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Pelé almost said goodbye to Brazilian football with a bicycle kick goal


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Pelé missed two penalties in a row. It was just a training session, and few watched what was happening on the field of the Ibirapuera stadium, in São Paulo. But the comments were ironic.

“Is old.”

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“Only knows how to parade in the United States.”

“Xuxa is on the phone!”

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The other players gestured to the few present to stop it immediately.

“That was disrespectful”, considered the current coach Paulo Cesar Carpegiani.

After training, on the morning of Saturday, January 3, 1987, Pelé said he did not hear anything that was said.

Just over 24 hours later, the King of football, aged 46, would play the last match of his life in front of the Brazilian crowd. He left the field satisfied, believing that he had not disappointed those who left home to see him. But he didn’t score a goal in the 3-0 victory of the Brazilian masters team over Italy, in the opening of the Pelé Cup.

“We couldn’t believe it when he arrived at the hotel. And it was the same Pelé as always. That friendliness and humility, talking to everyone. Nobody had much faith that he was going to participate, but he was there. Even tired, he went to train a day before the match and then he played. And he played a lot!”, recalls Dario, Dadá Maravilha, scorer of one of the goals.

Copa Pelé was born as a result of the creation of an unofficial Brazilian team of veterans. The team belonged to Luqui, a company that had the narrator Luciano do Valle (1947-2014) as a partner. The matches, always friendly, were usually held on Sundays and broadcast live by Bandeirantes on Show do Esporte, a program that lasted about eight hours.

In 1986, the idea arose to hold a tournament with selections from all world champion countries until then: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Germany, Italy and England. During the competition, in January of the following year, the delegations stayed at the Hotel Maksoud Plaza, in the central region of the capital.

“When we arrived for training, I saw the amount of journalists present [por causa de Pelé]. So yes, I felt like a coach for the Brazilian national team,” said Luciano do Valle, in an interview with ESPN Brasil’s Bola da Vez program.

According to the narrator and manager, Pelé refused to play at first. He authorized only his name to baptize the competition. Only days later did he change his mind. He hadn’t played in Brazil since a friendly match in Goiânia, in 1983, to collect donations for drought victims in the Northeast. He had retired from football with the New York Cosmos in 1977.

Pelé arrived the day before the game against Italy because he had been honored that same week in New Orleans, in the United States. Luciano do Valle remembered asking the King to go rest, but he replied that he would train. The first question he asked was: in that selection, what would you play for?

“Whatever you want, dammit!” was the coach’s response.

“I had to tell Pelé that I would play wherever I wanted. Go back to the defense, take the ball, go on the attack. Whatever I wanted”, said Rivellino, until then the biggest name in the squad.

The news of the presence of the King of football surprised the other teams. The Italy players spent the day discussing who would mark him. Several wanted that privilege. Tickets for the match, at the Pacaembu stadium, were sold out.

“It was the chance I had to play alongside Pelé for the national team. I played in three World Cups, but I played very little”, recalled left winger Edu, present in the campaigns of 1966, 1970 and 1974, believing that that match was , despite his retirement as a professional, a response to those who didn’t give him more chances at Worlds.

“I’m dying to play alongside him. Just talking to him makes me emotional”, said right-winger Cafuringa, to the Sheetin season.

After training at Ibirapuera, what Pelé did most was talk about politics. He expressed support for the government of then-President José Sarney, “the first to try to do something for the country without demagoguery.” He also complained about corruption.

In the last 90 minutes of his life on Brazilian pitches, he touched the ball 77 times. He had chances to score, but that didn’t happen because of goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi, the same one who faced him in the 1970 Cup final.

Even without scoring, he starred in the most beautiful move of the match, stealing the ball from Albertosi and correcting a bicycle, invalidated by the referee, who considered that there was a foul on the goalkeeper.

Pelé left the field considering that the rain had made the pitch very heavy and that that had messed up what could be shown. He also left in the air the possibility of participating in the second round, when Brazil would face Uruguay, in Vila Belmiro. He assured that the matter was not decided.

Just over 24 hours later, he announced that he would not be playing due to “personal problems.”

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