Celebrating the Over-celebrated
August 20, 2010 12:19 AM   Subscribe

It's Pelé Week on The Run of Play. Following some public spats between Maradona and Pelé (previously) at the recently concluded World Cup, Brian Phillips of The Run of Play (previously featured) observed that "it's bizarrely hard to care about [Pelé]", despite his unquestioned legendariness and unimpeachable skill with a football. But why? He and other writers attempt to address that question.

Announcing Pelé Week: "I’m convinced that this sad neglect of Pelé has to end."

Is Pelé underrated?: "He may be the only player in history who was ever lost by being so completely found."

Seeing: "In Brazil, I think, they can see [Pelé] because his eternal counterpart Garrincha creates parallax, binocular vision, depth of field... For the rest of the world he stands simply alone, an ever-singular figure: the King, yes, but without the accompanying and contrasting Joy."

The End: "It’s as if he’s always due the honor of being treated as the center of the occasion, even when he isn’t; he just has to smile and wave. And that’s part of the problem, too."

Stepchild of Time: "Maybe Pelé is blessed with the fate of all origin myths, to be simultaneously ubiquitous and unrecognisable... Perhaps that’s what it really means to stand outside history."

Louis Vuitton and the Eternal Champion: "Pelé, Maradona and Zidane all had defects, none were anything special defensively, for instance, but if they had been that might actually have sullied them. (The ad.)

The Best, The Best, and The Best: "[George Best's] impact was enormous, and can only be judged in criteria which can’t be quantified, such as the extraordinary interest and affection he attracted even while repeating descending into disgrace, which of course Pelé would never do." George Best, previously.

The Synonym: "It’s as if Pelé as a person ceased to exist, what remains is a walking icon, the institute Edison Arantes do Nascimento. He even talks about the player he used to be in the third person, as if the man who did those wonderful things no longer exists."

Pelé vs. The Animals: "Why do you watch ESPN instead of Animal Planet?"
posted by WalterMitty (9 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh cool. I'd been thinking of doing a post on this series.

But you forgot to mention that the Louis Vuitton piece was by Metafilter's Own Kattullus!
posted by asterix at 12:35 AM on August 20, 2010

It was? I didn't realise! Certainly I would've mentioned it if I'd known.
posted by WalterMitty at 12:42 AM on August 20, 2010

Possibly a little, but not when you compare him to someone like Magico Gonzalez who is seriously underrated - if Pele had scored any of Magico's best ten goals we'd all know it off by heart.

When Maradona was playing for Barcelona he was asked if he thought he was the best player in the world, in rare moment of self-deprecation he replied that he couldn't be because he wasn't even the best player in Spain, Jorge "Magico' Gonzalez was (the clips could be better edited and some of the best goals are towards the end. It's also worth noting that he's playing for a lesser team whilst he dances through the defences of Barca and Real Madrid).

Magico was from El Salvador and played in Spain for Cadiz. He was perpetually linked to a big money move to Barca or Real Madrid, but his continuous partying overshadowed his talent: he frequently missed training and sometimes games, eventually ending up on a pay-per-play contract.

Whether or not Magico was 'better' than Maradona is debatable, however, he is definitely underrated.
posted by johnny novak at 4:03 AM on August 20, 2010

The thing about Pele is that his style is so hard to imitate. For one, you need a specific body type to pull of moving around that low to the ground and for it to be helpful. He actually reminds me in some ways of the way that Stacy Peralta (I think he was the one. The Z-boy.) used to skate, planting a hand as a pivot on flat land and sort of swooping around. Nobody does that.

On top of that, his major contributions were never primarily of the flashy, quantifiable variety. He knew what was happening everywhere on the field, and he was able to set up plays from half a dozen moves back. So, what looked like a simple cross from midfield might really have been a well timed feint, meant to stretch and draw the defenders' attention away from who he knew would be in position a few seconds later to take advantage.

He's underrated because there are so few fans, even internationally, who can watch at the level that he played at. This is also why this last cup's final was widely regarded as a boring game because the whole thing took place at the micro-tactical level, each team struggling to play four steps ahead instead of three.
posted by cmoj at 9:28 AM on August 20, 2010

I thought for sure my piece about Pelé, Maradona and Zidane considered in the light of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion sequence was going to be the geekiest thing written about football ever, but in the post prior to mine Pelé gets likened to Tom Bombadil. Geeking out is good, being outgeeked is even better.
posted by Kattullus at 10:36 AM on August 20, 2010

Katullus, I like the idea of the Eternal Champion as a footballer. Not always present, but recognised universally as the Champion on those occasions when he appears. I would, though, dispute your exclusion of Cruyff on the basis that he never won a World Cup, although I can see the necessity if you're being strictly true to the metaphor. He was certainly recognised as the World's Best Player for a longer period than Zizou, and arguably exceeded his contemporaries to a greater degree.
I can't help but compare Cruyff in the 1974 final with Maradona in the '86 final. Both playing Germany, both tied after having taken the lead. Maradona plays a great ball through to Burruchaga who makes it 3-2 Argentina, and they hold on to win. Cruyff draws Beckenbauer, and plays in Johnny Rep, who fails to score. Holland go on to lose, and Cruyff is denied his place in the pantheon. It seems ungenerous to award or withhold greatness on the failings of the mortals who surround the Champion.
posted by Jakey at 11:34 AM on August 20, 2010

The difference in my mind between Maradona and Cruyff is that the 74 Dutch team were full of great players playing a revolutionary system, the 86 Argentina team consisted of Maradona and not a great deal else. Maradona pretty much won that World Cup on his own. In other words Cruyff was the greatest player in a great team; Maradona was the Eternal Champion.
posted by johnny novak at 12:41 PM on August 20, 2010

Yeah, the 1978 Dutch team did just as well as the 1974 team without Cruyff and, in fact, came a lot closer to winning. The same can be used as a knock on Pelé as well, who played only in the first two games of the 1962 World Cup before being sidelined with a thigh injury and his teammates did just fine without him. On the other hand, after Pelé retired in 1970 the Brazilians went through a long, long fallow period. Argentina has been lost in the World Cup wilderness since Maradona flamed out at the 1994 World Cup. Though I'd dispute that the 1986 Argentinian team was 10 doofuses and Maradona. It was a legitimately great team. Maradona was largely kept silent by Lothar Matthäus, reprising Berti Vogts' role from the 1974 final, who stuck to Cruyff like lint to carpet but his team managed to overcome the Germans. Maradona did provide the pass that led to the winning goal, however (much like Cruyff drew the penalty which supplied the opening goal in the 1974 final). That said, it was Maradona's team and he was the outstanding player of his era.
posted by Kattullus at 1:25 PM on August 20, 2010

Agreed, it wasn't a terrible Argentine team, but they didn't have players of the quality of Neeskens, Johnny Rep, Ruud Krol, etc. You can be made to look great by the greatness of the team around you, people who anticipate the pass, make the run, lay the ball off for your shot. Just watch the Magico video again and see how little help he gets. Maradona's goals in '86 against England and Belgium are like that, he turns a team game into a display of individual brilliance. He's playing a different game.
posted by johnny novak at 1:59 PM on August 20, 2010

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