Discussion in 'New York Cosmos' started by YankBastard, Apr 15, 2015.
Excerpts from Pele's book, Why Soccer Matters on how he came to the Cosmos and the NASL. It's a little long so I apologize.
...The first time I heard of the New York Cosmos was at a post-championship party in 1970 in Mexico City when I met two brothers from Armenia. The Erteguns told me about their desire to start a soccer team in New York City. "We're in the world's greatest city and we're going to create the world's best soccer team," one of them said. It was an interesting concept, but I must admit I promptly forgot about the whole thing. It seemed like one of those crazy ideas you hear at a party when everybody has had a little too much to drink.
...The idea didn't appeal too much to me at first. Well let's be honest, it was absurd! The Cosmos's general manager, a former British sports writer named Clive Toye, started trying to recruit me as far back as 1971, the year after the World Cup in Mexico. I was still with Santos at the time and Clive came to the team hotel while we were playing a game in Jamaica. He tracked me down by the pool where I was sitting in a lounge chair with Professor Mazzei. "We want you to bring soccer to America," Clive said, practically too nervous to breathe. "We think you're just the man to do it. Money is no object." Clive outlined some basic terms of the offer. He sat there talking while Professor Mazzei translated. I have to admit during that first visit I was only half-listening. I wasn't trying to be rude, but you have to understand I have been receiving offers to play outside Brazil for more than a decade by that point. Many of the best teams in Europe, including AC Milan and Real Madrid made fevered overtures over the years.....
...But American soccer? It seemed like a nut that couldn't be cracked....And despite all of Clive's promises, I was skeptical of the very American-seeming notion of whatever you didn't have you can buy. How would bringing me to The United States magically create interest in a country that already had four top rate professional sports leagues? It seemed ridiculous! I, too, was underestimating the power of soccer.
Clive Toye kept after me for years obsessively like some kind of crazed hunter. I was Moby Dick to his Captain Ahab. He even made the Cosmos' team colors yellow and green, the same colors that the Brazilian national team used, thinking that this might help seduce me. No matter how many times I politely told him no. How clearly I would say I would never, ever, ever leave Brazil. He would always show up again, lurking in a hotel lobby or making his way to the sidelines of my games. Each time he acted as if the conversation was the first we ever had. "We have this great team we're putting together in New York," he'd begin. Just as earnestly as the first time we talked. "We think you should come play with us for three years." I'd smile and listen, but I also didn't want to give him false hopes. "Thank you, but I'm very happy in Brazil," I'd say.
...Until I started to think, 'Hmmm maybe playing in New York City wasn't such a crazy ideal after all.' I won't try to disguise this. A big reason for my change of heart was the ill-fated visit from the accountant in late 1974. I. Owed. Millions. I was determined to pay the dept and knew that soccer was, by far, the best way to do so. The sums Clive was mentioning amounted the most lucrative contract in history, in any sport. But there were other reasons to that had absolutely nothing to do with money. One of Clive's best lines had to do with unique opportunity of bringing soccer to The United States. "Play for Real Madrid and you might win a championship," he would say. "Play for New York and you'll win a country!" This overture resonated with me a lot, actually. The Cosmos were not just offering an opportunity to play soccer, but to change it's whole culture in one of the world's most greatest and important countries.
...Finally, sometimes the little experiences that happen to us in life and the people we come across could have a huge affect on our decisions. One morning in Brussels, Belgium Clive showed up; lurking, smiling, in a good mood as always, at my hotel. I'd retired from Santos by this time and had played the night before at a charity game for the retiring Belgium captain, the great Paul Van Himst. Clive invited himself into my room and kept having to start his pitch over as a procession of international soccer superstars, guys like Rivellino of Brazil and Eusébio of Portugal, barged in to hug me goodbye. "Come on Pele, just three years," Clive was pleading. By that point, I had some interest in what this man was saying, but I remember that particular day I was in a hurry to leave Belgium and get back to my family in Brazil. Such a hurry, in fact that I leaned down to pick up my suitcase, tore a giant hole in the seat of my pants. I called downstairs to ask if they had anybody who could quickly sow the hole closed. They sent up a maid who collected my pants and disappeared.
Clive was still making his case when, a few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was the maid again. She held the pants in one hand and a camera in the other. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. She stepped into the room, shaking, and handed the camera to Clive. "Please sir," she whispered, "would you take a picture with me and Pele?" The maid, whose name I'm ashamed to say I don't recall, told me that her husband had bought a ticket to the previous night's game. He had been hoping to see me play for the first time. Two weeks before the game, sadly, he died of a heart attack. So her son used the ticket and went to the game instead. The maid wanted a photo of me so she could give it to her son as a kind of memorial. Halfway through her story I was already crying. By the time she finished I was shuttering with sobs. The story was tragic and I felt profound sympathy for this woman and her son. Also, her story reminded me of the profound connection I forged with so many fans over the years as a soccer player. I'd been retired for a few months by this point, but that old feeling washed over me. Warm. Sentimental. Alive. It reminded me of my true place in this world. And I realized that for all my misgivings over the years about fame. I desperately missed the most basic and rewarding part of being an athlete: The bond with my fans. It wasn't to late to try to recapture it.
After the maid finished telling the story and Clive took several pictures of her and me together, I kissed her goodbye and she left the room. Then I turned to Clive. "Okay," I said, "I'll play for the Cosmos." Clive's eyes lit up like a child on Christmas morning! "Really?!" I nodded, smiling. He started running around the room, frantic, jerks and stops, totally unsure on how to react. It was as if he'd never considered the possibility I might say yes. I really liked Clive by this point so I just told him to relax and do what he needed to do. Finally he had me sign a piece of hotel stationary expressing my intent to play for the team. It wasn't quite that simple, of course. We needed to negotiate a real contract with agents and intermediaries and all those things. But the signed sheet of paper was a start. Many years later, Clive still had it in a frame hanging it in his office. 'GB Moder in Brussels,' the letterhead read.
Imagine. Me, a poor kid from Brazil, talked out of retirement by a British man working for an American soccer club with a Brazilian woman delivering the coup de grâce....
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