SuperSport viewers on DStv and GOtv will be counting down the days to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, with the tournament set to run from 21 November to 18 December and provide the most thrilling distillation of ‘The Beautiful Game’.
The debate over who is the best football player of all time has been around as long as the game itself and will continue to rage on as long as this great sport continues to thrive and build new legends.
But for many people there is only one true king of football: Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known as Pele. The Brazilian forward embodied all that was great and glorious about football, and his crowning moment arrived at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
The then 29-year-old was the spearhead of a Brazil team that is regarded as perhaps the greatest ever assembled, and they swept to a third World Cup title in four tournaments by playing some of the most stylish attacking football our planet has ever witnessed.
The first World Cup broadcast in colour also had a goals-per-game average that has not been bettered since, and was capped off by a thrilling performance in the final which saw Brazil – set on their path by an opening goal from Pele, of course – crush Italy 4-1 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City in front of over 100,000 spectators.
“I told myself before the game, ‘He’s made of skin and bones just like everyone else’. But I was wrong,” said Tarcisio Burgnich, the Italy defender who marked Pele in the final.
The triumph, which saw Pele become the first and thus far only man to win three World Cup titles as a player, firmly established the Brazilian as the greatest player of his time – and perhaps all time, depending on your point of view.
“I think Pele was better than all of them. For me, there’s no comparison. He didn’t have one defect,” said Pele’s 1970 teammate Tostao, who scored twice in the tournament.
“[Diego] Maradona was spectacular, but he wasn’t on Pele’s level physically, he didn’t score the numbers of goals Pele did.
“[Lionel] Messi’s spectacular, but he doesn’t head the ball like Pele did, he doesn’t shoot as well with both feet, he doesn’t pull off the moves that Pele did.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is an exceptional player, but he doesn’t have the ability that Pele had and he doesn’t pull off the incredible passes that Pele did.
“If you take the qualities of Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, put them together, then you’d have a player to compare to Pele.”
If that last sentence is true, then there is surely no doubt: Pele stands alone as the Beautiful Game’s one true king.