Friday, August 20, 2021


I recently watched a documentary on Netflix about Pelé, the legendary Brazilian footballer.

Pelé is perhaps the greatest player of all time, but certainly the greatest player of his generation. The documentary circles around his four World Cups and his importance at a time when Brazilian society was undergoing profound changes, with modernization and the wake of a dictatorship. The documentary dwells relatively much on the dictatorship, with an implicit criticism of Pelé never taking a clear stand against the dictatorship. Pelé at no time appears to be much interested in politics, and the issue remains relevant to this day: what can or should we expect from footballers, who have been thrown into an unlikely fame for the mere fact of kicking a ball. At the same time the documentary also shows how Pelé transcended football, becoming a world-wide super-star that symbolized and represented Brazil beyond all the political upheavals.

Pelé actually describes himself as an average guy that happened to be good at kicking a ball, and his enormous humility is extremely likeable, but it also borders on boring for a documentary about such a nice guy outside the pitch.

The footballing part is both the most relevant and interesting part of the tournament, and Pelé crying when he recalls the finals of 1958 and 1970 truly shows how much football and the finals meant for him. The interviews with many of his teammates such as Mario Zagallo, Jairzinho or Clodoaldo, also gives weight to Pelé as not only a great player, but also a great friend. At the same time I think that the very interesting stories behind the Brazilian team in each World Cup (including the 1966 World Cup, when opposing teams violently struck down on Pelé's brilliance) could have benefited greatly from including some of the opponents, in particular defenders and goalkeepers who had to struggle with a player of a quality that was almost unseen back then.

In the end the documentary is great for anyone interested in football history, and the focus of Pelé, who remains a legend among legends in international football, but the documentary could have been better.

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