Diego Maradona and Pele (Reuters)
After the 2022 World Cup final, the following post appeared on Pele's Instagram: "Football continues to tell its story in its fascinating way. Messi wins his first World Cup, as he deserves. My good friend Mbappe scored 4 goals in the final. What fun it was to watch this game, and in the future of our sport . It's also important for me to congratulate Morocco on the amazing campaign. It's wonderful to see Africa shining. Congratulations to Argentina! Diego must be smiling now."
The Brazilian superstar was already on his deathbed in the hospital.
It is not known if he was able to see the match between Argentina and France, but he certainly was not able to compose this text, and Morocco was not exactly his priority.
Someone made sure to do it in his place, because the brand must be protected.
Pele was not only a great footballer.
He was first and foremost a legend and a myth.
This legend was carefully constructed, and the great Brazilian nurtured it like a seasoned politician.
And if he didn't do it himself, someone already did it for him.
He was the embodiment of everything Brazil wanted to be, and he used it well, just as those around him used him to their advantage.
The combination of the warning ability on the grass with the willingness to adapt to the circumstances politically made Pele what he is.
He was the most established star on the planet.
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The brand must be maintained.
Pele with Kylian Mbappe (Photo: Reuters)
"Pele should go back to the museum," Diego Maradona scoffed at him, after the Brazilian said something unflattering about the Argentina team he coached in 2010, thereby summarizing, perhaps without fully realizing it, the main difference between them.
Maradona - a not entirely authentic brand in itself - went to the other extreme with the drugs, the connections with the underworld, the shooting of journalists, the violations of all possible laws and the foul language.
Pele was royal from the moment he burst into consciousness.
He belonged to Brazil to such an extent that he was defined as a national treasure, and therefore his passage to the European luxury clubs that lined up to sign him was prohibited.
According to the authorities, he was supposed to make the citizens of the country happy.
This was his mission, and he did it cheerfully and willingly.
Everything had to be perfect with him, and all his shortcomings were hidden from the public eye.
He was truly a museum exhibit in his lifetime, even when he was still juggling on the grass.
And really, the timing of his rise in 1958 was perfect, just when Brazil was getting stronger economically and was starting to build a new national consciousness.
It is important to understand that only eight years earlier the country experienced a sporting tragedy that went far beyond the limits of sports.
The loss to Uruguay in the closing game in the home World Cup that prevented them from winning the cup caused many suicides throughout Brazil.
Everyone was crying at the radio transmitters, as was Dondinho - Pele's father, whose career was cut short by a wild tackle by August, later captain of that team in 1950.
According to the legend told by Pele himself, the nine-year-old Pele then approached him and promised to bring the cup himself.
According to another legend told by Pele himself, he even wanted to be a pilot as a child.
What is the truth here?
By and large, it doesn't really matter.
He did bring the trophy, and from there the business took off like crazy.
Because in terms of quality on the field, he had no competitors at that time.
Pele went to the World Cup in Sweden despite being injured at the last minute, entered the lineup in the third match of the group stage against the Soviet Union, and flourished in the knockout stages.
A 17-year-old boy scored a spectacular winning goal against Wales in the quarter-finals, completed a brilliant hat-trick in the semi-finals against the wonderful France of Just Fontaine and Raymond Coupe, and also scored a brace in the final against the host, whom many saw as favorites.
It ended 2:5, and no one in the stadium had any doubt who the worthy world champion was.
It was Celso's first title, and he was mostly identified with a skinny guy with the number 10 on his back.
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Illustrate the difference between them.
Pele with Diego Maradona (Photo: Reuters)
This is how the legend was born, and until 1994 all Brazil's World Cups were in the Pele era.
Even now, more than half a century after his last celebration in 1970, more than half of Brazil's victories are his.
In fact, the swing in Stockholm was and remains the only South American team on European soil.
Amazing, but a fact.
And the victory in 1970 was the most impressive of all, even greater than that of 1958. Pele reached the standard of the veteran leader, even though he was only 29 years old, and provided wonderful moments of magic in a team where almost every player in the team was a superstar - Tostao, Gersson, Carlos Alberton, Jairzinho, Claudaldo, Rivalino.
The World Cup was broadcast in color for the first time, and was accessible on television to many more people around the world.
They saw Pele showing his full range of skills - tremendous kicks, dribbles, strikes like the one that resulted in the legendary save of Gordon Banks in the match against England, game vision and assists as in the elegant pass for Carlos Alberto's last goal in the final against Italy at the end of a brilliant team effort.
Brazil then won 1:4 in a battle that was equal up to a certain point, and this achievement further established Pele's status as the greatest world player of all time.
In between, he also starred for Santos, which was one of the best teams in the world during his time.
It's not just the 6 Brazilian championships, two wins in the Libertadores Cup and two wins in the Intercontinental Cup that followed them.
Pele was the magnet, the force that swept crowds after him.
Santos made a huge fortune from exhibition matches around the globe mainly thanks to him.
When he was injured, the number of spectators at her matches in Brazil usually dropped by about 50 percent.
The media glorified him, and the government used it to its advantage - and this is about all types of government.
This is true of the populist president Joao Gullard, and also of the dictatorial regime leaders who overthrew him in a military coup in 1964.
Some believe that Pele could have used his enormous power to preserve democracy, but these are probably very excessive demands from a 24-year-old footballer, who just wanted to enjoy the popularity, and always felt good only in his comfort zone.
The ban on moving to Europe fit him like a glove, because at Santos he didn't have to prove anything to anyone.
His status was guaranteed, and the aura around him was also guaranteed.
Actually, in the first decade of his career he had only one coach - Luis Alfonso Perez, who discovered the boy, nurtured him and promised: "This will be the best player in the world."
This prophecy was already fulfilled in 1958, and since then almost all Brazilians have been committed to this narrative.
Pela brought them pure happiness even in the hard times.
He was the source of national pride in every sense of the word.
The ban on moving to Europe fit him like a glove.
Pele in a Santos uniform (Photo: Reuters)
This is how a type of cult of personality emerged, in which all means were kosher.
So, for example, someone at some point began to count all Pele's goals, from the beginning of his career as a footballer, including insignificant friendlies.
In the absence of accurate records from the past, the business was quite messy and completely unreliable, but it caught on - and at some point, when Pele approached a thousand goals, it became a national obsession.
Everyone was waiting for the long-awaited moment, which happened in November 1969, in a packed Marcana stadium, with a penalty for Vasco da Gama.
Pele wanted to take this ball for himself, but immediately after the occupation, thousands burst onto the field, hoisted it on their shoulders, and in the end the ball also disappeared in this crowd.
This can be seen as significant symbolism, because Pele's fame was not in his hands.
He was a national asset, and nothing private was left to him.
With all its advantages, it is not easy to deal with this fact.
Therefore, even when criticizing the adaptation of the Brazilian hero who was a little too political, the limitations must be taken into account.
It is possible that in his situation, he did his best.
It is possible that the ability to transmit a positive message and radiate light, in Brazil and around the world, is more important than any other process that could theoretically be started.
Pele was not built to be a revolutionary.
He is meant to be the unifying force.
And while bringing happiness and wealth to the country and the club, Pele was not exactly good at maximizing personal profits.
He even entrusted the management of his financial affairs to his agent, who turned out to be a particularly dishonest person, and not a financial genius either.
Most of his investments failed, and towards the end of the 1960s Pele found himself on the verge of bankruptcy.
He asked Santos to save him, and of course he answered in the affirmative, but it was not a simple mental trauma - and at times one got the impression that for the rest of his life Pele tried not only to preserve the brand, but also to compensate himself as much as possible for the lost capital.
This was the main goal for his move to the New York Cosmos at the end of his career, and this is how you can see the countless commercials in which he participated.
His name preceded him, and he gave diverse parties the opportunity to benefit from him.
He was fine with all the governments of Brazil, and even served as Minister of Sports in one of them.
He was fine with FIFA, agreeing in 2004 to lend his name as if he had created a rather fanciful list of the 125 greatest living footballers - 75 former players, and 50 active players at the time that included far-fetched names like El-Haji Diouf . In general, he tried to be okay with all the establishment parties, and was the most establishment star of the past imaginable. He even let commercial parties use him until his last day, and one of the last tweets on his official Twitter posted a sweater in the winning colors of 1958 with a 10 percent discount.
There is something a bit sad about it, and the licked and generic posts invented in his name also caused discomfort, but you can try to see the phenomenon from another angle, because he managed, throughout his life, to remain in the consensus - and this is not trivial either.
Pele was and remains the ultimate Brazilian symbol, and he will continue to be so even after his death.
His legend will live on, and the light he spread with the ball at his feet simply cannot be extinguished.
This has not happened since his retirement, and it will never happen.
Brazil national team