1970 FIFA World Cup Mexico™

31 May - 21 June

1970 FIFA World Cup™

Pele: I had the shakes in 1970

  • ​Pele saw his father cry for the first time in 1950
  • He discusses whether he’d have prevented Maracanazo
  • He reveals the immense pressure he felt at Mexico 1970

Maracanazo devastated Brazil. Yet it bore a promise that would turn agony into ecstasy. In an enchanting chat with FIFA.com, Pele discusses seeing his father cry for the first time, vowing to win the FIFA World Cup™ that day, whether he would have prevented Uruguay’s triumph, and taking just eight years to make good on his word in Sweden.

FIFA.com: What is your most vivid memory of the bittersweet experience that was Brazil 1950?
Pele: I’ve got many great footballing memories, but the first of them all is Brazil losing the World Cup that year. It was the first time I ever saw my father cry, and all because of that defeat. I was nine or ten years old and I remember seeing him sitting next to the radio, sobbing. I asked him: ‘Why are you crying, dad?’. And he said to me: ‘Brazil have lost the World Cup’. That’s the image that’s etched in my mind from 1950. God was very good to me, though, because eight years later I was in Sweden and I won the title. I played in four World Cups and won three, including the last one in 1970. I think I can safely say that God gave everything back to me.

You’ve mentioned before that seeing your father cry on that occasion had an impact on your career. Can you tell us more about that?
My father was a footballer too, and that day I was with three or four friends, who were children of his team-mates. There was no TV at that time, and he had invited them round to listen to the match on the radio. Us little ones went to play in the street. I remember that there were a lot of people around and so much going on. And then, later in the afternoon, everything suddenly went dead quiet. We went inside to find out what was going on. My father was crying and he told me that we had lost. I remember jokingly saying to him: ‘Don’t cry, dad – I’ll win the World Cup for you’. I just came out with it because I didn’t know what else to say, but eight years later there I was in the national team, and we won the title.

How did that shock defeat to Uruguay affect the country?
I was just a boy and it was the first time I’d seen so many people depressed and so many people crying. I even heard that two or three people died of heart attacks. I was only young but I remember that huge sense of sadness. There’s no way you could forget that.

If you had been born earlier and played in that World Cup, would the Maracanazo ever have happened?
That’s a good question (laughs). It goes without saying that you always want the best for your people and your family, but if I could choose, I’d ask God to let me be born earlier to help Brazil and stop it from happening.

Eight years later you won the title yourself. What memories do you have of that?
That was another surprise. I was 15 when we played a tournament in Rio, in a team made up of players from Santos and Vasco da Gama. We played a few internationals at the Maracana and they decided to pick me. I didn’t expect it at all. It came as a surprise to everyone, not just to me.

How would you compare your first world title in 1958 and your last in 1970?
That’s not a difficult question for me to answer. I played in four World Cups and we were lucky enough to win three. Everyone asks me if it was hard to play in the World Cup at the age of only 17, but I can honestly say that all I wanted at the time was to be in the team. It was like a dream. We won, but I didn’t have any responsibility on my shoulders. In 1970 I was at my peak. We had a great team and it was my last World Cup. But if I compare it to the first one, when I didn’t have any experience, I have to say Mexico was tougher. We had a fantastic side and everyone expected us to win, which gave me the shakes. I was very nervous and under a lot of pressure. Maybe people have forgotten, but the political situation in Brazil was not good and we felt that we simply had to win the title. That was the difference. Thank God we were able to do it.

Time passes quickly, doesn’t it?
It’s incredible, but the thing that amazes me most is all the changes and progress there’s been in the media. We didn’t have a TV or new technologies in 1958. I remember that I wanted to call my father and tell him that we’d won the World Cup, and we had to go to a train station in Sweden. I said to him, ‘Dad, we’ve won the World Cup’. And he replied, ‘I didn’t see it but I listened to it’. It’s a huge change. Today players score a goal and blow a kiss to the cameras. We couldn’t do that, and that’s the biggest difference that I see.

There is a lot of footage from the 1970 tournament around these days, though. Do you watch it?
Sometimes, yes. I watch it because there are a lot of videos available and TV programmes that put it on. I’ll tell you something, though: if I’m not careful I always start crying. When I see those players and the people cheering me around, I get all emotional. I’m a sensitive guy!

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