Pelé and Arsenal: Connected by Futebol Bonito

Pelé is a footballer that everybody in the world knows something about.

Three-time World Cup winner, scorer of over a thousand goals for club and country and generally considered to be the greatest player ever to play the game, the only real blot on his copybook is that he never played for Arsenal!

Indeed, Pelé stayed with Brazilian club Santos for the first 18 years of his career — spanning from 1956 to 1974 — before moving to the New York Cosmos in an attempt to raise the profile of the game in the US.

It recently came to my attention that for the seventeen years from 1953 to 1970, a period in which the Pelé story grew as he weaved his spell on the world and won three World Cups and countless Brazilian championships, our beloved Arsenal did not win a single trophy.

On hearing this remarkable statistic I contacted the great Arsenal blogger Goonerholic, a man who was around during that barren spell, and was surprised to hear that despite our woeful record during that period our strikeforce was actually rather good.

Our recent Twitter exchange went something like this:

Me: Could we have done with a world-class, top-of-the-range attacker during that period?

Goonerholic: Probably not. We had good forwards and a Mickey Mouse defence in the late fifties and much of the sixties. For example: in 1963-64 we scored 90 goals but conceded 82 and finished 8th!

Me: I’ll re-phrase: would having Pelé have helped at all?

Goonerholic: Having Pelé would help any team at any time!

When a man as educated and experienced as Goonerholic makes a statement like that, it shows the sort of esteem that the Brazilian is held in.

And while Pelé may have done well to avoid our club in the prime of his career but the truth is if he was playing football now, it is hard to think of a club more suited to the Brazilian legend than Arsenal.

Our dedication to beautiful football — or ‘Futebol Bonito’ it is known in Brazil — has drawn great praise from Pelé in the past, with the legend admitting a couple of seasons ago that he is a huge fan of the way we play the game.

Now, to celebrate the Futebol Bonito that was pioneered by Pelé and is proudly carried on by our boys at Arsenal, the wonderful people at Pelé Sports will be giving AFCB readers an exclusive opportunity to win some of their brilliant clothing.

A brilliant Pelé Sports jacket and Pelada T-shirt is up for grabs and all you have to do is check out the blog tomorrow for info on how you can win.

In the meantime I encourage any of you lucky enough to have been around during Pelé’s career to share your memories of him as a player and ponder how he would have fit into the current Arsenal side.

You might also want to share their memories of the Arsenal team that went 17 years without a trophy in the fifties and sixties, although I’m not sure we want to hear about it!


Have your say on Pelé and Arsenal by leaving a comment.



  1. Andrew, brought back memories for me. Back in 1981 (give or take a year or two) Arsenal’s final home game of the season was against Aston Villa who were playing for the League Championship. Weird game – we beat them 2-0 to claim the UEFA Cup spot (it was a big thing back then!) but because of results elsewhere Villa did become champions. Nearly 60,000 crammed into Highbury, me standing on the North Bank. Pele was a special guest who was introduced to the crowd before the game started and we were all singing “sign him up” even though he was long since retired. I’m not old enough to have seen him play but like everyone have grown up seeing the footage of the 1970 Brazil team. Wouldn’t mind swapping Pele for RVP and Jairzinho for Walcott! I reckon we’d have a chance of winning then! Mind you they weren’t known for their defence either.

  2. @ Terry – Yeah, Goonerholic mentioned that game and the chant that went around the ground. I’m sure even at that age he probably would have improved our side back then.

    And you’re right, it was 1981. Great memory. Thanks for that.

  3. Okay so I havent seen this new Theo Walcott except in the odd youtube clip so I wont say he’s good or bad, but we’ve now bought two youngsters in and if you read the reports about this Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the deal is worth ten million pounds or thereabouts. This makes me ask two questions. One – if the youth set up is so good, why are we paying so much for youngsters from other clubs instead of giving our own youngsters like J Emanuel Thomas (for example) a chance? And two – if we can spend so much on unproven talent, why cant we spend so much on the real quality we need in the first team? I dont understand the logic. Maybe thats why I am not a manager, but surely you address the short comings in your first team with purchases before the short comings in your youth team with more expensive purchases!

  4. Gotta say. Were still here lads. Two points off top spot game in hand on one rival the reverse with the opposite. Like I said we’ve played almost all our big games. United fair play to them survived spurs but that’s only there first big test still got Chelsea twice us pool. They can’t seem to win an away game. All the nay Sayers said we would finish outside the stop spot. Lately they have tried to change that by saying we won’t win. By the end of the season they will be saying we only won it because the other teams were weak. Mark my words we have it this season.

  5. Saw Pele play for the Cosmos on Randall’s Island out in the East River. Had to take subway uptown and bus across to this godforsaken facility. It was packed! They also had the “great” Giorgio Chinaglia. Pele had to be pushing 40, but he was still a wlll-of-the-wisp. In person, much more impressive than on tv. Of course only world cup was televised in those days in USA. Subsequently have had to listen to Maradona worshipers say he was as good or better. He was NOT! Since then have seen only one close, namely Lionel Messi. The flea has yet to do his thing at the world cup, but his supporting cast and coach does not compare to what Pele had. One also has to remember that a lot of what Pele did, he was the first one to do. The only comparable athlete in any sport I can remember was #4, Bobby Orr, who changed the game of ice hockey, but Pele revolutionized the world’s game. He was the absolute best and personality to match!

  6. pele is a great man and was agreat player at his an arsenal fan iam happy that he talks about arsenal.

  7. One of the reasons I got into soccer (football) was because one of my school friends at the time was a futbol addict and huge Pele fan, despite never actually seeing him play until he came to the Cosmos. From what I know of Pele, it makes sense that he would admire the likes of Arsenal and Barca, but I had no idea that he had stated his admiration of our club, and that’s great to know. Are there any actual quotes or interviews to which you can provide a link?
    I’m sure that Pele in his prime would fit in well and improve ANY team anywhere in the world including us, perhaps especially us, as seems to be one of the points of todays blog. I just wish I knew more about him tactically to comment intelligently. Looking for to info on how to win that shirt. Toronto has a sizeable Brazilian community and I’m sure that shirt would get me a caipiriha or two in a bar! Long live Edson Arantes do Noscimento. He’d have to brilliant just for that name alone, wouldn’t he? 1NTTA

  8. I know we are supposed to be talking pele,but i´m worried about us having just 2 defenders,i really wanted TV5 to return,but with him going under the knife,and squillachi,(sighs) being the only other alternative,we will be shooting our title charge on the foot,the club needs another CB. Imagine JD or Kos getting injured and we had to deploy song,well,i´ll just let you think who will have to step in for him in DM,and what that will do to our title challenge.

  9. @1NilToTheArsenal

    Are there any Arsenal bars in Toronto that you know of?

    Apologies for being off topic.

  10. @Jordan
    The folks at, announced this place as “the new official Gunners pub for the Greater Toronto region”: I have never been, but if you visit – let me know what you think.
    Apologies for the digression AW, and thanks for the Pele link.
    @JJ Pittman
    I’ve been a fan of #4 Bobby Orr (the greatest player of all) since I was a kid. While I can start my own blog on how he changed hockey, what specifically changed about futebol bonito do you think, during and after Pele’s time and how would that play into the current Arsenal side?

  11. Pele is my hero. I think he’d play for Arsenal if he was still playing today, because we do play beautiful football. Maybe Barca is more exciting sometimes, but can’t see Messi and Pele playing together to be honest. I’d say he’d play for Madrid, but I don’t take him as a glory glory type of guy like Ronaldo, he’s more down to earth and just amazing.


    Would be amazing. *droooool

  12. @Andrew: thanks man, for the maintenance! Last 9(!) posts all came in this afternoon.
    @1NTTA: I grew up in Rochester and my uncle had season tix to the Amerks who were Leafs number one farm team. Most of the cup winners of ’62,’63,’64& ’67 came through there. Learned to play from 5 years old on the ponds of Lake Ontario, and have watched NHL hockey in 39 different venues.
    Didn’t see anywhere near as much futebol bonito during that time, but I definitely remember that almost everybody had the lone striker, target man, number 9 who almost always played with his back to goal. There were legitimate wings who didn’t play a whole lot of defense, and inside lefts and inside rights who went up and down those channels, but also didn’t play a lot of defense.
    There were 3 “halfbacks” and usually only the center half played a significant offensive role.
    The two fullbacks were like our center backs of today.
    The Brazilians may not have invented the kind of fluid exchange of positions, but Pele was the master of it, and, he may not have invented it, but he was the master of the overhead bicycle kick. Were talking 50 years ago here, so my memory may be prejudiced. I don’t think the Brazilians played a regular target man, either. Pele wore number 10, but he played more like a center half of that day, and the other inside also rotated with the number 9 and the wings.
    The Dutch in the ’70s with Cruyff and their fluid “total football” essentially were playing Brazilian, Pele style football. Meanwhile, we were playing the style that is your eponym! They were tough and exciting especially Liam Brady and my favorite, Graham Rix in the late ’70s, but no one would ever have accused those teams of playing futebol bonito. Saw my first game at Higbury in ’71, but we didn’t play that way, for sure. Occasional breakout play, but defense first.
    Der Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer was the Bobby Orr of his day romping forward to join the attack, but essentially his play presaged the overlapping left and right fullbacks of today.
    Meanwhile, Brazil continued to play their game which the best teams have adopted. I really believe that only Barca beats us today. Four interchangeable attack and midfield men with two holding mids and powerful overlapping fullbacks.
    No one was ever better than Carlos Roberto in that role.
    For offensive 4 we have had Henry, Bergkamp, Pires, vanPersie and many others, but none like Pel
    We try to play his style and when we succeed it’s awesome. Of all of them I really love Samir Nasri. He is so cool in traffic and if he can keep it up, he could be like Messi, but probably not Pele.
    Brazil usually played the high line, but they had the personnel to boss the back. We really need help back there. Can’t believe we don’t have the money to buy quality. Injury to Kos or Djourou would force Song back there.
    In sum, I think that we have adopted much of the futebol bonito style since Wenger came. I just wish we had a few more salty players in the current side.
    Live in Eastern NY in the summer, but Toronto is one of favorite cities. Maybe we’ll meet up some day.
    Gooners and futebol bonito forever!

  13. @JJ Pittman:
    Hey JJ – I lived in Rochester NY for 2 years as a kid and would have grown up an American had it not been for the Vietnam War. My big brother was reaching draft age in the early 70s and my immigrant parents did not understand the war. We took the trip around the lake and ended up Toronto. I played hockey until I stopped growing (and my team-mates didn’t) and turned to soccer and a lifelong love of the beautiful game. Years before I met my wife I dated a girl who worked at Xerox and used to make regular trips back to Rochester to visit. Glad to hear you enjoy our city and your welcome to meet me anytime. Cheers, 1NTTA

  14. @1NTTA: actually grew up in Greece, nw suburb, and graduated from Greece Olympia HS in ’61. Was 3A when graduated college, married with kid, so never had to worry about draft. By the time they made it a lottery, I was over 26.
    Rochester had great soccer club which played at Aquinas stadium and one of my brother-out-laws was from Germany, so we went a lot.
    Saw 2WC games @ Meadowlands and one @ Foxboro during ’94 cup. Also saw Brazilian league game @ Maracana in ’91 and Serie A @ Stadio Olimpico in ’97. Besides Highbury, have seen live matches @ Craven Cottage and Brisbane Road. Also saw Brazil beat USA at Yale Bowl in a “friendly” and Adelaide City @ Hindmarsh in ’98. Probably waste too much time watching world football on tv, but my second and current wife is also a fan. See you in Trawna or, if you like thoroughbred horse racing, we spend our summers in Saratoga Springs!
    All the best.

  15. Very cool, JJ.
    I parlayed whatever talent I had for the game into an NCAA scholarship and played my way to an undergrad degree at Syracuse. My first Arsenal game was the Bergkamp send-off at the new Emirates stadium thanks to a relative who had worked on security systems at the stadium. Was lucky enough to meet Wenger at one of the functions surrounding that event, got him to sign my programme and have been a Gooner ever since. Nice to know you went to Greece Olympia – GO SPARTANS! (Used to drive by on the 390). I’ll make it my mission to track you down for an ouzo or two one day soon. Take care, 1NTTA

  16. Pele is a legend,also a gentleman.But Brazilians players Edu,Gilberto Silva,Bettista & Denelsin are unfit as Arsenal players.

  17. Pele is a legend,also a gentleman.But Brazilian players Edu,Gilberto Silva,Bettista & Denelsin are unfit as Arsenal players.

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