Today marks a quite extraordinary footballing anniversary as on Sunday 5th March 1961, perhaps the greatest piece of soccer wizardry ever witnessed on a football pitch occurred.
A young Pele, 20 years of age at this point and already a World Cup winner, started up front for his beloved Santos in the Rio-Sao Paulo Tournament against Fluminense. Having scored almost 100 goals in league and cup during the 1959 season, the youthful forward was probably the most feared player on the planet already.
But even though he amassed more in the ’61 season (a staggering 103!), the most fruitful of his career, a single strike stands adjacent from the rest.
On 40 minutes following an attack from Santos’ opponents, Dalmo received the ball. He laid it off to Pele just before the halfway line. This is when the magic began.
Pele controlled the pass and set off, straight for the Tricolour defence. A counter attack at its finest but make no mistake, Pele had plenty still to do. He drifted past Pinheiro with epic pace and kept going. Teammates were available but Pele continued, instead shaking off a clearly worried Jair Marinho before lamenting Castilho and finally rounding the goalkeeper who put in a desperate attempt to prevent the beautiful finish into the bottom left corner.
Mayhem ensued. 2 minutes passed until play resumed as each member of the Santos team yearned to congratulate their King. Fans of both teams forgot their passions and embraced in applause. Pele had vanished beneath a pile of arms and bodies and only became visible once again when play resumed.
He would go on to notch another in a 3-1 victory for Santos.
After the game had ended, one journalist proposed the idea that a plaque be erected in memory of Pele’s strike. That request was duly carried out and today, the Maracana Stadium still carries the emblem of remembrance to a wondrous piece of skill from Brazil’s most famed goalscorer. Whenever anyone scores a remarkable goal in Brazil, the phrase ‘Gol de Placa’ (goal worthy of a plaque) is used in description.
In theory it was an immense team goal. Individualism may have encompassed the move but the Santos team of the 1960’s were capable of the incomparable. Pele, allied with Coutinho and Pepe Dorval helped load the silverware into the trophy cabinet for Santastico who were about as unstoppable as a rampant Barcelona, perhaps even better. So when you consider the raw ability of the boy Pele running towards the defence, options open in the form of Coutinho and Dorval, you can forgive the petrified defence for standing off.
Pele ran straight, like an arrow fired from the merciless Santos ‘keeper. Then the question is what would he do with the ball? There are hundreds of possibilities thrown into the Fluminense players’ minds and ultimately the uncertainty allowed possibly the greatest player ever to score a magnificent goal and bamboozle not only his opponents’ feet, but their minds too.
Sadly, no video evidence of the goal has ever been uncovered so I cannot merely link a Youtube movie onto my article but instead it in a way adds to the aura of the strike. Only a minority of people were lucky enough to view the goal in person while recollections prove somewhat vaguer as time wears on. It is a testimony to Pele that no one can ever recreate or copy his talent as nobody truly knows how great of a goal it really was.