California Observer

Pelé: How the Brazillian icon touched Africa

Image Source: Marca

Pelé was one of the first young black athletes to become a TV icon, earning the admiration and adoration of Africans all over the continent.

As decolonization movements swept across Africa in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Pelé was invited to play friendly games with his club Santos FC and the Brazilian national team by newly independent countries.

Pelé stated in his autobiography that the years that followed, as well as his recurrent journeys to Africa, “changed not just how I saw the world, but also how the world saw me.”

Guilherme Nascimento, who wrote the Almanac of FC Santos, was right when he said that the African voyages were “so full of legends that there is no clear line between fact and legend.”

For example, his time in Algeria was like something out of a movie.

The 24-year-old arrived in 1965 when Gillo Pontecorvo was filming the Battle of Algiers.

So, it was normal to see battle tanks going from downtown Algiers to the Casbah.

Algeria’s President Ahmed Ben Bella, crazy about football, has set up two friendly games for the event, one on June 15 in Oran and another four days later in Algiers.

But on June 17, Houari Boumediene, Ben Bella’s Minister of Defense, led a coup that got rid of the president and stopped the second match.

Some well-known journalists and historians think that Boumediene used the fuss over Pele’s visit to distract people from his revolution.

Pele’s trips to Morocco were much less exciting, but they were still memorable.

During the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, he was said to have said nice things about the Moroccan team. As a result, Morocco was the first African country to qualify for a World Cup since Egypt in 1934.

On another occasion, he was accused of talking about Larbi Ben Barek, a Moroccan player who played for Olympique de Marseille and Atletico Madrid.

Six bottle caps to see Pelé live

Pele’s trips to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also legendary.

On both trips, he was said to have made the country where he was staying more peaceful.

From 1967 to 1970, there was a civil war in Nigeria, but when Pele went there in 1969 to play a friendly game against the Nigerian national team, there were rumors of a 48-hour truce.

In his book, Pelé admitted, “I’m not sure it’s all true.”

“But the Nigerians made sure that the Biafrans didn’t attack Lagos while we were there,” he said, remembering that there were a lot of soldiers there. The rebels in Biafra were at least 500 km (310 miles) away, and the army was pushing them back, so that would never happen.

By 1976, the American soft drink company Pepsi had used Pelé’s fame on the African continent to its advantage and paid for the retired star’s trip to Kenya and Uganda.

There, “The King” was able to get the word out about the drink while teaching young football players from both countries at several clinics.

In Kenya, adults had to bring six bottlecaps of soft drinks to get into the venue, and kids had to bring three.

Pelé has traveled to Mozambique, Egypt, Sudan, Senegal, and Ghana.

Pelé’s image meant a lot to aspire football players all over Africa, even when he wasn’t there.

“When I got to Europe, the only African stars I could see were Pelé, Mohamed Ali, and Eusébio,” said Salif Keita, a former Malian player.

One of Ghana’s best footballers, Abedi “Pele” Ayew, was named after the famous Brazilian player.

He told the BBC, “His greatness was a huge source of inspiration for me. To be compared to him and bear his famous name throughout my playing career and beyond is an extraordinary honor and a priceless privilege.”

Pelé has always pushed African players to improve at Fifa World Cup games.

In the mid-1970s, he predicted that an African team would win the tournament before the year 2000. This prediction is always talked about before each tournament.

It makes sense that his last social media post was to congratulate Morocco on its historic win at the World Cup in Qatar.

His fame is undeniable, and his influence around the world says a lot more about him than his race or country of origin.

Read Also: Pele: Football icon dies aged 82

But for Brazil’s black people, it’s important to hear those words. A lot. And they show a shift in thinking that has gone on on for decades and in which Pelé was a key player.

Because Pelé became a national treasure in a country where there was a long history of slavery and fighting.

People often called him “monkey” on the field and gave him other racial nicknames. He once said that if a monkey had made him stop every game, he would have had to stop them all.

Angelica Basthi, who wrote his biography, says that he gave black people a place and a voice in Brazilian football. Still, he never took part in the fight against racism in a direct way.

Opinions expressed by California Observer contributors are their own.

Opinions expressed by California Observer contributors are their own.