Down Memory Lane: A genius arrives, name of Pele
World Cup, Sweden, 1958, heralded the arrival of Brazil’s wonder boy Pele — the street urchin from a poor family who was to become a global icon and football ambassador still feted wherever he travels.
Edson Arantes Do Nascimento — known as Pele — learned his football on the streets and worked as a shoe-shine boy to earn extra cash for his mother who, when he joined Santos at the age of 15, made him long trousers to replace the shorts worn by all the youngsters.
Santos officials quickly sensed they had found a golden nugget.
At the time he was the youngest player at 17 years and 249 days to play in World Cup finals — a record surpassed in 1982 by Northern Ireland’s Norman Whiteside (17 years and 41 days).
The Brazil-Sweden Final at the Rasunda Stadium, Stockholm was much more absorbing than many pundits had predicted. Sweden adopted an exciting attacking policy while Brazil’s squad was a pantheon of brilliant individualists moulded into a unit combining the theatrical with the practical. Just look at the class in these names — Djalma and Nilton Santos, Garrincha, Didi, Vava, Zito, Bellini and, of course, the incomparable Pele who in an interview some years later rated George Best as his supreme player.
The countless millions on every continent watching the match on black and white televisions realised here was someone special — someone who embodied all the attributes of genius — and history proved their judgment correct. His career statistics confirmed it: three World Cup winners’ medals (1958, 62 and 70), 1,283 goals, including 92 hat-tricks in 1,367 games.
Brazil won 5-2 in the 1958 Final with goals from Vava (2), Pele (2) and Mario Zagallo, who would later manage Brazil. Nils Liedholm had swept Sweden into a second minute lead, Alan Simonsson got the second after the break.
Pele’s goals were classics, described by him like this in his autobiography:
THE FIRST: “I caught a Nilton Santos cross on my chest, let the ball drop and as the Swedish defender Julli Gustvasson challenged I flicked the ball over his head, before volleying into the net.”
THE SECOND: “I outjumped two defenders for a high ball, touched it with my head and, as if in slow motion, watched it loop over the line.”
That was Brazil’s fifth goal and seconds after it he fainted, revived by “The Little Bird”, Grinch, massaging his legs to get blood circulating. When he recovered the match was over. Brazil were world champions and Pele The King who, in the midst of all the euphoria, said: “I thank God he gave me the gift to play football”.
The stadium, situated in the district of Solna, north of central Stockholm, became a multi-coloured scene of incredible jubilation as the Samba Boys circled the pitch carrying a huge national flag and then that of the host nation. The Swedes took the Brazilians — and the boy Pele — to their hearts.