Ahead of Tuesday’s burial of football’s indisputable King, Edson Arantes dos Nascimento, popularly known as Pele, President of Nigeria Football Federation, Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gusau has described the potentate’s contributions to football as ineffable.
King Pele, who won three FIFA World Cup titles and scored a total of 1,279 goals in 1,363 games, died on Thursday in a hospital in São Paulo, Brazil and his remains will be interred on Tuesday.
“I have read so many condolence messages and tributes to the man since he left us, but the truth is that Pele’s contributions to the game of football are ineffable. He did so many things to raise the profile and scale of the game and each and everyone of us can only say a little of what he did.
“I remember that he came to Nigeria five times and identified strongly with black people all over the world. He was a universal figure yet he remained humble, likeable and approachable. With his skill and talent, he took the game of football to a totally different level, captivated global audiences and gave joy to billions. May his soul rest in peace.”
Pele’s first visit to Nigeria was in January 1969, during which his Brazilian club Santos FC played a friendly with a Nigeria XI that ended 2-2, and then returned in February 1969 for a Santos FC Vs Midwestern XI friendly courtesy of then Military Administrator of Midwestern State, Colonel Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, who sponsored the return of the club from a tour of East Africa to the tune of £6,000. The match at then Ogbe Stadium ended in a 2-1 win for Santos.
‘The Greatest’ made another stop in Nigeria in 1976 on a tour sponsored by Pepsi Cola, and again in 1978 on another sponsored tour that included another Brazilian club, Fluminense. His last trip to Nigeria was in October 2000, when he met with then Nigeria Minister of Sports, Damishi Tonson Sango.
Gusau admonished that Pele’s life, his humility and humanity should serve as lessons to football players and football leaders worldwide. “Pele was a universal billboard for magnificence, yet that did not make him arrogant. One can be a stellar talent without looking down on others, and one can accomplish so much without any of these getting into your head.”
Named after the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison, Pele himself can be credited with ‘inventing’ what he called ‘the beautiful game’ and served several humanitarian causes including as Goodwill Ambassador for UNESCO and UNICEF Ambassador. In 1997, King Pele received a honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II (also of blessed memory).