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Paul McGrath: Pele – A humble genius and the greatest of all time

With protection given to modern stars Brazilian legend would have been even better

Brazilian legend Pelé was a true great of football. Photo: Gerard Maile/AFP via Getty Images© AFP via Getty Images

Pele (centre), is pictured prior a friendly soccer match celebrate his fiftieth birthday in Milan on October 31, 1990. Photo: Gerard Malie via Getty Images© AFP via Getty Images

Argentina's player Diego Maradona is another in contention to be labelled the greatest of all time. Photo: David Cannon/Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive© Hulton Archive

Dutch midfielder Johann Cruyff dribbles past Argentinian goalkeeper Daniel Carnevali on his way to scoring a goal during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Argentina on June, 26, 1974 in Gelsenkirchen. Cruyff scored two goals to help the Netherlands defeat Argentina 4-0. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STF/AFP via Getty Images)© AFP via Getty Images

11 August 1991 - Manchester United FC former manager Sir Matt Busby testimonial match - George Best makes a return to Old Trafford. (Photo by Mark Leech/Getty Images)© Getty Images

Paul McGrathSunday World

So now football’s attack from heaven are all in heaven.

Diego Maradona, George Best, Johan Cruyff and now Pele have left us, giving us memories to warm our hearts forever.

It was so sad to learn of Pele’s passing last Thursday evening.

Every time I’d seen a picture of him of late, he did not look well.

But you always thought that a man who fought so hard on the football pitch would be up for winning this fight too. Sadly, it was not to be.

As the only man with three World Cup medals, Pele stands alone.

He is also someone special because his greatest team, Brazil at the 1970 World Cup, was one of the rare occasions when the backing vocalists were almost as good as the lead singer.

Pele was the focus of that wonderful team but, if tactics demanded it, Jairzinho or Gerson could become the main man – and Pele would subsume himself to the need to win the match.

He was humble like that, and very clued in to evolving tactics in the game of football.

Pele instinctively knew that it did not all have to be about him.

That humility came across on the one occasion I met him, a very happy man at ease with his status as the greatest.

I read once that a special reason for his genius was that Pele had peripheral vision that far exceeded that of the average human being.

Doctors in Brazil tested his eyesight and told him afterwards that if he had been born in America, Pele would have been a brilliant American football quarterback, because his eyesight would have allowed him command the field.

Ditto with rugby, Pele could have run a team from out-half, seeing everything that was on around him.

If you don’t believe me about that, go to YouTube and look at Brazil’s famous fourth goal in the 1970 World Cup Final – when Pele plays in Carlos Alberto for the final shot.

It seems as if Pele takes a chance that Carlos Alberto will be there, for the full-back is not in camera shot when Pele plays thepass.

But Pele saw him alright, he said as much years later.

Pele (centre), is pictured prior a friendly soccer match celebrate his fiftieth birthday in Milan on October 31, 1990. Photo: Gerard Malie via Getty Images© AFP via Getty Images

Every great player is of his time, so Pele never got to do what the best South American footballers now do regularly and come to Europe.

Imagine the career Pele would have had in the modern game, playing in Champions League action every couple of weeks.

Instead we had to wait for a couple of weeks every four years to see him.

Even then, as at the 1966 World Cup in England, the rules allowed players to be kicked to pieces.

Cards were never shown, because they were introduced only in 1970, at the next World Cup.

The treatment Pele got back then would be an immediate red card now.

Every goal Pele scored, and every assist he made were hard-earned in kicks on the ankles and shins.

How rich and historical would Pele’s career have been if he had the protection of the modern attackers and the football stages on which to proclaim his genius.

Just think about this, Pele never played at Wembley.

He was unquestionably the best footballer on the planet for a dozen years – and yet he never got to play at one of the game’s most-storied cathedrals.

Yes the game has moved on, and that movement is why we can never compare the great players and say, definitely, that yes, ‘X’ was better than ‘Y’.

We can’t because the rules change, the tactics change, the diet and physical preparation changes, refereeing standards improve.

All we can say is that Pele was the best of his time and for many people, me included, that was enough to make him the best of ALL time.

Because the glorious football we can still see on grainy newsreels from the late 1950s, or from the new-fangled colour TVs of 1970, is enough to convince us that Pele was, and is, the greatest of them all.

Manchester United won’t be up for title bid for years to come

Manchester United are doing enough right now to gain ground in the Premier League table.

Are they doing enough to convince me that they will be title challengers any time or the next two or three seasons?

Not really, and I fear United are heading for a clash with reality when they play Manchester City on Saturday week.

Yes, new boss Erik ten Hag has got the team playing his way. He has dealt with the Cristiano Ronaldo issue and they are winning games, the most important currency of all in football.

But earlier in the season, City went to Molineux and blew away the home team.United needed a sub to come on and score ten minutes from the end to get the three points.

And they also required goalkeeper David de Gea to make two world-class stops to go home with the points.

It’s a bit strange to me that United are now talking about letting the Spaniard go after so many years of paying him big wages.

De Gea is playing as well as ever and to replace him, the club will have to spend big bucks on a lad who may be untried at the highest level.

It many well turn out to be just another of the many strange player personnel decisions that the Red Devils have specialised in during the last decade.

It can’t all be blamed on former Vice Chairman Ed Woodward now that he’s left the club.


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