EXACTLY half a century has gone by since Pele was ending his international career on a stupendous high.
Fifty years ago Brazil were going through the gears in Mexico on the way to winning the 1970 World cup in thrilling style.
Sunday was the anniversary of the magnificent second group game, when Brazil beat England 1-0, giving them the chance to top the group and stay in Guadalajara for the quarter and semi finals.
On Wednesday 50 years will have gone by since they made sure of that top spot with a 3-2 win over Romania.
And through it all, from the opening game against Czechoslovakia to the final against Italy, Pele lit up the campaign with glorious moments.
GOALS AND MAGIC MOMENTS
He scored four goals, including the first in the final with a gravity-defying header.
And at least as famous are the ones that nearly went in – the shot from the half way line against Czechoslovakia that drifted just wide, the header against England that produced a wonder save from Gordon Banks, the moment when he bamboozled the Uruguayan keeper, playing the ball one side of him and running round the other before his shot on the turn narrowly missed the target.
All of these are special moments – making it all the more extraordinary that in the build up to the competition a debate raged about whether he should have even been in the side.
This is a largely forgotten chapter of Brazilian football – after all, it did not take Pele very long to prove his worth.
'A SPENT FORCE'
But some say him as a spent force. He was only 29 at the time, but he had been a global star ever since the age of 17, and the years had taken a toll.
He had bulked up – some thought too much. And the man who coached Brazil during the qualifiers was not convinced.
Joao Saldanha was a strange choice to be put in charge. Not only was he more of a journalist than a coach, he was also a communist at a time when Brazil was ruled by a right wing military dictatorship.
This may have been a factor in his sacking three months before the World Cup. But at least as important was the fact that he had fallen out with Pele.
UNFIT AND UNABLE TO TRACK BACK
On the steps of the FA building straight after his dismissal Saldanha told reporters that “I’m out because Pele was not going to play any more in my team. In the 17 games he played under my command he never played well.”
In round table debates over the next few days he defended his position.
“Pele is not in condition to play the World Cup in Mexico,” he said.
“His inability to drop into midfield has liquidated our team.”
Saldanha was supported by Aymore Moreira, who had coached Brazil to triumph in 1962.
He wrote an article entitled “I, too, would have dropped Pele,” in which he argued that “the problem of the team is structural. It has a name – Pele. He cannot help the midfield because he’s no longer able to stand the effort of running both ways.”
PELE HAD THE LAST LAUGH
Like all great players, Pele rose to the occasion. The clinching goal in the quarter final against Peru started with Pele dropping deep in his own half to win possession.
He made sure he was in the best possible physical condition to shine in Mexico.
True, the best Pele, the most exciting Pele had come seven or eight years earlier, when he charged forward with the ball bouncing around his feet like an obedient puppy.
But the 1970 Pele was still an astonishing player. Saldanha questioned his eyesight.
But the vision he showed was magnificent. Just watch the way he gave the pass for Jairzinho’s goal against England, or how he set up the Carlos Alberto screamer that completed the 4-1 scoreline in the final against Italy.
Fifty years ago Pele was having a ball silencing his critics.
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