Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Foot-Lit, Part 3
3. Garry Jenkins, The Beautiful Team
This book, which bears the subtitle in search of Pelé and the 1970 Brazilians, is sheer joy to read. The author set himself the task of tracking down the members of the legendary side that had lifted the 1970 World Cup, and he managed to get some quality time with nine of them. Everaldo, the left-back, had already passed away, while Jairzinho (the top scorer) and the centre-half Brito were contacted, but managed to avoid an interview.
As is the case with Matt Hall’s book, it is the personalities which make The Beautiful Team so memorable. Particularly vividly drawn are the midfielder Gerson, authoritarian and irascible but with the proverbial heart of gold, and the defender Piazza, a proud mineiro who wears his provincial heritage like a badge of manhood.
Perhaps the most engaging of all Jenkins’ interviewees is the reclusive Tostao, whose background is clearly more middle-class than that of most of his 1970 team-mates. He emerges as a gentle, thoughtful figure, not surprising given his intelligent style of play.
There’s plenty of humour along the way, of course. A healthy dose is provided by the goalkeeper Felix (well-known for being perhaps the most fallible member of the side), who, when Jenkins met him, was running a garage called, amusingly, Liar Motors. One of the many well-known images from the tight Brazil v. England game from the first round is of Francis Lee following up after a shot from distance, and accidentally-on-purpose slamming his knee into Felix’s temple.
Felix relates that after that, he spent the first half “not knowing where he was”…and it later emerges that Carlos Alberto, the captain and right-back, was detailed to give the rugged Lee a taste of his own medicine at some appropriate moment later in the match!
Another droll figure is the portly Rivelino, whose Italian heritage gave the final against Italy special significance for him. He emerges as the quintessential Italian figlio di papa, his father even appearing by his side, chest puffed out, in the black-and-white photo at the book’s centre. In the text, Rivelino and his Dad engage in some comical debate as to what the father’s own nickname from his playing days, “horse”, actually signified.
The encounter with a busy Pelé is necessarily brief, but it doesn’t matter. Pelé’s story is well-known; Jenkins is clearly more interested in the tales of the others who combined to create that thrilling footballing exhibition in Mexico, and he tells them lovingly.