Pele: A Tribute

BY AJIBOLA M. SALAMI

I have lived in 2 worlds, developed and underdeveloped. I have transcended 2 generations, Millenias and Gen-whatever…

That is the reason why I find it sacrilegious and blasphemous to read opinions and arguments from the younger generations, about Pele, and his status and place in World Football. They even have the audacity and temerity to declare Cristiano Ronaldo, and Lionel Messi as more deserving of the title GOAT. Therein lies the disconnect between the world I grew up in, and this present one.

Two totally different worlds, which shape our worldview, and hence our perspective of what ought to constitute, and determine who the GOAT football player is. But because Geography is different from History, I will narrow everything down to the ‘impact’ of these Players on the religion called football… Pele was the first global superstar to transcend his sport. He appeared in Movies, was splashed on the cover of every major newspapers, he plays the Guitar and even released a music album!

In the time of Pele, there were no social media… no Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, whatever… yet a footballer who NEVER played in any of the major European leagues won 3 World Cups. In that time, football was pure Art, not the the Science Fiction we now watch. Pele won the world cup as a teenager, without being injected with growth hormones like Messi, or overworking himself in the Gym like Ronaldo… HE JUST PUT ON HIS BOOTS AND PLAYED MESMERISING FOOTBALL!

Back in our day, there was always one and only clear, known, confirmed and indisputable ‘King’ of anything. The ‘King’ of Boxing was Muhammad Ali, the King of Reggae was Bob Marley, King of Pop was Michael Jackson, Basketball had Michael Jordan, Afrobeat had Fela, and so on. These days it is Cristiano vs Messi, Federer vs Nadal, Hamilton vs Verstappen, etc. IT WAS PELE Vs NOBODY… HE WAS SIMPLY THE KING OF FOOTBALL.

The first time ever that the entire World jointly ‘Worshipped’ a Sportsman, it was Pele that was deified as such. In 1967, as the Biafra war raged in Nigeria, a miracle happened because of Pele. The two combatants in the brutal civil war (The Biafrans and the Federal Forces) agreed on a 48 hour ceasefire so as to welcome Pele and watch him play for Brazil against Nigeria. And strangely, it is the two warring groups of Soldiers who jointly provided security at the match.

After that unforgettable match, they waited for Pele to leave the following day, then war began again. Never ever before, and after that, have the guns gone silent because of the legs and talent of one man. But today, the descendants of those soldiers are busy arguing among themselves about who is the greatest ever footballer between Messi & Ronaldo who don’t even know they exist.

Pele is so globally famous that Six Emperors, 15 Kings and 72 heads of State played host to him, just to revel in his presence. In fact, when Pele was asked if his fame can be compared to that of Jesus Christ, he cheekily answered that, “there are parts of the world where Jesus Christ is not so well known”.

When Pele met the iconic US President Ronald Reagan, before the American people and millions watching all over the world, Reagan introduced himself. “I am Ronald Reagan, the President of the United States.” And turning to Pele he said, “Please don’t introduce yourself. Everybody knows Pele.”

The Shah of Iran, one of the consequential leaders of the 70s, once heard that Pele was passing through an airport. He waited for Pele for 3 hours, just to look at him with his own eyes, hold him, thank him and take a photo with him. And the late Queen Elizabeth gave him that honour reserved for great men and women of her time: The Knighthood.

Did I mention that Pele never played for big league, high paying clubs in Europe? This was because Brazil’s President Janio Quadros passed a law through parliament declaring Pele a National Treasure thereby forbidding him from being transferable from Brazil to any other country. He was only allowed to play in the US AFTER his retirement.

Those who watched him in his time say 90 minutes wasn’t enough to watch Pele. That whenever Pele played you wanted the sun to stand still. He was a joy to watch, a master dribbler, quick thinker, a daring runner on the pitch armed with supreme skill and talent! And nobody has ever forgotten the heavy shots on goal, delivered by both legs.

Anyone who doubts Pele’s ability, can look up a Youtube video titled ‘Pele did it first’. That video is a compilation of all the amazing skills and signature moves that practically all the greatest football players we know to date, mesmerized us with. The actual fact is that Pele is the one who invented those moves! The video provides a frame by frame illustration of those moves, and then shows Pele executing the exact same move, long before Messi and Ronaldo were born. Yes, the King did all that, before the so called ‘GOATS’ ever kicked a ball!

And mark you, here we are talking about Maradona, Ronadinho, Ronaldo ‘the Phenomenon’, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Lionel Messi and others of that calibre. That is to say that if these are really the GOATS as some of these present day children argue, then Pele is the ‘sum total’ of all GOATS…. you know, ‘the GOAT of all GOATS’. The only move I did not see Pele do, is that wizardry Austin ‘JJ’ Okocha’s stepover dummy dribble that would leave opponents seated on the ground…

There has always been a rather lame argument by the younger generation of football fans who never watched Pele, or grew up on the tales of his exploits. They hype the arguments on whether the GOAT of football is either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, by positing numbers, trophies, medals, goals, assists, caps and such other statistics. If that is the case, then a Nigerian Pastor is greater than Jesus Christ, because our Pastors built more churches and preached to more people than Jesus ever did.

And then there has been the sound, sensible, logical, factual, verifiable, convincing, and accurate assertion by a tiny few that regardless of all those numbers and stats that the ‘Messi vs Ronaldo fans’ wave around, or the differences and parameters that they flash out… football is football, and there is, and there can only be, one ‘GREATEST OF ALL TIME’ football player…

And his name is Pele.

This article was originally published by AJIBOLA M. SALAMI. We do not own copyright to it, thus it’s only here for educational purposes.

Author: Abu Bakarr Jalloh

Abu Bakarr Jalloh is a Sierra Leonean content writer, author, Neo Pan-African and founder of The African Dream, an online platform for inspiring, positive and compelling African stories. Contact: abubakarrjalloh@theafricandreamsl.com WhatsApp: +23276211583