RIP Pele, football’s first superstar and ‘The Greatest’ of them all

The football world lost its most precious gem in Pele, but ‘The Greatest’ will live long enough in our hearts.

The news of Pele passing away a few days ago shook the football world like nothing. While in the general anguish of the sad event, many have come up with their testimonials or obituaries; for me, it has taken some time to reflect and comprehend the significant loss to humanity.

Football is the game of the people and the world. And something everyone can relate to has its emotional pull. Diego Maradona helped Argentina win a modern World Cup, and that memory helped their fans sustain happiness and joy for over 36 years. While Lionel Messi may have finally ascended to Maradona’s throne, the 1986 winner will forever live in the minds of the South American nation as a godly figure.

Pele had almost thrice the impact that Maradona had on the footballing world and his nation. The Santos legend lifted the World Cup thrice, which automatically sends him on top of the list titled ‘The Greatest.’ Despite the many lingering doubts among modern football-watching fans, the Brazilian is by far the best.

Being the greatest is not merely achieved by those stats that TV and media channels use to big up a player at every given opportunity. Numbers are undoubtedly significant. But personality makes a human a superstar, and Pele radiated this feature.

Pele, ‘The Greatest’

There is the whole argument from the majority of fans from today who have never watched Pele play that he is not the greatest. Is there enough ammunition to argue Pele’s case in the eras of Ronaldos and Messis, sugarcoated by the legendary figures of Maradona or Zinedine Zidane?

There certainly is. The consensus on Pele, from his trophy collection point of view, is that he achieved the impossible by lifting three World Cups. But the biggest argument is at the club football level, and fans think greatness should come in the European game.

Sure, Pele has played his entire career at Santos. And while he was a national treasure in Brazil back in 1962, there was no chance of him moving abroad. Secondly, Pele came from a poor, black family in a society mired by racism. And for his rise to such stardom, a place of respect was bigger than what any footballing accolade could bestow upon him.

Yet, saying Pele has played no games in or against Europeans is a stretch. Back in the day, South American football worked differently. Santos used to tour Europe regularly. And in that period, as per the records, the Maestro played 130 games against European sides, scoring 144 goals.

While his overall tally of goals scored remains a highly contested topic, the critical thing to remember is that numbers do not measure greatness. What the man brought to his nation, neighbourhood and society are unmeasurable even by today’s standards.

Moreover, not only did he win three World Cups, Pele put Brazil on the footballing map and built a legacy around it that has helped it sustain itself until now. The famous Yellow, Blue and Green attire of the national team was made relevant by Pele, and no one can take that away from him.

The man who lifted the cup in Technicolor

There is a story going around in the aftermath of Pele’s demise. Until the 1950 World Cup final, which was also one of the most disastrous in history, Brazil donned a white shirt rather than the yellow one we all know them for.

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After losing to Uruguay in the 1950 final at the Maracana, the white outfit was deemed unpatriotic and against the colours of their national flag. Brazil finally adopted many new designs in line with their national colours. And for the first time, in March 1954, the fans saw a new look team.

While the new tradition was built, Pele, after helping Brazil win the 1958 World Cup, put those colours on the world map along with his nation. Between then and 1970, he would dominate the big stage and strike fear into some of the top-rated defenders known back then.

“I told myself before the game he’s made of skin and bones, just like everybody else. But I was wrong.” – Tarcisio Burgnich, the Italian defender, charged with the job of man-marking Pele in the 1970 World Cup final.

The 1970 World Cup was the first time a World Cup got televised in Technicolor. It was a phenomenon back then, although colour TVs still cost a lot of money. That did not matter; as Pele lifted the big prize for the first time, many witnessed the genuine charisma of the legendary forward.

Effectively Pele became the first player to lift the World Cup in Technicolor, and certainly made the yellow jersey of Brazil more relevant than it ever was. There have been many over the years, like Romario, Luis Ronaldo and Cafu, adding relevance to that shirt. But one has yet to come closer to the impact Pele had years ago.

Football’s first true superstar and ‘The Greatest’ of them all

Going back to an earlier point, Pele truly gave meaning to the word ‘superstar.’ Those images from the Azteca Stadium, where people lift a shirtless Pele on their shoulders, remain a source of goosebumps for some who understand the magnitude of that moment.

Before that, he was already a national treasure for Brazil. And that win over Italy in Mexico elevated him into global superstardom. After that, there was no looking back for the legendary star, who may have played with far less glamour beyond that point.

Yet, Pele’s status as the greatest of all time got established when he was playing. And the trend has continued over the years for his representation of Brazil and football in general. He is the face of the game, and this cannot be debated in the modern corridors of argumentativeness that only focuses on current footballers.

Pele’s image will remain forever in the hearts of football fans worldwide, maybe even Argentinians. Let us cherish the greatness of ‘The Greatest’ and look back at what he has achieved in and for the game. He will remain a legend, and there cannot be any debate about it rationally or logically, for the world will miss his presence, literally and otherwise.

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