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Replay 1970 World Cup final to see Pele be Messi, Ronaldo, and also Pele – The Indian Express

A random ‘Pele’s magic (or skills, goals or simply Pele)’ search on Youtube would mine thousands of videos, so much so that you would be left utterly pampered and confused for choice.
There are all sorts from “Pele’s magical skills” and Pele’s “goals that shocked the world” to the utterly clickbait “10 things you don’t know about Pele” and exhaustively researched yet fundamentally pointless “a comparison between Pele, Messi and Maradona”.
There is of course footage of his dribbling, heading, flicking, chest-controlling and what not! There is an enlightening documentary on Netflix, one that does not refrain from projecting the shades of grey that had dotted a largely, by modern-day norms, a scandal-free life, a breezily readable autobiography and dozens of biographies. Pele-nostalgia has gripped the world since his passing on Wednesday night.
But nothing perhaps would be as fulfilling an experience as watching him for the entire duration of a match. To see beyond the highlight reels of goals and dribbles, to pick something that has missed the chroniclers’ eyes, to discover another layer of grandeur, or just to confirm that all that has been told and retold, read and reread, head and reheard are true after all.
You might know the narrative and the climax, the stories that transpired on the pitch and what swirled behind the screens, but as with classics, Pele’s full games are worth rewatching, and with every viewing a different layer of his greatness emerges, a fragment of myth debunked.
It’s like watching a classic, bits and pieces of footage here and there leaves the experience horribly incomplete. You can’t just pick pages and experience the experience of reading an epic. You might get the drift, but not the joy.
The internet has but a few. One of them is the 1970 final between Brazil and Italy. You know the result; Brazil edged (and not thumped as the scoreline would mis-portray) Italy 4-1. You know the goals; Pele’s clattering header to put his side in lead, Gerson’s delightful strike, Jairzinho’s thighed goal and the fabulously choreographed ballerina of Brazilian football’s joie de vivre that was the fourth goal, which would be credited to Carlos Alberto but involved the touch, verve and imagination of half the Brazilian side.
You know the backstory, how the coach deemed Pele had gone blind and over the hill, how the Brazilian side was a disaster waiting to unfold, of their frolic and revelry in Mexico.
But if you have not watched the match in full, you would miss the enraged Pele at half-time. When the referee blew the whistle at half-time, Pele lost his fabled cool and flung his arms in rage. He was just 10-12 yards away from the goalkeeper, unmarked and in space, but just when he was about to lash the shot, the whistle intervened.
Pele did manage to roll the ball onto the back of the net, but the goal would not stand, and Pele protested. Three blue shirts converge around him. The grisly centre-back Pierluigi Cera almost held Pele on his collar. Pele growled and scowled and vigorously shook his head. “Pele was really angry that match. Before the match, he was not his usual joking self. He was serious and angry,” his teammate Gerson would later say.
For this generation of football viewers, it would be like watching Lionel Messi against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals of the Qatar World Cup, seized by an uncharacteristic fury.
In many ways, Pele’s movements were similar to Messi in Qatar. He would just meander along, strolling almost walking, processing the game, scanning the schemes, then with a burst of ingenuity, he produces a moment, an inevitable moment.
Like the first goal when all he does is amble down the right inside-right channel when Rivelino looped a high cross into the box. Pele with hardly a run-up, leaps over the tough-tackling Tarcisio Burgnich and lasers down the header.
In his flight, he is like Messi’s famous rival Cristiano Ronaldo, a monument of athletic perfection. He just keeps climbing and once he realises he is above Burgnich, who Pele burned several times in the game, he plants the header. A header so powerful that the goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi was too late to react.
Thus, Pele combined the athleticism and physical prowess of Ronaldo with the intelligence and intuition of Messi. The new-generation football fans could thus strike a connection.
Like Ronaldo, he worked out intensely hard. A year into Santos’ stint, he recounts in his autobiography that he worked so hard on his body that his thighs had more circumference than his waist. He learned karate, “which was useful in learning how to fall and how to jump.” He practised judo, which “really helped in increasing balance and agility”. And it all helped him to dribble past players and not fall.
He used a contraption that had a ball hanging from it to polish his heading skills. He was thus as much as a natural as a nurtured genius. He was in that sense the perfect blend of silk and steel, powerful yet stylish, as any other footballer ever could be. One moment, he is the pianist, the next a bullfighter.
The chipped free-kick to Rivelino at the 25th minute was a thing of pure beauty. He sprinted full-pelt, as though he was inclined to pile-drive the ball, before he fed Rivelino, to the left of the five-man wall with a deft chipped ball.
The Italians were caught off-guard, only for Rivelino to plant a heavy touch. Then like the second goal that Argentina conceded in the final against France, wherein the ball was robbed off Messi’s foot, Burgnich snatched the ball from Pele and conceptualised Italy’s equaliser, though Clodoaldo would be painted the villain for his avoidable back-flick to the keeper that Roberto Boninsegna intercepted.
At other times. Pele was like Ronaldo of the past World Cup, rolling on the floor for half a contact, brooding and petulant at times, protesting for free-kicks that were refused and hoofing his shots into the stands, where the crowd refused to throw the ball back into the ground.
One of his falls, at the 68th minute when Angelo Domenghini nudged him on the chest, was so theatrical that the referee pushed the medical team away. He had another ugly run-in with Domenghini just two minutes later.
And then he assists the goals that sealed the trophy for Brazil. For the third goal, he out-jumps Burgnich again and slots a header onto the path of Jairzinho. All power, technique and will. His hand in the fourth was all instinct. When he received the ball from Jairzinho in his usual inside right channel, he had no avenues to shoot.
Then from the corner of his eyes, he saw Carlos Alberto burning down the right and trickled in a well-weighted pass to his right. He pummelled it past the keeper to trigger maniacal celebrations. The video ends abruptly with Pele swarmed in a flood of human arms.
Watching the full replay is more enriching and instructive than any highlights reel or documentary. It captures Pele in all his glory and theatrics, in all his creativity and flaws, his anger and ambition, showing that he was more than a goal-scoring robot. He shed emotions too, he wasn’t saintly. He showed his anger just as much as he smiled – that beatific smile of his.
He combined both Messi and Ronaldo, both a natural as well as a nurtured genius, and that football’s immortal was human too. And it makes him all the more endearing.
Though it’s just one match out of 1363, it captures the man and the myth Pele was. And it’s worth investing one hour and 38 minutes into Pele’s last World Cup, just as years later, another generation would be watching Messi in the 2022 World Cup final with marvelled eyes.
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