Pele turns 70 in search of low profile and calm

2010-10-21 11:13

Rio de Janeiro – For decades he gladly accepted tributes and flashes, but football legend Pele now wants rest and a low profile as he prepares to celebrate his 70th birthday on Saturday.

“Pele is to celebrate his 70th birthday the same way he did the 69 previous birthdays: only with his family,” Pepito Fornos, spokesperson for the man who is for many the best footballer in history, said.

Faced with an avalanche of proposals for him to take part in tributes and give interviews, Pele answered with a standard letter.

“My dear brothers: I thank you for the invitation, but the best present at my 70 years of age is to be healthy, and to have the recognition and the love of all those who supported and motivated me all these years all around the world,” he said.

The humble tone and the low profile are new features in the former footballer, who usually refers to himself in the third person, insists that he is the best player in history and rejects any comparison with his arch-rival for that title, Argentine Diego Maradona.

“When I go to Argentina I tell them: discuss first who is the best in Argentina, and then we will see who is the best in the world,” he said in a recent interview, in which he recalled that Alfredo Di Stefano was for many years regarded as the best Argentine player ever.

The most bitter moments in the dispute between the two football legends came in 2000, when Fifa decided to hold an online poll to designate the top footballer of the 20th century.

Maradona comfortably won the poll, but Fifa organized another one at the last minute, among “experts,” and gave Pele a similar prize.

Born on October 23, 1940 in Tres Coracoes, in the state of Minas Gerais, the boy Edson Arantes do Nascimento moved with his family to the city of Bauru, in the state of Sao Paulo.

At 16, he played his first matches with the Bauru Atletico Club, where he got the nickname Pele.

“At first I didn’t like it. My name was Edson. I even got into a fight over that with a boy at school. I was suspended for two days, and after that all the other boys started to call me Pele,” he recalled.

Months after joining Bauru, he caught the eye of the powerful Santos, where he became a global legend.

He was the star of Santos’s “golden age,” as the team went on to win, over 15 years, 10 Sao Paulo state tournaments, five Brazilian Cups, two editions of the Copa Libertadores and two Intercontinental Cups.

The climax of his career was definitely the thousandth goal, which he scored from the penalty spot at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro on November 19, 1969. “O Rei,” the king, dedicated the historic goal “to children”.

In 1976, he moved to the United States to play his football with New York Cosmos and also to promote the sport in the lucrative US market. That was where Pele the businessman was born.

The player discovered the huge commercial potential of his own image, and he went on to sign contracts with major transnational companies.

Those contracts now grant financial comfort both to “The King” and to his large family, including five children by two wives – Rosemeri Cholby and Assiria Lemos – and two other daughters born from casual relations, including one, Sandra Regina, who died of cancer in 2006.

Pele’s life and works have featured amply in Brazilian media in recent days, with almost everyone of them highlighting his duel with Maradona for supremacy over world football.

In Brazil, at least, there is no doubt about the winner of that duel: from the most humble man on the street to veteran former coach Mario Lobo Zagallo, everyone agrees that, so far, no real candidate has emerged to take the crown away from “O Rei”.

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