Saturday, 21 March 2020

Did Pele and Santos really stop a war in Nigeria in 1969?

The Brazil idol and his Peixe team-mates have often claimed they were behind a ceasefire struck during the nation's brutal civil war
Pele's spectacular career is filled with logic-defying feats that are unlikely to ever be repeated. No other player can boast three World Cup wins. Or 1000 goals scored at the top level – although this fact is subject to endless dispute and discussion.

Nonetheless, the Brazilian legend reached heights to which few of his peers, past or present, could ever even aspire. But there is one particular achievement that has persisted in popular myth for over 50 years and still has so many football historians asking themselves: Did O Rei actually help to bring peace to two warring nations?

This dramatic tale dates back to 1969 and one of Santos' famous globe-trotting tours.

Pele, Pepe, Coutinho and the rest of the club's Santasticos dominated South American football during the first half of the decade, winning five straight Brazilian championships, two Copas Libertadores and two Intercontinental Cups over European heavyweights Benfica and Milan in that glittering period.

From 1966 onwards, however, continental and even domestic glory took a back-seat for the Peixe.

With Pele as their star attraction, the club began pulling out of the Libertadores in order to travel the world, embarking upon tours of the United States (1966), sub-Saharan Africa, Italy and Germany (1967), and Argentina (1968), where they participated in a pentagonal tournament in Boca Juniors' Bombonera that also included Benfica, River Plate and Uruguay's Nacional.

Almost nothing and nowhere was off-limits for Santos in their efforts to squeeze every cent out of their star-studded side.

One European tour in 1959 took in 15 games in nine different countries in just 22 days. According to Pele in Andres Campomar's book Golazo!, the following year was even more punishing.

“I remember counting that I had played 109 times for Santos alone in 1960," he claimed. "There was no break in the year's football.”


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