NEW DELHI: They say Ali was arguably the greatest sports personality of all time. Pele was that and more.
In his pomp, Pele was Muhammad Ali from the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, Jesse Owens in Hitler’s Olympics. He was Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, Tiger Woods at Augusta, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps in Beijing, London and Rio.
All rolled into one, many times over, through a glittering career headlined by three World Cup title triumphs, and more than 1200 goals.
He was one of the first global sporting superstars who transcended continents, admired for his wizardry with football and sometimes vilified for his political stance, or the lack of it.
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in 1940, Pele was the embodiment of the commercialization football underwent since the first world Cup television broadcasts in the 1950s, something -- besides his extraordinary skills -- that played a part in taking him to all corners of the world, including India’s Kolkata (then Calcutta) in 1977, when Mohun Bagan pulled off a coup of sorts.
That would be his first of the three visits to the country, the latter two coming in 2015 and 2018.
Born in a country battling corruption, military coups, censorships, and repressive and regressive governments, 17-year-old Pele transformed Brazil’s image with his stunning show in his very first World Cup, in 1958.
In the tournament in Sweden, he scored six goals in four games, including two in the final, to lead Brazil to a 5-2 win over the host and give more than a peek into what was to come over the next decade and a half.
Labelled the “greatest” by world football governing body FIFA, he was also the apolitical who seemed happy to appease anyone in power.
Ahead of the 1970 World Cup, Pele was also the man who was seen sharing the stage with President Emílio Garrastazu Médici, one of the most ruthless members of the country’s authoritarian regime.
This was after the military took over Brazil following a bloodless coup in 1964. Brazil won the 1970 tournament with Pele leading one of the greatest teams of all time to its third World Cup triumphs, climaxing the black person of working-class background’s spectacular rise to fame against the backdrop of Brazil’s politics, which was dominated by the military regime from 1960s to the 1980s.
He was the national treasure who once managed to bring about a 48hour ceasefire between two warring factions during the Nigerian civil war in the 1960s, just so they could watch Pele play in an exhibition game in Lagos.
He was also the person who played a big part in Mohun Bagan hosting him and the New York Cosmos during its tour of Asia in 1977.
Pele played in that game at Eden Gardens for about half an hour, in the winter of his career and far from his best, but still left a turnout of 80,000 mesmerized.
Outpouring of tributes for 82-year-old Brazil football icon after his demise
Before Pele, 10 was just a number. I would say before Pele, football was just a sport. Pele changed it all. He gave voice to the poor and blacks. He especially gave visibility to Brazil. Soccer and Brazil have raised their status, thanks to the King
Rest in peace, @pele
A mere “goodbye” to the eternal King Pele will never be enough to express the pain that the entire football world is currently embracing. The love you always showed me was reciprocated in every moment we shared even from distance
The king of football has left us, but his legacy will never be forgotten. RIP KING
He was the national treasure who once managed to bring about a 48-hour ceasefire between two warring factions during the Nigerian civil war in the 1960s