Pele in Africa: A Legendary Football Icon’s Impact on the Continent

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How the Brazilian Football Legend Became a Hero on the Continent?

Pele, the Brazilian football superstar, became a legendary figure in Africa during the 1950s and 1960s. He was one of the very first young black sporting superstars of the television era and drew the love and affection of Africans across the continent. Pelé’s visits to Africa were significant, and newly independent countries invited him to play in prestigious friendlies with his club Santos FC and the Brazilian national team. Pelé’s repeated trips to Africa changed the way the world perceived him and his view of the world.

“Every time I watch African teams playing, I see new things, things I didn’t even think were possible. African players have a passion for the game that you don’t see anywhere else in the world. It’s this passion, this joy, this love of football that sets them apart.” –Pele

Legends and Lore: Pele’s Memorable Trips to Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria   

The author of the Almanac of FC Santos, Guilherme Nascimento, pointed out that Pelé’s African trips were full of stories and legends. His time in Algeria was especially exciting, as he arrived while the film director Gillo Pontecorvo was shooting The Battle of Algiers. Algeria’s President Ahmed Ben Bella scheduled two friendly matches for the occasion, but the second match was canceled due to a coup d’etat by Ben Bella’s own Minister of Defence Houari Boumediene. Some journalists and historians believe that Boumediene may have used the commotion around Pele’s arrival as a distraction to carry out his coup.

“Pele, Dikembe Mutombo, and david robinson” by Around the rings1992 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Pele’s visits to Morocco were less tumultuous, but he still left a significant impact. It was said that he had kind words for the Moroccan delegation at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, as they were the first African nation to have qualified for a World Cup since Egypt in 1934. On another trip, he spoke about Larbi Ben Barek, a Moroccan contemporary of his, who played for Olympique de Marseille and Atletico Madrid, allegedly declaring that Ben Barek is the god of football.

Pele’s visits to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo also became shrouded in lore, with claims that he instilled peace in the countries hosting him. During his 1969 visit to Nigeria, when the Nigerian Civil War was raging, there were claims that a 48-hour ceasefire had been declared for his exhibition match versus the Nigerian national team. Pele recalled a huge military presence, saying that the Nigerians made sure the Biafrans wouldn’t invade Lagos while he was there. His East African trip to Kenya and Uganda, sponsored by Pepsi in 1976, was also successful, as he marketed the beverage and ran football camps for young players. In Kenya, fans gained admission to the venue by presenting six bottlecaps of the soft drink.

FIFA World Cup tournaments – the prophecy by Pele

Pelé has always been an advocate for Africa’s progress at FIFA World Cup tournaments.
Before every tournament, people still discuss his remarkable forecast from the mid-1970s, in which he predicted that an African team would win the championship before the year 2000.

Interestingly, his ultimate social media message was a brief note of commendation for Morocco’s historic World Cup performance in Qatar, which was very appropriate.

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