Monday, December 12, 2011

Believe it or not...

...there are actually people who don’t like football.
Yes, yes, hard to believe, I know, but I’ve actually met two of them myself.

Both lived in North America and persisted in calling the sport “sucker” (or something like that).

I have, therefore, taken it upon myself to write a series of posts designed to teach those benighted folks, and others like them, the error of their ways.

I will be posting sporadic educational articles on The World’s Most Popular Sport up until the last game of the 2014 World Cup.

This is article #1, a simple test to assess how much you already know. Please look at this picture:

Recognize him?
If you do, just scroll down to the embedded videos, play them and be awed. If not, read on – and learn.

The photo is of Edson Arantes do Nascimento.

In Brazil, we call him O Rei (The King.)
Most of the world knows him as Pelé. In 1999, the International Olympic Committee named him The Athlete of the Century. In that same year, the French (yes, French) football magazine France-Football asked their surviving Player of the Year winners to elect the Player of the Century. Pelé won. And, again in that same year, he was voted Football Player of the Century by the IFFHS. (International Federation of Football History and Statistics)
In the course of his career, he scored 760 official goals, 541 in league championships, and appeared in a total of 1363 official matches. He is the top-scoring player in the history of professional football.

He began with Santos, the club he made famous.
Back then, he was only 15 years old.

He went on to win his first World Cup when he was just 17 years old. Can you imagine? 17!

One of the most commonly asked questions about him is the source of his nickname. Some folks think it has some meaning in Portuguese. But it doesn’t. Pelé, himself, has said that he has no idea where it came from.

He grew up in poverty in Bauru, a small city in the interior of the State of São Paulo, and couldn’t afford a proper football. He learned to play the game with a sock, stuffed with newspaper and tied with a string. But he learned quickly.
And was soon proficient on the ground...

...and in the air.

Pelé believes his most beautiful goal was scored on the 2nd of August, 1959, when Santos was playing their traditional rival, Juventus for the Championship of the State of São Paulo. It was a goal that brought the Santos supporters to their feet and kept them there – cheering – for a full ten minutes. There was no video of this match. A few years ago Pelé asked that computer animation be made of that specific goal. My wife, Eide, was involved in a project to bring him to New York, where the job could be done by hooking him up to sensors so that the goal could be reproduced. She recalls it as being one of the most memorable things she has done in her career.

Click below to see a few of the goals that made Pelé famous. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the sport, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the artistry that made him what he was.

Note, especially, the way he dribbles around his opponents, particularly in the one case where he fails to score a goal by a matter of centimeters. He kicks the ball one way, goes the other and then circles around for the goal shot.

Note, too, his mastery of the “bicycle kick”, where he faces away from the goal and kicks the ball backward over his head.
Unfortunately, the television coverage, back in those days, wasn’t very good.
But, these days, it’s spectacular.
And, for that reason, I’ve added the material below.
Neymar is already, widely regarded as the “next Pelé.

Do yourself a favor and kill the audio. It's an annoying bit of rap. But the images are spectacular.

Neymar, like Pelé has elected to stay in the country – at least for a while – rather than accept an offer from any of the European clubs. And he plays for the King's old club, Santos.

Neymar is only twenty years old, and many non-Brazilian aficionados of the sport have yet to hear of him.

But barring (God forbid!) injury, we’ll be seeing a lot of him in 2014.

Leighton - Monday


  1. Leighton I am reading A Vine in the Blood at the moment and really enjoying it. I might steal one of your photos for a review post, and of course link to this post for those who don't understand Brazil's obsession with football [real football]. ;-)

  2. Hi Norman,

    Be my guest with the photo.
    I hope you're enjoying the book.

    Note: If anyone reading this is unfamiliar with "Uriah's" blog, you should correct that, right now, by pasting his URL into your browser and going there:

  3. Hello Leighton,
    Reading your 3th book here in Belgium.
    As I was doing my Christmas shopping this weekend I saw many bookstores with your name in the window!! You become famous in Flanders ànd the Netherlands...
    Now we are waiting for the Dutch translation of EVERY BITTER THING. (2012?)
    I don't like soccer but will read VINE IN THE BLOOD!!
    Greetings from Belgium

  4. Hi Christiane,

    Glenn Harper doesn't like football (soccer) either, but he liked the book.

    Because it's really not about soccer.

    Read, here, what he has to say:

    Sorry, I don't know how to turn this into a link. You'll have to copy and paste it into your browser.

  5. Practice doesn't create a great athlete. Practice hones the skills that develop from God-given talent. Pele, Ted Williams, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and, at this point in his career, Tom Brady are considered the best to have played their games. Ted Williams statistics are not nearly as impressive as they would have been had he not left the game in enlist in the military during the second world war.

  6. Leighton, I am really enjoying this Mario Silva investigation, but this evening I was watching on TV the league leaders Manchester City get beaten by a great Chelsea team with a star performance from Ramires, a Brazilian mid fielder. Thanks for the boost.

  7. So THAT'S where Ramires is these days.
    How about you guys give him back?

  8. No way he was superb last night, and we have David Luiz as well.

  9. Another fabulously talented Brazilian player is Lucas Leiva, of my own beloved Liverpool. He's very un-Brazilian, in that he eschews flair and flamboyance in favour of hard-tackling, positional awareness and neat and tidy distribution. Which is why he has become utterly indispensable. Sadly he suffered a freak injury v those dirty dogs at Chelsea (alright Norm?) and is now out of the season. But he's forced his way into the Brazil team and barring further injuries, he'll stay there - the man who lays the table for the feast that follows.

  10. As a kid growing up amid the American love of football (the one with double digit scores) even I knew of Pele. He was an athlete who drew respect even from the uninitiated to the "other" game of football."

    But who's that guy Brady?

  11. Jeff,
    Brady is the fellow who's is married to that hot Brazilian superstar model with the Germanic name.
    There's not much else to say about him, other than the fact that he doesn't play sucker. (football)

  12. I see. Let's just hope Beth doesn't. :)

  13. I agree with Beth. some people just have that peculiar combination of skill, art and instinct which makes their output special. And I'm of an age where Pele was a name that I knew because my European born dad thought American football was nothing compared to soccer. I know who tom Brady is. Who is he married to?

  14. Hi Lil,

    Tom Brady is married to Gisele Bundchen:

  15. Add me to the list of those who don't like soccer. As one who has spent endless hours in Southeast Asian bars and restaurants with one-acre flatscreens that showed soccer 24/7, I have come to the conclusion that only one game was actually ever played and they just show it over and over again, cutting to different camera angles. I think the uniforms are put in later by CGI.

    Pele, as far as I'm concerned and ever shall be concerned, is the goddess of volcanos, fire, and lightning in the Hawaiian Islands.

  16. Sacrilege, Tim Hallinan!
    Pure sacrilege.
    We love you, so please don't ever say that out loud anywhere in Brazil.
    It could be life-threatening.
    None are so blind as those who will not...etc., etc.