Taking on the king: What it’s like to face Pelé
Brazilian soccer legend Pelé passed away on Thursday at the age of 82 after a long battle with colon cancer. Pelé was hospitalized in late November to reassess his chemotherapy and remained in the Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital in Sao Paolo until his death.
What is it like to face Pelé?
In 21 years of his professional career, Pelé won more World Cups than any other player, was the youngest to ever win a World Cup, and the only player to have ever done so on three different occasions (in 1958, 1962, and 1970). He is without doubt one of the greatest soccer players of all time – debatably, the greatest.
So what must it be like to play against someone like Pelé? Former English player Alan Mullery reflected on what it was like to face Pelé on the field.
“I loved playing against the greatest footballer I’ve ever seen,” said Mullery.
Mullery recalled watching Pelé on television in 1957 when Brazil was playing Wales in the World Cup. Pelé was just 17 years old at that time and Mullery wanted to be just like him.
“There’s young people today that never saw this man play football,” said Mullery. “And I was lucky enough to play against him.”
Mullery also spoke to how modest and good of a person Pelé was, despite being such a talented and accomplished player, calling him “an absolute gentleman”.
The first time that Mullery ever faced Pelé, Alf Ramsey was the coach for England and instructed Mullery to follow him everywhere he went – a job that Mullery took very seriously.
“Halftime came along, we both walked off, and I followed him into the Brazilian dressing room. And he went for a pee, and I went for a pee with him,” said Mullery.
While the debate over who is truly the greatest soccer player of all time will go on forever, Mullery insists that he’s yet to see a better player than Pelé in all the World Cups since Pelé came onto the scene.
“This was a career as a footballer and career as a gentleman, an absolute gentleman,” said Mullery. “And I want to apologize for kicking him. I really do. I love him. I could talk all night about him.”