O Rei (The King) Pele: The Black Pearl is gone but won’t be forgotten


It is safe to say that even though the dreaded COVID is still hanging around and continue to menace the people of the world, 2022 was a psychological improvement over the two previous years. Somehow most managed to get closer to a normal life, banishing COVID from their thoughts…more or less. Still, the year was not a cakewalk; no one regretted when the fireworks announced the arrival of a new year.   

But 2022 did had a late surprise for the world – it sent Pele, he who some say the Gods had anointed – off to the ancestors after granting him 82 brilliant years on earth.

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele, as he was later christened by his countrymen, would attain heights in the game of football that no other mortal ever reached. He was a son of Brazil, born and bred. But from the day his name became known in the 1950s, he also became a son of the Caribbean.

Caribbean? How so? From the time Brazil began its ascent in world football in the 1950s, the Caribbean embraced these black and brown men as their representatives in a game dominated by white players. In these men they saw themselves. Pele was primus inter pares in a team that played the game like it was never played before.

Imagine a group of island nations, dots on the map, in the 1950s, not a television set in sight, only radio and the cinema to keep them in touch with the rest of the world, and yet every boy could describe every move and goal Pele scored in the 1958 World Cup win against Sweden; that was because the Brazilians had already existed in their imagination. After all, they had been prepared by the grace, imagination and power of their batsmen in cricket – George Headey, Frank Worrell, Everton Weeks, Clyde Walcott and Gary Sobers – who would go on to conquer the cricket world.

When they finally saw Pele on the screen, he was exactly as they expected, and then some. He was pure art moving to the same tempo as the Caribbean did – Samba/Calypso – with grace and imagination. Like the Caribbean’s extraordinary batting quintet, Pele and the members of the orchestra – Garrincha, Didi, Vava – lifted football to a level never seen before, drawing pictures that the great artists of the time would recognize instantly.

Pele would go on to lead Brazil to two more World Cup championships, making his name known in every corner of the world. He was designated “King of the beautiful game”, and nobody questioned it – he had transcended the stodgy sport that football had become. Wherever he went, the wordsmiths reached for superlatives; and the one the Caribbean people liked most of all was “The Black Pearl.” A pearl that is extremely rare and considered the most beautiful kinds of pearls in the world.

His greatness was amply underlined by Eduardo Galeano who wrote: “Once Pelé held up a war: Nigeria and Biafra declared a truce to see him play.” While FIFA (International Association Football Federation) says that it will ask every country to name a football stadium after Pele.

The world has never been asked such a favour before. And it’s a safe bet that most those who heard the call will comply.