Pelé documentary to hit Netflix next Thursday

A Netflix documentary about Pel is coming to Netflix on Thursday.

THERES no debate about it.

Forget all this GOAT nonsense that the Yanks came up with.

Such arguments are always pointless and impossible to resolve.

Really, there are very few certainties in sport but one of them does concern Pel.

Its beyond dispute that hes the greatest footballer weve never really seen.

Think about it: have you ever watched a full game in which he played? And the clash with the Germans in Escape to Victory doesnt count...

This is a man who played as a professional from 15, who was an international footballer at 16.

His total of 1,279 goals in 1,363 games, which included friendlies, is a record that sends jaws dropping.

Pele Pel won three world cups with Brazil

But Pels club goals came in the Brazilian league with Santos and, in the twilight of his career, with New York Cosmos in the NASL.

So it wasnt like it is now - where we can see every move and shimmy made by Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo or Kylian Mbapp.

Unless youre over 60, you would have no real memory of Pel at all.

And those memories would be exclusively centred on the three World Cups that he won with Brazil.

It should be remembered too that he was injured in the second game of the 1962 tournament and didnt play afterwards.

Really, Brazils majestic triumph in 1970 is what most base their opinion of Pel on.

Thats why a new documentary on the Brazilian on Netflix from next Tuesday is so welcome.

Its well past time that some flesh was put on the bones of the legend.

Stick Pels name into Google and you will get video clips of his footballing pomp but youll also have to plough through his endless endorsements for everything from Viagra to Mastercard to QVC to his own chain of coffee shops.

Pele is a high-profile ambassador for UNESCO and he is very much an establishment figure, being wheeled out by FIFA at glittering functions on a regular basis.

There is no shortage of footage of him suited and booted, meeting and greeting the great and good.
That never sat well with the late Diego Maradona.

For years, they were at each others throats.

Maradona always revelled in his outsider image, Pel was seen by him as too cosy with those in power.

Diego Maradona Maradona and Pel were said to be at eachother's throats for years (Image: Publicity Picture)

And there is a moment in the new documentary that steers us into uncomfortable, disquieting terrain.
Its the mid-60s and Pel is now a national institution in Brazil.

But a military coup in 1964 leads to a dictatorship and a bleak period of state-sanctioned violence and torture.
There were many who wanted Pele to speak out, to be a voice for resistance.

Instead, he kept mum. He played football, he said nothing.

Pel wanted to be nice and saw the good in everyone and thought that to be seen as part of the establishment is a positive thing, said Ben Nichols, co-director of the film with David Tryhorn.

However in the mid-60s, the world started to change, and you started to see figures like Muhammad Ali really challenging the establishmentPel, at that point, doesnt quite know how to adapt to that world.

Pele defends his inaction by stating that he did more for his country as a soccer player than as a politician.
Former teammate Paulo Cezar Lima - aka Caju - doesnt forgive him for not taking a stand.

I love Pele but that wont stop me criticising him. I thought his behaviour was that of a black man who says yes sir, said Caju.

A submissive black man. Its a criticism I hold against him until this day, because just one statement from Pele would have gone a long way.


He is 80 now and there is a poignancy to seeing him in a wheelchair as health issues have left him often struggling to walk.

It adds a sadness to the footage of him in his prime, gliding around the pitch, moving with a grace that was undeniable.

It was something the late Irish athlete Jerry Kiernan once told this writer during a chat in a coffee shop a decade ago.

Kiernan was as passionate about soccer as running, and his thoughts turned to the great Brazilian.

The thing about Pel was that he was a brilliant athlete before he was a footballer. He was an athlete first and a footballer second.

We see that in the documentary, but we dont see enough of it.

The film follows the familiar pattern of Netflix docs. Carefully chosen music, talking heads, a dollop of politics, slow motion montages.

But were left wanting more. The film concentrates on Pel at the World Cup, and the tournament was the making of him.

Wed like to go deeper, though. Like to see more of him in his prime with Santos, like to see him probed about his decision never to challenge himself in one of the big leagues in Europe.

After all, Pel was just 30 when he won his third World Cup. It would have been fascinating to see if he could have had an Indian summer in Spain or Italy or Germany - or even England.

Pel World Cup 1998 AFP PHOTO Brasilian soccer legend Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, better known as Pel (L), greets Michel Platini, co-president of the French World Cup Organization Committee, during a ceremony at the foreign ministry, 12 March in Brasilia. AFP/G rard FOUET Le Br silien Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, plus connu sous le nom de Pel (L), accueille Michel Platini, co-pr sident du Comit fran ais d'organisation de la Coupe du monde de football, lors d'une c r monie au minist re des Affaires Etrang res, le 12 mars Brasilia. AFP/G rard FOUET

Pel went to the 1958 World Cup in Sweden at just 17, and his performances as Brazil went all the way turned him into a global superstar.

Adulation followed him everywhere and its hardly a secret that Pel did not show the same faithfulness to everyone in his life as he did to his club Santos.

At one point in the film, a journalist asks Pel whether he found it difficult to remain faithful to Rosmeri with the amount of women flirting with him.

In all honesty, it was, he said, Ive had a few affairs, some of which resulted in children, but I only learned about them later. My first wife knew all about it, I never lied to anyone.

He made the most of his wholesome image and there is much about God and faith in his many autobiographies.

But this film does show some of the cracks in the carefully prepared facade.

It is an important film because it shows Pels significance as the first celebrated black person in Brazil.
It is helped too by bringing someone like musician Gilberto Gil in the mix.

He was a contemporary of Pel, and his music added to the growth of Brazilian consciousness.

This is a film that is watchable, but it leaves you wanting much more.

Maybe thats a reflection of its subject. He never had the madness of Maradona. And, sometimes, you need the madness.

Pelstarts streaming on Netflix from Thurday.