Hero of the Week: January 9, 2023: Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento, 1940-2022)


Our Hero of the Week is more than a football star and legend, more than the “king” of soccer and FIFA’s Player of the Century. We chose Pelé because he exemplifies a paradigm shift that oozes a power far beyond the world of soccer and sports. With his wild and unexpected moves, and a style and joy of playing that was completely beyond the imagination of the coaches, commentators, and athletes at the time, that young teenager from the slums of Sao Paolo, Brazil, single-handedly transformed football into an art of life!

Pelé grew up in a poor neighborhood and learned about football early from his father, who was himself a talented professional player in the local leagues. The kids played barefoot and usually without a proper ball; grapefruits and balls of string often had to do the trick. But his poor origins and heritage also endowed him with a special gift that goes back to the traditions of the African slaves—capoeira.

Capoeira, known as the “Dance of War,” is a fast and dexterous style of self-defense, an African-Brazilian form of martial art that keeps the fighter in a state of constant motion. It is said that Brazilian slaves who escaped their captivity practiced capoeira as far back as the 16th century to defend themselves, and it exists to this day as a form of dance, acrobatics, and spiritual martial art. 

The magic that Pelé brought to the playing field, which led his team to a three-time win of the World Soccer Championship, originated in this particular style of acrobatics, jumps, dribbling, and dance-like movements. Those famous Ginga movements that Pelé employed in his play—the swing, or rocking steps—lie at the heart of the ancient African technique full of complex maneuvers, high-flying saltos, and artistic footwork.

Pelé has inspired millions of young people to believe in themselves and learn to move through the playing field of life in a way that is creative, flexible, unexpected, and fun. That’s what we need to outmaneuver Mr. Global! Our “backcasting” of victory from the envisioned 2030 future is an example of such a move, turning the rules of time on their head.

Let Pelé inspire all of us today, again, to bring on the magic of the unexpected and the dance of unpredictability for all who decide to no longer be “slaves” and instead walk out into freedom.

Pelé performing the famous bicycle kick in 1968


Pelé on Wikipedia

Ginga – The essence of Brazilian football through the years

Example of capoeira

BBC article: Pele – Brazil legend’s extraordinary career in pictures

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