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Last Updated: Monday, 8 March, 2004, 09:39 GMT
Pele pays price for popularity
By Tim Vickery

Brazil legend Pele
Pele has worked hard to cultivate his image
Pele is usually presented as the smiling king of football, the happy guardian of the soul of the beautiful game.

It is a lovely image, which people like and which does no harm.

But it could not possibly be the whole truth. Like anyone who has pushed himself to the limit in pursuit of greatness, Pele is much more complex than any cardboard cut out.

A huge part of the Pele story, both in his playing days and since, is the drive for financial security.

It is undeniable - and thoroughly understandable.

His father was a promising footballer - whose dreams were wrecked by injury.

It plunged the family into poverty, with little hope of social mobility.

And it turned his mother dead against the idea that her son should make his living from the game.

What was the point, if you were only ever one bad tackle away from the scrapheap?

A steady job was far better. Pele overcame fierce maternal resistance to turn professional with Santos.

But he never forgot the precarious nature of his profession, and his mother's insistence on financial security was seldom far from his mind.

There were hours of dedication spent turning himself into a football machine. He could not afford to miss his opportunity.

It helps explain the distinction he still makes between Edson - his real name - and Pele, his footballing nickname.

He is an Edson who through hard work and sacrifice made himself a Pele.

He had an agent when he was still 18. He has subsequently complained about being ripped off.

But the mere fact of having an agent is extraordinary and revealing.

Santos of Brazil
Pele only played for Santos in Brazil

This was a time when some of the biggest names in Brazilian football were signing blank contracts and allowing the clubs to fill in the terms afterwards.

Brazilian football gave him a good living, and until he retired in 1974 Pele had only played professionally for Santos and for the national team.

So started a new phase in his life, with the old desire for financial security still burning deep inside.

Only from now on more of his income would come from abroad.

Pele signed a publicity contract with a North American soft drinks giant, and then returned to action with the New York Cosmos.

In recent years he has spent much of his time travelling the world representing his multi-national sponsors.

Playing to the international audience can at times get him in trouble back at home.

Pele claims, for example, that he refused to play in the 1974 World Cup as a protest against the military dictatorship that ruled his country at the time.

It is lapped up by the foreign press, but given scant credibility in Brazil.

Italy's Roberto Rosato challenges Brazil's Tostao
Brazil's Tostao does not feature in Pele's list of greats

Now he has truly ruffled feathers back home with his list of great players which, until a last minute adjustment, contained more names from France and Italy than Brazil.

Pele's list was clearly an attempt to placate the likes of South Korea, Japan and the Unites States - at the expense of his former team-mates.

Following the outcry places were found for Nilton Santos (known in Brazil as 'the Encyclopedia of Football') and Rivellino.

But in its original conception, the list only included two players who had lined up alongside Pele for Santos or Brazil - both of them right-backs.

Plenty of greats - Zito, Gerson, Tostao and others - have been overlooked.

Is this just the result of pressures to include names from all around the world, or is there something more?

Perhaps Pele is responding to one of the arguments used to push the claims of Diego Maradona as the world's greatest player - that Maradona won the World Cup on his own while Pele was surrounded by a gallery of greats.

Pele would seem to disagree.

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