It was impossible to escape the story that narrated his exploits. Not only did King Pelé help Brazil become the most successful country in football, but above all, he was black. A black man who accomplished something more special, more interesting, and more important yet.
He managed to rise to the top of the list of national treasures in a country with a history of slavery and a significant legacy of segregation.
This blog post is to help you understand why this man is a legend and, furthermore, why they call him a king. It’s not just your records that make you an icon. Your knowledge and your critical thinking can make you question a lot of things.
The Socio-Political Context and Football
To touch on some important aspects of this legend, you need to understand the socio-political context that led to the football context of the upcoming era.
This context led to important contrasts with the existence of a player like Garrincha in the same era. Leading to the intellectual capacity of the player taking on another dimension during football moments.
Football’s Connection to Brazilian Elite
First, you should know that football in Brazil has always been linked to the Brazilian elite. The popularity of football itself began to grow in Great Britain, where the English Cup was captivating people.
The internationalization of this sport began thanks to the economic power of English institutions. In Brazilian football history, there is a name you will always hear: Charles Miller.
He was the son of an Englishman and a Brazilian born at Southampton University. Charles Miller arrived in Brazil in 1894 with two balls in his suitcase and a complete uniform.
And then he managed to convince some associates in a São Paulo aristocratic club, who used to practice cricket at the time, to convert to football.
There were clear influences from football clubs, which saw the light in 1902, which became the first club dedicated exclusively to football and became a reference for all the elites in Rio.
The Impact of Racism and Slavery
And it was in that context that the club that would bring Garrincha to the world, América Fabril, was created in 1908. The biggest problem for a black person is that, in reality, he doesn’t like violence. He accepts that he is vulnerable, even though they inflict violence on him.
He never had the ambition to become the oppressor’s conqueror, the black fear, because he sees what many often see: strength, intelligence, selflessness, and many other qualities. The team that always had more black players would face sabotage, while the team that took elite poses would be embraced.
In 1923, the Vasco da Gama Club emerged, challenging racial barriers. They welcomed players regardless of their color or background, believing that what mattered was their ability to play ball.
However, the reaction of the elites didn’t wait. Not only did they form another league and exclude Vasco da Gama under the pretext of not having its own stadium, but they also put restrictions on who could go to school.
They had to fill out an enrollment form and sign their names before each match. This pushed some mulattos to apply rice powder to their faces. All this reveals that the Brazilian people are not the people you think they are.
In 1888, when slavery ended in Brazil, there was a policy of whitening the race through the promotion of massive European immigration, aiming to diminish the influence of races considered inferior.
If it weren’t for players like Pelé, Garrincha, and many others, the Brazilian national team would have been composed only of white players.
The World Cup and Brazil’s Transformation
The World Cup became a burden for Brazil, and one cannot go without the other. It was the World Cup that forced Brazil to coexist with the talent that constituted it, regardless of social class or color.
After the success of hosting the champions’ edition in Italy, Brazilian players started leaving Brazil to play elsewhere on the continent. It was Brazil that primarily made football the most popular sport in the world through the World Cup.
When the country realized that it existed in a new pleasure that FIFA had set up, it had to rely on all the living forces of the nation.
However, there were unfortunate incidents that brought speculation, restrictions, and more momentum than ever to the race that a part of the country still wanted to eradicate.
Brazil’s failure in the 1950 World Cup, in the final against Uruguay, changed a lot of things. The defeat carried the mark of black athletes with afros, who played extraordinary football and led the team to the final.
Racist observers, with the strongest voices, made fun of this team, labeling them as black and Babosa (slang for a person with curly hair). They came up with racial theories to justify their belief that black athletes have an emotional instability that makes them fail in difficult situations.
The Rise of Pelé and the Importance of Garrincha
The 1958 World Cup revealed a great athlete called Pelé. It was a World Cup where Brazil began to put into practice less racial politics within the team.
In the starting 11, there was only one person who was not white, simply because all the Europeans considered him the best player in the competition: Didi. Alongside him were Garrincha and Pelé.
Pelé amazed spectators in Sweden, scoring crucial goals and displaying his exceptional skills. Brazil won the World Cup, and in just three matches, Pelé became a national idol. Brazil could finally forget the Maracanazo, the traumatic defeat in the 1950 World Cup final.
Garrincha, on the other hand, didn’t have all the technical range that Pelé had, but he was much more exuberant and engaging. He brought pure joy to the people.
In 1962, when Pelé was injured, Garrincha was the one who brought the World Cup back home.
Pelé’s Impact and Legacy
Pelé’s greatness goes beyond his records and achievements on the pitch. He symbolizes the triumph of talent and perseverance over adversity. His impact on football and society is immeasurable.
Pelé was not only a player but also an ambassador for football, bringing joy and unity to people around the world. His cultural significance cannot be overstated.
Pelé will forever be remembered as the king of football and a true legend in the sport. His journey from a black man in a country with a history of slavery and segregation to becoming a global icon is a testament to his resilience and talent.
Pelé’s legacy goes beyond the game, inspiring generations and breaking down barriers. He will always be a symbol of triumph and a reminder that greatness knows no boundaries.