As a huge following of Pele’s fans say their farewell to the football legend here are some astonishing facts about the fallen giant:
1. India, the nation that doesn’t know how a World Cup pitch looks like, immortalized him with a Statue of his signature scoring posture.
2. In 1967 as the Biafran war raged in Nigeria pitting the Igbo through their charismatic leader Gen. Chukwemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu on one side (Biafra) against the mercurial, hard biting Gen. Yakubu Gowon on the side of Nigeria, a miracle happened because of Pele.
The two combatants in the brutal civil war agreed on a 48 hour ceasefire so as to welcome Pele and watch him play against Nigeria. And strangely, it is the two warring soldiers who provided security at the match. After the match, they waited for Pele to leave the following day, then war began again. Never, never, never before have the guns gone silent because of the legs and talent of one man.
3. Like all great men, he had problems with the stick. His stick. Because ladies “died” for him, it was only natural that he gave them their fair share. One of his many sexual escapades led to an issue called Sandra Arantes do Nascimento.
Pele would deny, on pain of death, that Sandra was his daughter. But who doesn’t want the blood and association of a King? Sandra would pursue her paternity to the highest courts eventually winning when DNA matched her perfectly to the legend. She would later write a book aptly titled, “The Daughter the King Didn’t Want.”
4. The nation of despots with almost nothing good to say of anybody, North Korea, immortalized his name and image on their National postage stamps.
5. Three of my very own Catholic Church Popes, led by the closest we ever had to a saint, Carol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), invited Pele to the Holy city as a guest of the Papacy and the Vatican, the imposing capital of the Universal Church, to thank him, bless him and give the holy Trinity sign to his face (Nyinguon) on behalf of God and the billion plus Catholics who walk this planet.
6. In the 1970 World Cup final pitting Brazil against Italy, Italian goalkeeper Garcisio Burgnich taunted Pele before the match saying, “l don’t fear him. He is just made of skin and bones like everybody else.” Pele would tear him to pieces and lift the world cup. After the match, looking lugubriously as people shed tears at the sight of Pele, world cup in hand, Garcisio, tongue tied, only uttered three words and vanished. “I was wrong.”
7. Six emperors, 15 Kings and 72 heads of State played host to him just to revel in his presence.
8. He is the one who gave football its now enduring name, “jogo bonito”, the beautiful game.
8. When Pele was asked if his fame compared to that of Jesus Christ, he cheekily answered that, “there are parts of the world where Jesus Christ is not so well known.”
9. 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.”
10. Pele never played for big league, high paying clubs in Europe because 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. The Juventus Chairman even offered him shares in FIAT to lure him. It was never to be. He only played in the US after his retirement, and in the sunset of his footballing career.
11. 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.
12. And the Queen is never left behind if she hears you are great. She gave him that thing she gave great men and women of her time. The Knighthood.
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. A gift given to so so few.
In his own words, “Brazil plays happy football.”
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