Pelé is a 2021 Netflix original documentary movie, following Pelé’s time in Brazil and the extraordinary period of twelve years where Pelé played in 4 World Cups, winning 3. The docu-movie features a number of interviews with Pelé and former his teammates as well as featuring a number of clips throughout the years.
I’m a huge football fan, but Pelé’s extraordinary footballing path was somewhat before my time, so I was eager to learn more about the man deemed the greatest of all time. The documentary takes an unconventional look into the political situation in Brazil, as well the fame and notoriety Pelé experienced in his rise to the top. The documentary is an intriguing insight into life outside of his football, but there is still plenty to keep football fans interested!
The documentary starts right at the beginning of Pelé’s life and his early rise from humble beginnings in a primitive Brazil. The documentary then follows the period from 1956 when he first signed his professional contract with Brazilian club Santos, through to his final appearance at a World Cup in 1970. The focus in the film is on Pelé’s time with the national time which is fascinating to learn about, but given he played club football in Brazil coinciding with his time with the national team, I would like to have seen a bit more on his career with Santos.
The style of the documentary works well, featuring a good variety of interviews with former teammates as well as vintage clips from past World Cups which will awe even the least passionate of football fans. There’s also a lovely moment in the documentary where Pelé meets up with a group of former Brazilian teammates and you can see the longevity of their friendship as they joke around over lunch. I wish there had been a few more interviews with players who’d played against Pelé, but instead the documentary focuses entirely on Brazil – be it Pelé’s teammates, family members or Brazilian journalists.
Some of the footage in the documentary is truly remarkable, particularly those of the 1970 World Cup. Watching Pelé’s Brazil come up against Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton was wonderful to watch, plus watching Pelé score in the final before leaping into the arms of teammate Jairzinho to create that iconic celebration gave me goose bumps! Throughout the documentary there are plenty of fantastic snippets of the beautiful game, many of which I had never seen before. Football fans like myself will also be able to appreciate the transition in style of football, as the documentary progresses.
Like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t know a huge amount regarding Pelé’s personal life, just the footballing legacy he’s left behind, but I actually learnt a lot about the man himself in the documentary. I was intrigued to learn he’d had multiple children with multiple partners, many of whom he didn’t even find out about until later in life. I was also surprised to find out that after the 1966 World Cup, a 26 year old Pelé had no intention to play in another World Cup, again something not widely talked about nowadays.
At times the documentary is a little confusing to watch – I’m not sure whether some things are lost in translation within the interviews of Pelé’s associates but there were a few occasions where I had to rewind, thinking I’d missed something, only to be left scratching my head. The documentary also gets caught between documenting the political status in Brazil versus documenting Pelé’s rise to the top and his notoriety. There are times within the documentary where there is a heavy focus on the political state of Brazil and it tries to intertwine with Pelé’s football, but even as Pelé says himself in the documentary, his life didn’t change as a result of the politics, making me question the necessity for such a heavy focus on this topic.
There has been a huge amount of speculation in recent years of who the greatest football player of all time is, but having watched this documentary I don’t have any doubts about Pelé certainly being a strong contender. Very few people, let alone football players, would nowadays be able to put a nation on a map and handle the stardom and fame in the manner in which Pelé did and this film does a brilliant job of documenting his illustriousness.
Pelé is a fascinating insight into one of the greatest football players of all time and is mandatory watching for any fan of the beautiful game.