The Players’ Tribune recently published Pelé’s “Letter to My Younger Self,” a powerful piece that shines light on the Brazilian legend’s path to fútbol prominence. From his time as “The Shoeless One” to lying about a mango he stole from Donna Maria’s tree across the street and much more, you simply don’t want to miss it.
“You do not have the money to buy a real ball,” Pelé tells himself. “This is why you must never forget the socks. There is very little money in the family. So, you make a ball by stuffing old newspapers inside socks… The ball, it’s not always round. But that’s O.K.”
Pelé writes of his father, “a competitive man” who once scored five headers in a game; “When you score your 1,000th goal at the Maracanã,” he recounts, “it will be a penalty kick, and the entire world will stop for one moment to watch… You will receive a trophy. There will be many photographs. This will go down in the history books. During the celebration, your father will whisper to you, “I have scored five headers in one game, but have you?”
The star also tells of the single moment of beauty that stands above the rest over the course of his illustrious career: Brazil vs. Colombia, 1968.
“During the match, your teammate Coutinho and a Colombian player start to fight. Many players will run over to try to stop the fight. When things have calmed down, the referee will give you the red card… You leave the pitch in anger and walk to the locker room. Then, when you take off your boots, you start to hear noise. The crowd is yelling about something.”
“This is the first and only time in your life that you will see something like this,” he continues. “The Colombian crowd has seen the mistake. They are chanting for Pelé to come back. The referee who makes the mistake is substituted with a new referee. Never in football do they take the referee out and let the player return to the pitch.”
Pelé ends his letter on a somber note, stating that there’s another thing he wants himself to pray for every night: “This is more difficult to explain. In Brazil, the people are beautiful. We have amazing food, music, culture. But we have many problems. There is crime and poverty. Yes, even to this day when I write to you, Edson, our country still suffers. You must pray to God: Please make things better in Brazil.”
This – of course – is particularly pertinent in connection to the country’s current crisis ahead of Rio 2016. To read the hero’s letter in full, check here.