Pelé, a Name That Became Shorthand for Perfection

Tostão, his former teammate, has said that Brazilian players learn to separate themselves from their identities – that the nicknames a lot of people use to make money and their reputation become a kind of barrier. to protect individuals from the madness that surrounds them. Pelé adds a third layer: his nickname, his trademark, became a synonym not of greatness or even excellence but of an unquestionably rare, perfect form. when achieved.

All of that is not built on what people have seen — other than those unsettling highlights — but on what they’ve heard, what they’ve read, on what’s been passed on by word of mouth. for them. It’s enough to keep opponents excited to face him and draw thousands of fans to his matches, pointless or not.

Of course, that may be an unmet standard; With Pelé, that means he’s always met those soaring expectations.

“We went ahead together to head,” said Italian defender Giacinto Facchetti after playing with him. “I was taller, had a better leap. When I came back down, I looked up in amazement. Pelé was still there, in the air, heading that ball. It’s like he can be suspended for as long as he wants.” Facchetti’s teammate Tarcisio Burgnich was more cautious. “I told myself he was just skin and bones, like everyone else,” he said. “I’m wrong.”

Benfica goalkeeper Costa Pereira met Pelé at the 1962 Intercontinental Cup, the precursor to the FIFA Club World Cup, the meeting between the European and South American champions. “I came with the hope of stopping a great man,” he said. “I go away believing I have been ruined by someone who was not born on the same planet as the rest of us.”

That status was already established by the time Pelé arrived in Mexico for the 1970 World Cup. He did everything that needed to be done: He had scored a thousand goals; he broke countless records; He decorated the game with endless magical moments. He’s the greatest man ever.

But it was the first chance that millions had to see him authentically, almost for the first time, not just in a vague glimpse but in full color saturation. That pass, his final act before he was carried by his teammates, world championship trophy in hand, was not particularly spectacular. It’s not particularly complicated. However, what makes it special, what makes it last, is his timing. Pelé’s timing was perfect.


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