Letter to My Younger Self
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Dear Edson (or Dico, as your family likes to call you),
Listen very carefully.
When your family moves away from Três Corações, don’t forget the socks of your mother. You are young, only five years old, but you must not forget the socks. If you forget them, your life may be very different.
You and your family will move to a very small town called Bauru. You will move to this place because of your father. You see, he plays for the football club Bauru Atlético. In Bauru, your family has a very simple house. You and your brother share the same bed. This is not always comfortable, but because of this, the two of you will become very good friends.
In front of the house, there is no grass. Only dirt and sand. This is your first football pitch. Many larger ones will come. I will tell you more about this later. For now, the front of your house is your stadium. You and your friends cut sticks and bamboo with sharp knives to make the goals.
You do not have the money to buy a real ball. This is why you must never forget the socks. There is very little money in the family. So, you make a ball by stuffing old newspapers inside the socks.
The ball, it’s not always round. But that’s O.K. You and your friends will play for hours outside, and you are called “The Shoeless Ones” because you cannot afford football boots, either. You will quickly learn to go around the puddles. The biggest danger is water, and the puddles will be your first defenders.
You may need to put this letter down and go call your mother to say sorry. Because you will take many of her socks over the years!
Ah, your mother. She is a very tough woman. As I’m writing this, she is nearly 99 years old. She still teases you to this day. When you visit her, don’t tell her what you wish to talk about. She says, “You are in my house. We discuss my things.”
She is always the boss in the house. Your father is often away with the football club. She is the one who saves the money and makes sure you, your brother and eventually your sister, have books and shoes. She will teach you very important lessons. There’s one lesson that you will remember for a long time. It is the lesson about your neighbor, the one with the mango tree.
One day, you bring home a mango from her tree.
Your mother asks, “Dico, where did you get this mango?”
You say, “I got it from Donna Maria across the street.”
“But you asked her for it?”
“Yes, yes, of course.”
This is a lie.
She says, “O.K. Dico, let’s go ask Donna Maria if this is true.”
Sometimes, you are a bad boy. When you are older, you will remember this and become very embarrassed. But this is the most important lesson your mother will teach you. It’s not about mangoes, Edson. It’s about respecting other people.
Now, let’s talk about your father. Many times, he will watch you play in the street. You score one, two, three, sometimes four goals. But your father is not happy about the goals. He tells you that you have to do better.
What? You do not understand.
He says, “No, no, no, what I mean is that you need to learn to do the other things. You must have many skills on the pitch. Not just scoring goals.”
This is very important advice. Remember this always. Later on, your life will change. But he will tell you the same exact thing when you play at Santos Football Club.
(It is true, Edson! You will become a professional player. Stay calm. I will tell you more later.)
After the match, your father will say, “You made two or three bad passes. Why?”
“But father, we won 4–1.”
He will tell you again, “You must be precise. You can get better.”
You see, your father, he is a competitive man. He once scored five headers in a game. This is a record in Brazil. When you score your 1,000th goal at the Maracanã, it will be a penalty kick, and the entire world will stop for one moment to watch (this is your gift from God). The atmosphere in the stadium will be one big party, no matter what team the fans support. You will receive a trophy. There will be many photographs. This will go down in the history books. During the celebration, your father will whisper to you, “I have scored five headers in one game, but have you?”
You will both laugh. Your father, he is a very special man, and he is the only reason why you chose to play football. Even after his career-ending injury, you will always consider him the best player. All you want to do is be like your father.
You will never score five headers in a match, but you will score so many goals (1,283 to be exact), that you become known all over the world by the name “Pelé.”
Pelé? Who is Pelé? Your name is Edson, and your parents named you after Thomas Edison, the American inventor.
I know you are very proud of your name, Edson Arantes do Nascimento.
But cherish it now, because you will not have it much longer.
You see, there is a goalkeeper for Bauru. His name is Bilé. You say to your friends one day at school, “Did you hear of the save by Pelé?”
Your friends will laugh and say, “His name is Bilé, not Pelé.”
They tease you and start calling you Pelé. This makes you very angry. One day, you will get so mad that you fight them. The school suspends you for two days. When your mother hears of this? Oh, no … you poor boy.
From this day on, you will be known as Pelé forever. But never ever forget the boy named Edson. Always remember that boy in your heart and in your mind.
When you turn 13 years old, you will play football more seriously. This is the start of something incredible for you. You start to train with the youth team at Bauru, the team of your father. This is also where you get your first job, cleaning the boots of the senior team players. They give you one or two coins for every pair. Not much money, but enough for you to buy a real ball. No more socks!
You will do very well as a young football player. A gentleman named Waldemar De Brito will come into your life. He is a very important person for starting your career at Santos Football Club. After scouting your talent, he will say to you:
“Pelé, I believe you can be a very, very good professional. But do not ever think you are the best. Do not ever think you are God. If you make money, save some of it for the future. Do not start to buy cigars and candy. You must stay the boy from Bauru.”
Remember these words. Because you will become a professional at the age of 15. Of course, you are just a boy. When you walk into the locker room at Santos for the first time, you will watch your teammates putting on their boots. You are in awe. They are grown men. You look at your shirt number. It is number 10.
You think, My, God. What am I doing here? (This memory will stay with you forever.)
The director of the club will say, “Come here, Pelé. Put on your Santos shirt for a photograph.”
There are so many light bulb flashes. And you are so skinny that the shirt looks very funny on you. The director says, “The day after tomorrow, the picture will be in the newspapers.”
You tell your father, “I took a picture in the number 10 Santos shirt — I think they like me!”
Yes, you are still that little boy from Bauru.
Let me tell you another funny story.
Santos is a very long journey from your home. You need to ride the train for five hours from Bauru to the capital of São Paolo. Then you need to take the bus for two more hours to get to Santos. (Bring books to read, Edson. Don’t just sleep.)
One day at the bus stop in Santos, you are supposed to meet your father. You wait and wait and wait for him. You get very thirsty in the heat, so you take a walk to the beach. The water looks so clear. You dip your hand in and take a drink.
It tastes of salt. You spit it out.
You think, What is wrong with this water? Is it poison?
You will laugh at this some day, I promise. You see, in Bauru, you never saw the beach, the sand, the sea. But in Santos, there is a beautiful blue ocean. It is the first time you will see ever see the ocean.
Do not drink the ocean, Edson!
On the football pitch in Santos, you are much more comfortable. You will play for Santos Football Club for nearly two decades, and during this time you will get many proposals to join clubs in Milan, Madrid — all over the world. This may sound incredible to you now, but listen to my words: Do not take the proposals.
I tell you again: Do not ever take the proposals. You will have many other opportunities to go abroad in your life, I promise.
For what reason would you leave Santos? The Peixe is near and dear to your heart. You and your teammates will make Santos one of the best clubs — not just in Brazil or South America, but in the world. The team will win the Continental Treble in 1962. There will be many Brazilian championships. You will travel places and play friendly matches all over the world. Because of you, the two sides in a civil war in Congo will call a cease-fire just to watch your team play.
You will have incredible journeys with Santos, and you will still remain close to your family. I ask again: Why would you leave Santos?
You will also begin to play for your country. It is an incredible honor for you. When you are only 17 years old, you will travel on an airplane for the very first time to Sweden for the 1958 World Cup. Many things are different in Sweden. At that time, battery-powered radio will be brand new. They don’t have this in Brazil yet.
One day, the team will visit a shop in the city and your teammate, Garrincha, will hear a strange voice coming from the radio. You hold up the radio in amazement. The radio man is speaking Swedish.
Garrincha says, “Pelé, why do you listen to this nonsense?”
You say, “It is incredible. I wish to buy it.”
He says, “No, no, do not buy this. You will not understand what the voices say!”
Garrincha does not know that when you bring the radio back home, the radio signal in Brazil will be in Portuguese!
Oh, you will laugh and laugh when Garrincha realizes this.
But when you travel the world with Brazil, there will be another surprise. And this one will make you sad.
You think everybody knows your country, but this is not the case. At this time, many people do not know where Brazil is on a map. They will say, “Oh, Brazil, this is in Argentina, no?” You will smile, but inside you will be sad that people do not know your country, your home.
But don’t worry too much. After the final of the 1958 World Cup, they will know.
This is because you will lift the trophy.
It is true.
This will be the first of three World Cup championships for you.
At the end of the ’58 final, you will pass out and fall to the ground. Even today, this is a moment that is difficult to explain. The emotion is simply too much for your body.
When your teammates wake you up, you will cry. You always cry, Edson, even later in life. You are an emotional person who cries easily.
Winning the World Cup is not just a dream for you, it’s a dream for your country. And to win it at only 17 years old. You are so young. And you will be the youngest World Cup champion in the history of the sport. Thank God for this victory, because you will not always be young.
In 1970, you will cry again because it will be your final World Cup. These are different tears. This will be more difficult for you emotionally. You must ask God to help you. You cannot lose for your country in your final chance.
What will happen? I will not tell you. Some things cannot be explained, even from the future.
When your career with Santos and the Brazilian National Team is over, you will have a unique opportunity to play in America. Not just anywhere in America — New York City, with a team called the Cosmos. This opportunity, you must take. It is very important to grow the game in America.
Before I leave you, I want to talk for a moment about beauty. You will see many beautiful things in your career. When you run to the crowd after scoring a goal, you see the faces of people crying with joy.
This moment shows you how much you mean to the people.
But there is one moment above all that you will remember forever. In 1968, you will play a match in Colombia.
During the match, your teammate Coutinho and a Colombian player start to fight. Many players will run over to try to stop the fight. When things have calmed down, the referee will give you the red card.
You will tell him, “No, no, I did not fight. I tried to help.” But still, the referee forces you off the field. He thinks you did it because you look similar to Coutinho.
You leave the pitch in anger and walk to the locker room. Then, when you take off your boots, you start to hear noise. The crowd is yelling about something.
Your coach runs into the locker room and says, “Pelé, come back! You have to come back!”
You say, “What? I am not allowed to go back. I got a red card.”
Your coach says, “No, you do not understand. Do not take off your boots. The crowd, they started to make noise. They have made a protest!”
This is the first and only time in your life that you will see something like this. The Colombian crowd has seen the mistake. They are chanting for Pelé to come back.
The referee who makes the mistake is substituted with a new referee. Never in football do they take the referee out and let the player return to the pitch. You see, the crowd has such a passion for the beautiful game. They don’t care that you are the opponent.
You come back to the pitch, and the crowd roars.
This moment shows you how much you mean to the people.
Do you see? God has given you a brilliant life.
Pray to Him: Take care of my family. You need to take care of one another. This I promise you.
But there is another thing I want you to pray for every night. This is more difficult to explain. In Brazil, the people are beautiful. We have amazing food, music, culture. But we have many problems. There is crime and poverty. Yes, even to this day when I write to you, Edson, our country still suffers.
You must pray to God: Please make things better in Brazil. There are still kids in Brazil playing football barefoot in the streets. There are still kids not able to afford a ball. There are still kids in Brazil stealing mangoes. This is very sad. Football cannot give to everyone what it gave to you.
What is your magic moment? It was when you were born. Because you have an excellent family that has taught and treated you well. And this is why, when you travel all over the world, the door is always open to welcome you. The people of the world gave you the greatest love, and you must do your best to give it back.
Remain the boy from Brazil. Remain Edson. And remember these three words: honesty, patience and respect.
Keep the ball rolling,
Edson Arantes do Nascimento
The movie “Pelé: Birth of a Legend” is now available on Amazon and iTunes