In Search Of The Perfect Goal: A Tribute To Pele

Dave GooderhamCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2009

The last book I purchased was Pele - My Life In Pictures and for me it brought my love of football full circle.

Never mind that the £30 book, full to the rafters with rare photographs and memorabilia, was a credit crunch-busting £7.50. Who said the pound was flagging?

It was Edson Arantes do Nascimento who first really attracted me to what he once described as “the beautiful game”.

As an impressionable youngster, it wasn’t the personal accolades nor the fact that he won three World Cup winning medals—even if one of those was just as a bit part player in Chile. For me, it was his mystical love of scoring that one perfect goal by a player who was as close to perfection as the game has seen.

Like a scene from The Wonder Years, I can close my eyes and have childhood flashbacks to his shot from the halfway line or the way he mesmerised an opposition goalkeeper by allowing the ball to go one way while he darted another.

Perhaps the fact that, on both occasions, the ball sailed agonisingly wide strangely made the moment even more special.

Lovers of Diego Maradona will argue that he was as good as Pele and that he managed to score that illusive special goal.

But at the time of Pele‘s peak, there was barely anyone who had the audacity and skill to shoot from the halfway line, let alone dream of actually beating a baffled keeper. The likes of David Beckham and Xabi Alonso might never have dared to shoot from such distance had they not seen Pele’s performances in the 1970 World Cup.

The entire Brazilian side, led by their talisman, set a benchmark that others would dream of following in years to come. Some players have got close - Maradona and George Best spring to mind—but as a complete package, and a darn nice person to boot, none have matched Pele's achievements.

Pele obviously came to the world’s attention 12 years previous in 1958 but the grainy images from Sweden do little to justify his youthful talents. What you couldn’t always see on archive footage was clearly witnessed by opponents who brutally ensured Brazil’s No. 10 would make little impact in the 1962 tournament and then again in England in 1966—though that obviously turned out quite well for the home nation.

It was left to the blistering heat in Mexico for Pele to shine as bright as the sun alongside such glittering team mates as Jairzinho, Tostao and Rivelino.

The culmination of these talents came in the final when Brazil demolished Italy 4-1—a perfect performance fittingly capped by Carlos Alberto’s final goal, coming from a spellbinding team move and Pele’s final cushioned pass.

This devotion to Pele saw me ignore his occasional temperamental flash of petulance and buy every book and video about the great man—even the one, I’m embarrassed to admit, where he attempted to make you become a better player against a cheesy musical backdrop.

All these memories and many more came flooding back as I opened the sturdy cardboard casing of his latest literature, revelling in the dozens of rare photographs.

Pele had his flaws but in football, where many current stars are more likely to exit prison or enter rehab, there is a lot to be said for such heroic status.