When 'infantile' Pele took Sweden by storm - Despite many believing he was too young, coach Feola picked him for 1958 finals
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- Published 5.05.06
Paris: If anyone had paid attention to Dr Joao Carvalhaes, the world would have been made to wait before it was treated to the genius of Pele.
“Pele,” Dr Carvalhaes wrote in 1958, “is obviously infantile. He lacks fighting spirit. He is too young to feel aggressions and react in an adequate fashion.
“Beyond this he does not have the sense of responsibility necessary for team spirit,” the Brazilian team psychologist added, counselling against coach Vicente Feola giving the boy wonder a game.
Luckily for Pele, Feola discarded the diagnosis of Dr Carvalhaes and gave the youngster his first start in the Brazilians’ third match of the tournament against the Soviet Union.
The rest was history.
Pele played in all of Brazil’s remaining matches, finishing with six goals in four matches as the South Americans secured their first World Cup.
For Pele, still only 17 and earning the princely sum of $15 a month with Santos, the roller coaster ride to stardom had begun little more than a year earlier, when he impressed during an exhibition tournament at the Maracana Stadium in June 1957.
Shortly after that he was handed his first cap for Brazil in two back-to-back friendlies against Argentina. Though he scored in both games, debate still raged as to whether he should be part of Brazil’s squad for the 1958 World Cup assault.
Many believed he was too young, that he should be left to mature and fill out properly in time for the 1962 finals. Others, Brazilian federation boss Joao Havelange among them, believed Pele simply had to go to Sweden.
In the event Feola followed his instincts and picked the teenager.
Yet a knee injury sustained during Brazil’s final practice match before they headed off to Europe threatened to ruin Pele’s chances of playing.
Still injured when he arrived in Europe, the state of Pele’s wrenched knee became a cause for acute concern within the Brazilian camp when it failed to heal in time.
With the selflessness that was to characterise his career, Pele offered to return home to Brazil in order to allow a fully fit player to take his place.
The medical staff were having none of it though, prescribing the ultra-sophisticated remedy of boiling hot towels wrapped tightly around Pele’s knee as a quick cure.
By the time of Brazil’s match against the Soviet Union, Pele’s knee was strong enough to risk. He failed to score, but set up a goal for Vava with a mesmerising dribble.
He got stronger with every game, scoring the winner in a 1-0 quarter final win over Wales before adding a hattrick in the 5-2 defeat of France in the semi-finals.
Saving his best for last, Pele added two more goals in the final over Sweden, one a flick over the Swedish defence, the other a perfectly timed header. At the final whistle Pele collapsed before being quickly hoisted aloft by his fellow players.
“I was lifted onto the shoulders of my teammates and carried around the field... Tears streamed down my face. Gilmar looked up and smiled, saying ‘go ahead and cry, kid, it’s good for you’.”