Pele and the story



Why is Pelé our greatest figure in Brazilian social history?

Pelé was our greatest figure in Brazilian social history, difficult to reproduce because a social figure is measured not only by technique or numbers, as they try to do today in round tables and endless discussions on television channels and social networks. The importance of someone or something is measured by the impact on the area of ​​activity and on social relations.

Pelé emerged after the 1950 defeat by Uruguay at Maracanã, in which Nelson Rodrigues diagnosed the emergence of two existing ideologies that gained a dangerous organicity in Brazilian society. The first was an anti-national ideology, which he called “viralism”. This ideology said, deepening State policies until then, that Europe should be copied in everything, including football – any resemblance to the current stage of football debates is not a mere coincidence.

The second was a kind of organized and pulverized racism directed at goalkeeper Barbosa, producing the prevailing idea in football that black people cannot be trusted to be goalkeepers. The recrimination of Barbosa crowned the idea according to which blacks should disappear from Brazilian social life. Five years earlier, Getúlio Vargas, continuing the whitening policies begun in 1890, enacted Decree-Law 7.967, which authorized the entry of foreigners as long as it respected the “need to preserve and develop, in the ethnic composition of the population, the characteristics more convenient aspects of its European ancestry, as well as the defense of the national worker”. This device would only be revoked on August 19, 1980.

It is important to remember that Pelé comes from a very peculiar lineage, since we are talking about royalty. In many ways, Pelé descends from Arthur Friedenreich and Leônidas da Silva, the latter nicknamed the Black Diamond (the chocolate is named after him). Pelé's first nickname was Pérola Negra to contrast with Leônidas, the first great rivalry between players raised to football geniuses.

Pelé is a synthesis of the two black players who preceded him in a country where most clubs still refused to accept black players. When they accepted, they should not exceed the number of white players. The exceptions Ponte Preta and Vasco started to be accompanied by a hitherto irrelevant team from the coast of São Paulo. Santos' commitment to work with black players raised him to the biggest club on the planet.

With the much dreamed of 1958 World Cup, won by a team led by the elegant and brilliant Didi, Brazil gained a new perspective, crowning the decade called the Golden Years. The victory with the protagonism of teenager Pelé buried some of the ghosts of the 1950s for decades. Garrincha buried even more in 1962. It is true that every now and then they are exhumed, but Pelé buried them for many decades and created a counterpoint, when they appear: excellence of Brazilian football linked to Africanity (semba), or the so-called “kid football”, “beautiful football” or “spectacle football”.

Brazilian football would be the expression of a national spirit based on Africanity, samba, roda, candomblé, capoeira and the body that cannot be dissociated from intelligence and soul. A counterpoint to the mechanization of the relationship between body and intelligence brought about by Eurocentrism, capitalism and the so-called European football, the latter made much more flexible by the large influx of players of African and South American descent. The team is Barcelona, ​​but its best attack was Messi, Suarez and Neymar, three representatives of non-European schools. Its transition to today's football depended on a guy nicknamed the witch, Ronaldinho Gaúcho. The big team today is PSG, but their attack is Messi, Neymar and Mbappé.

Pelé was largely responsible for the universalization of football, especially in countries that do not have the sport among the most practiced. If there is a world football market today, it is due to Pelé and Santos' travels around the planet, which explains the small number of Libertadores conquests. The trips and tournaments gave more money and projection. The Chinese and American markets, dreamed of by the once terrible English teams and the two Spanish giants, would be impossible without Pelé's performance from 1970 onwards. It is fully reasonable to conclude that without Pelé the current great European teams would not exist. The big leagues do not live only on the national market, but above all on the international market.

It is also possible to calmly conclude that Brazil from 1958 onwards imposed a type of football that would only enter into crisis in 1990, in which the parreirismo of the 1994 selection was its expression. Without Pelé and his teammates from Santos and the national team, football would be very different from what it is today. Tactical systems from the 1960s onwards emerged largely to try to stop Pelé and his teammates from playing. They were almost always hit-based, as there were no yellow and red cards.

That's what happened in the 1966 World Cup, making Pelé announce in 1967 that he would no longer serve the national team - he thought he was unlucky in the cups and in the national team, a feeling reproduced by Messi in 2016. In fact, without Pelé, without Maradona and without Messi. Without Romário, without Ronaldo, without Gaucho, without Zico, without Reinaldo, without anyone. Football is a school, not a “gift” factory.

How was Brazil known in the world before Pelé? Carmen Miranda, who wasn't even Brazilian? The representation that the world makes of Brazil passed to Pelé from 1958 – he is not the Brazilian who sees himself as European, who would prefer a Carmen Miranda. The national and international representation of Brazil is Pelé. One of the few times that national and international representation mix. Pelé is a defeat of the whitening State policy. The main representation of Brazil was, is and will be a black man.

*Leonardo Sacramento is a pedagogue at the Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of São Paulo. Book author The mercantile university: a study on the public university and private capital (apris).


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