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Pele: The Autobiography

Release date: 16th May, 2006
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

List Price: £18.99
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Most of us will have recently spent time browsing through more World Cup guidebooks and supplements than we will ever have time to properly absorb. Nevertheless, while engaged in this essential, if ad hoc, pre-World Cup exercise, it is difficult not to end up being frequently captivated by the exploits of the world's biggest footballing names and to wonder whether a new iconic figure will emerge over the coming weeks.

It's warming to even consider the possibility that we could be on the verge of watching something special, capturing a moment that will be replayed time and again in future years, when we'll be able to recall how fortunate we were to witness an outstanding goal or move, or better still, a team, although few would risk putting a lot of money on the prospect.

On the eve of the 2002 World Cup, FIFA had a stab at collating these memories for football fans, selecting their 'dream team' of players who had featured in the tournament finals over the previous forty years. This randomly-selected cut-off date ensured there was no place for Puskas, Santos or Finney and for some strange reason, Brazil's Romario and Italy's Baggio made the eleven, but several names were nonetheless cemented in on merit.

Had FIFA gone back a century, one suspects that Maradona and Cruyff would still have made this select side, but there is one player about whom there is absolutely no doubt: Edson Arantes do Nascimento, otherwise known as Pel√ą.

Pele played in his first World Cup in 1958 at the age of just 17. He managed to score a hat-trick in the semi final and two more in the final against Sweden, which Brazil won. They won it again in 1962 and, perhaps most thrillingly of all, in 1970 when the finals were played in Mexico's altitude. By the time he retired, Pele had scored a phenomenal 77 goals in 92 international appearances and an incredible 1,283 goals in 1,367 games at club level. If this is not enough, one incredible statistic hits the reader between the eyes: Pele scored four goals or more in a match on no fewer than 30 occasions!

Could Argentina's Messi, England's Rooney or Portugal's Ronaldo ever hope to follow in such exalted footsteps? It is, as TV pundits are depressingly keen on saying, "a big ask."

Pele of course came from a different age, a boy whose family was so poor that he didn't wear his first pair of long trousers until he was 15. As he recounts here, his mother made them for him when he joined Santos FC, then Brazil's biggest club, where his coach and mentor Waldemar de Brito, had little hesitation telling the club's directors that he had unearthed the boy who would eventually become the world's greatest player.

Today, coaches tell their directors this all the time in order to justify paying millions for unproven talent; de Brito paid nothing for Pele.

The Pele story has been told many times by different authors of varying literary ability, but this autobiography is almost certainly the definitive tale of a man who, apart from being the world's greatest footballer, has also been a politician and sporting ambassador. For that reason alone, it is worth reading. The other is to sit back and recall memories of the Brazil side of 1970, perhaps the world's greatest-ever, a team capable of destroying opponents with a unique brand of beguiling football with the magnificent Pele at its epicentre.

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