"Pelé", a documentary on the magnificence and complexity of the "king" of football

Brazilian Pelé at the 1966 World Cup. Mondadori via Getty Images - Mondadori Portfolio

Text by: David Kalfa Follow

6 min

The documentary Pelé, devoted to the football legend, was put online by the Netflix platform on February 23, 2021. For 1 hour 48 minutes, it retraces the exploits but also the difficulties of the Brazilian superstar, from his youth to the 1970 World Cup.


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Pelé painfully moves with the help of a walker.

The one called the greatest footballer of all time settles with difficulty on an uncomfortable chair, in the middle of a vast dull and unadorned room.

This is where the "King" - his nickname - testifies for

this Netflix documentary

of an


story: from his modest but happy childhood to his third World Cup coronation in 1970.

At the time, I didn't want to be Pele anymore

," he slips, his face clouded with a mixture of anxiety and sadness.

I no longer wanted this role.

I prayed

: "

My God, help me, this is my last World Cup" ".

A carefree youth

A speech that contrasts with the candor of the young Edson Arantes do Nascimento, born in 1940 in the south-east of Brazil.

Times are tough, but then he is full of energy.


We were poor but we could work,

 ” explains the man whose father, an amateur footballer, does not always manage to make ends meet.

Whatever, the future Pelé shines and waxes shoes to financially help his family.

The father, who sees the full potential of his son, takes him one day to take a test at Santos FC.

The beginnings in 1957 with this club, which he will lead to the heights, are then shattering.

A few months later, Pelé was called up for the national team, then called up for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

I did not know then that there were other countries

 ", laughs the octogenarian.

A global icon

During the tournament, Pelé continues the exploits: a decisive goal in the quarterfinals against Wales, a hat-trick against France in the semi-finals, then a double against Sweden in the final.

Here he is world champion at 17.

The kid, in tears, is carried in triumph by his older partners.

He becomes the superstar that Brazil needed after the enormous failure of the 1950 World Cup at home, experienced as a national drama.

Thanks to him, the Brazilians loved each other again

 ", slips an observer.


It has become the symbol of Brazilian emancipation

 ,” adds musician Gilberto Gil.

In 1962, the euphoria was at its peak.

Even if the prodigy is injured at the start of the World Cup, the Brazilian selection retains its title.

The country itself emerges, becomes industrialized and believes in its future.

At the same time, the boom in television in Brazil accompanies a Pelé, radiant, solar.

A troubled period

But in 1964, a military coup established a dictatorship in Brazil.


Football continued as before, evacuates a Pelé, still uncomfortable today.

In any case, for me, it hasn't changed anything


The person concerned decides to keep his eyes on the ball to avoid any problem and enjoy an exceptional international reputation for the time.

However, off the field, the player is not always at the party.

His first marriage is not a success and he multiplies the infidelities, as he confesses.

In 1966, during the World Cup, he was expected at the turn in England.

Assaulted on the pitch, Pelé and the Seleçao left the competition in the first round.

Tired and worn out prematurely, the number 10 wants to put an end to his international career, at only 25 years old.

In Brazil, the situation is also getting worse.

In 1968, the dictatorship took measures further violating fundamental freedoms.

Arrests, torture and disappearances are becoming common.

Pelé prefers to stay in a bubble.

Asked in the documentary about his links with the various governments that follow one another, the former player curls up in defense, he who was then almost untouchable.

At that time, some Brazilians ended up resenting him for not taking a stand.

They draw a parallel with the American boxer Mohamed Ali, one of the other great athletes of the 20th century, who refused to fight in Vietnam.

I am absolutely certain that I have done a lot more for Brazil with my football, by being myself, than a lot of politicians paid to do it,

 " he says.

The king's return

The 1970 World Cup is approaching and Emilio Médici's dictator makes it an obsession.

Local authorities are putting pressure on Pelé to leave his reserve.

Torn, he finally accepted.

The preparation for the tournament is proving difficult, however, as he cannot get along with the hot coach João Saldanha.

Médici ends up firing the turbulent coach, who leaves his place to Mario Zagallo, Pelé's ex-teammate.

During the World Cup in Mexico, the latter saw a rebirth, multiplying the gestures of genius, while it was announced on the decline.

Shortly before a finale broadcast on mondovision, the “King” burst into tears, overwhelmed by emotion.

Against Italy, he scored with a header and his team won 4-1.

Pelé becomes the only player to have won three World Cups, a record that still stands.


The best gift a victory offers is not the trophy.

It is relief

 ”, concludes this star however in its twilight.


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