Boyd Tonkin: A Week in Books

Tirelessly courteous, the small, dapper man kept on greeting, smiling and pressing the flesh until late in the evening. Around him buzzed hangers-on, as florid tapestries and heavy marble spoke of an older kind of hierarchy. When he talked, as gracious as the "royalty" he has become, you felt the vast burden of his name and fame. "Wherever Pelé goes, I carry the name of my country. I never, ever want to disappoint my people."

Listening to the most famous footballer there has ever been at the Brazilian ambassador's residence last week, I sensed a brief twinge of alarm. Had nearly five decades of world-spanning stardom turned his head towards that loopy, late-Thatcher style of third-person self-description? I need not have worried. An astute passage in Pelé: the Autobiography (Simon & Schuster, £18.99) explains that Pelé has grown into "a mythical figure" with "a life of his own". Edson Arantes do Nascimento, a super-fit 65-year-old from Três Corações, now has the task of shepherding this icon of sporting genius and virtue on its spotlit progress around the world. "This is why I refer to Pelé in the third person." In a Mayfair salon, as in Maracaña stadium, the footwork never falters.

For better, or worse, the business of celebrity now governs huge tracts of cultural life. And in the global economy of renown, Pelé ranks both as the great pioneer, and the great survivor. His autobiography - with its warm voice well caught by his writers, Orlando Duarte and Alex Bellos - will need no hyping to anyone, sports fan or not, who recalls the era when the sublimely skilled Brazilians had the festive spirit of the Sixties at their feet. Here, after all, was a soccer idol who finished his playing career - after 1,283 goals, at a New York Cosmos game in 1977 - with a speech from the pitch that ended "Love, love, love!". The Brazilian poet-singer Caetano Veloso then used his words as a refrain: "Of all the songs written about me, I think that one touches me most".

Purely as a sporting life, his book scores smartly and often. Its first half abounds with scenes that light up the swift ascent of man and team to worldwide acclaim as heralds of a talent-driven, racially inclusive future. When the 17-year-old Santos prodigy struck twice to secure the World Cup for Brazil in (and against) Sweden in 1958, there were no phone lines to ring home. His parents were "embarrassed" by the victory parties; they owned no smart clothes to wear.

Pelé has now weathered almost three decades of exposure since he hung up his boots. Scott Fitzgerald said that there were no second acts in American lives; the same often goes for celebs. Small touches reveal a star forever aware of the dangers that beset him - watching his teammate Garrincha as a stupefied drunk on a carnival float was "one of the saddest things I ever saw".

He escaped that fate, which makes the book of huge interest even to readers indifferent to its story of prowess trouncing prejudice. (When he accepted the sports portfolio in 1995, he was "the first black man to become a government minister in Brazilian history".) Pelé has made political and media enemies, consorted with some deeply dodgy partners ("I was good at football; not so good at business") and, recently, suffered a spell of vividly-described anguish after his son Edinho was arrested for as yet unproven links with a drugs baron. This is not the life of a saint, even if its hero has had three Popes avid to bless him.

It does, however, offer uniquely credible advice about the value of staying "polite and kind", "honest and responsible", in the glare of a million flashbulbs. Pelé notes, after the first of his three World Cup triumphs, that "no one had given us any lessons in how to be celebrities". This book handsomely fills that gap. Every dressing-room, let alone every changing-room, should have one.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on