maier, Zoff, Castilho, Beckenbauer, Djalma Santos, Bob Moore, Nilton Santos, Breitner, Krol …


Imagine a player with Messi’s ability and Cristiano Ronaldo’s strength, drive and kick. Pelé did incredible things. Messi does it too, but Pele was taller, stronger, he was one of the best headshots in history, he had superhuman drive. He had some things much more accentuated than Messi


Another debate is the goals. According to a survey made by me in Diario As in 2019, based on data from Santos, the CBF, the Brazilian television network Globo and the books “Pelé: o supercampeão”, by Orlando Duarte, and “As great polemics do futebol brasileiro”, by Sérgio Xavier Filho, Pelé has scored 1,283 goals in 786 games. 743 of these goals were in 449 of what we would call today official matches. And another 540 in 337 friendlies. But we are talking about times when the calendar was different, shorter, and many of friendly matches were played against teams of the level of Real Madrid, Milan, Benfica and many others. Santos de Pelé made world tours, like the Beatles.

Messi is getting closer to Pelé’s official goals. Lleva 707. Aunque la gran diferencia se nota en los partidos: 872. Una media de 0,81 goles por partido, menos de la mitad de la de Pelé que sólo en los partidos oficiales marcaba 1,65 gol por encuentro.

Quizá la mejor definición de Pelé la ha dado su excompañero de club y selección, el también histórico Pepe. En entrevista al compañero Tauan Ambrósio, reportero brasileño de Goal, hace unos años, el que fue uno de los mejores extremos de la historia del fútbol y que se perdió los Mundiales de 1958 y 62 por lesiones (Zagallo fue su sustituto), ve en Pelé un híbrido entre los dos mejores jugadores de la actual generación.

Imagina un jugador con la habilidad de Messi y la fuerza, impulsión y arranque de Cristiano Ronaldo. Pelé hacía cosas increíbles. Messi también lo hace, pero Pelé era más alto, más fuerte, fue uno de los mejores rematadores de cabeza de la historia, tenía una impulsión sobrehumana. Tenía algunas cosas bastante más acentuadas que Messi”, explica Pepe. “Messi es muy bajito, pero eso no le impide de ser un jugador maravilloso, como fue Maradona. Estas comparaciones siempre existirán. Pero yo nunca vi nada parecido con Pelé. Él era un extraterrestre y hacía cosas que nunca he vuelto a ver en un sólo jugador”, analiza el segundo mayor goleador de la historia del Santos.

El Madrid, Maradona y Rinaldo:
el triste 50 aniversario de ‘O Rey’

El 30 de octubre de 1990, Pelé recibió un homenaje en el estadio de San Siro. El brasileño cumplía 50 años y se decidió darle una particular fiesta-homenaje con un partido entre la selección brasileña, en la que se alineó él, y un grupo de jugadores que, bajo el nombre de ‘Amigos de Pelé’, recogía a lo más selecto del panorama futbolístico mundial. Esa selección estaba compuesta por jugadores como los españoles Mñichel y Martín Vázquez, que había fichado por el Torino ese año, el rumano Hagi, que jugaba en el Madrid, Stoitchkov, Van Basten, los porteros Higuita y N’Kono, los argentinos Goycochea y Ruggeri… Hasta el último minuto se negoció la presencia de Maradona, pero éste, pese a haber dado su visto bueno a su presencia, decidió ausentarse a última hora de la ciudad milanesa para celebrar su cumpleaños a su manera.

Con una floja entrada, una tarta en el centro del campo mientras jugadores y asistentes le cantaban Happy Birthday to you, Pelé se alineó con la selección verdeamarelha. Jugó algo más de 40 minutos antes de retirarse enfadadísimo con su compañero Rinaldo: éste, en una jugada clara del ataque brasileño, prefirió jugársela él (fallando la jugada) antes que cederle el balón a Pelé para que este pudiera marcar en su partido-fiesta-homenaje. Preguntado años después por aquel lance, Pelé zanjó al periodista: “No. Por Rinaldo no me pregunte…”.

La otra gran noticia fue la destacada presencia de tres madridistas: una jugada de Martín Vázquez por la banda izquierda fue convertida en gol por Míchel con un disparo raso y ajustado. El segundo tanto de la selección de jugadores fue obra de Hagi, que transformó con maestría una falta directa en las inmediaciones del día. Pelé, que pudo haber jugado en el Madrid, veía cómo tres jugadores con pasado y presente madridista le quitaban la gloria en su 50 cumpleaños.