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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Hail to the King, Pelé!

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Two famous people died two days apart before 2022 ended. Edson Arantes do Nascimento joined our Maker last December 29. Two days later, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger passed away. The former was Pelé while the latter was Pope Benedict XVI. Of course, much was said about the Pope Emeritus’ death in the local papers, while mentions on Pelé’s death were mostly confined to the sports pages. Which is expected from a Catholic country like us and where football is not the favorite sport.

Worldwide, however, it was quite different. The whole world mourned the passing of the greatest football player ever to live. With apologies to Lionel Messi, football will not be what it is now without Pelé. Simply because even before Messi, Deigo Maradona, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and even David Beckham did what made them famous on the pitch, Pelé did them all first.

If there is one individual, who touched so many lives regardless of culture, nationality, race, religion, gender, politics or even generations, it was Pelé. Not a scientist, a president or even a Pope. It was a footballer, who played the beautiful game that elevated the sport to what is now. Moreover, Pelé inspired millions or even billions of people to go through the challenges of everyday existence–poverty, racism, inequality, corruption, hopelessness, crime, incompetence, joblessness, high fuel prices and even onions as status symbols, to name a few.

Pelé was the only player to win the FIFA World Cup three times – in 1958, 1962 and 1970. He scored 77 goals in 92 appearances for Brazil. Overall, he netted 1,279 goals in 1,363 games he played. What made Pelé so special was the fact that he became synonymous with the beautiful game on how he carried himself on and off the pitch. He scored so many spectacular goals, while remaining an inspiration even if he no longer laced his boots.

His impact can be felt even here in the Philippines, where most of our current players have only seen his games online or on some documentaries or news features. Even a non-footballing country like ours knows something about the iconic number 10 of Brazil. Heck, he put Brazil on the map and in the same breath with football. Such was his contribution to making football the biggest sport on the planet.

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Brazilian football superstar Neymar probably summed it best when he said that before Pelé, football was just another sport.

Rest in peace, King Pelé!

On the local front, another era ended as Pinoy football icon Stephan Schrock played his last game with the Philippine Azkals in a 2-1 defeat against Indonesia last Monday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Shrock scored six goals in 57 appearances spanning 11 years for the national team. The loss against Indonesia was not the ending we wanted for El Capitan – he was able to make the assist to super sub Jens Rasmussen to cut the visitors’ lead to just one goal.

Schrock, who made his desire to be a presence in the development of the current crop of Azkals and in the coaching staff, is currently on a well-deserved break with his family. You can say so many things about Schroecky, and I will not argue with you, but his commitment to the flag and country should never be doubted. Thank you Stephan for your service to the national team! Please get your A-license as soon as possible. The time, Schroecky, the coach should start soon.

Before I forget, much has been said about the failure of the Azkals in the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup 2022. Even more about heaping the blame on the Azkals’ management, especially against Dan Palami. The failure to call seasoned veterans like Daisuke Sato, Patrick Reichelt, Ian Ramsay and other Azkals playing in different leagues outside the Philippines is also among the reasons why the team only managed to eke out a win in four games. There were so many criticisms and bashings heaped on the team by self-proclaimed experts and Monday-morning strikers to speak. I will not argue with some people who can’t even show or use their real names, espousing bravado and self entitlement behind dummy accounts and pseudonyms. Whatever gets you off, go for it.

I will enjoin you, however, on finding out the other parties to blame for the Mitsubishi Cup debacle. I’ve heard that some individuals did everything they could just to ensure that the Azkals would fail in the tournament. One of these individuals wanted to just field in a token team in the tournament, “pang attendance lang daw ba”. This is probably one of the reasons, why some big name Azkals were not invited to join the national pool.

One of these individuals also played a part in making the life of the team a struggle even before they reached the pitch. Talk about the team competing in an away game without having their accreditation cards. A report claimed that a match official manually did these ID cards before the actual game in one of the games of the team abroad. Which is a great embarrassment to the team. Sino ba dapat gumawa nito?

Someone also claimed that another individual sat on the request for endorsement of financial assistance to the team from government agencies, which could have contributed much to the preparations of the team.

One final allegation. These acts were done by one or two persons in Pasig.

I just wish these claims are not true. But if they are, someone should look into these allegations and hold them accountable. Hirap na nga ang team, lalo pang pinahirapan.

For comments or questions, you can reach The Designated Kit Man at or follow his account at Twitter: @erelcabatbat

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