Pele's date with Kolkata in 1977

Pele came to Kolkata as a part of the New York Cosmos side in September 1977. Pele and Cosmos played a friendly against Mohun Bagan at the Eden Gardens on September 24. The match ended in a 2-2 draw. The legendary Brazilian is now on his second visit to the City of Joy and we dig out an old article that was published in the Saturday Sports Special section of The Hindu on October 1, 1977.

Pele playing for New York Cosmos against Mohun Bagan (Published in The Sportstar on April 19, 1986).   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

”The inherent strong points of great players that we possess must first be analysed. In turn these qualities or strong points must be brought to bear in the minds of every player in the team so as to get the best out of him. This is my basic principle as a coach of a team like the Cosmos comprising players from the different parts of the world with varying styles and temperaments”, said Eddie Firmani, the coach of the Cosmos from America, which played in Calcutta last week.

“For instance a player like Franz Beckenbauer is about the only player in the world who could send up a precision pass, to reach the foot of a moving player, at distance of about thirty yards. So in trying to utilise this unique ability, I must provide him with a player up in front, who would be versatile in receiving such long range passes on the run, without tumbling with it while trapping, but players in certain countries who believe in a short passing game will not suit the purpose. Hence we go all out to secure such a player to build up a variety in style with an eye on the strong points of our players.”

“My only warning to my players would always be to avoid the other man's weak points. In other words do not create a situation when a player would be forced to expose his weak points. And then there will be no difficulty to perform in unison especially with the very highly skilled players though with different individual characteristics that we have”, continued Mr. Firmani.

This was of course evident from the way the Cosmos moved on the field although not at full blast. While all eyes were focussed on the maestro Pele, and his movements, very few cared to notice the nuances of the others in the outfit who at times brought out their brilliance.

The play pattern of the whole team itself was interesting. Though the basic formation was 4-2-4, the flexibility with which it gave way to other types like 1-2-3-4 (the 1 being the sweeper Carlos Alberto) the S-34 and the 1-4-3-2, used under pressure (once again the 1 being the one and only Carlos). This pattern weaving, free-flowing approach to attack and defence, according to game situation is an object lesson to those who follow this formation only in its rigid form of placing players in numerical order.

The individuals themselves brought out at times the classic interchanging of positions at will, irrespective of given positions. There was always a player at the required spot, though he was a deep defender playing at inside forward like the right wing back Moral, who was smoothly flowing into the lead point of attack overshadowing the established lead men. Pele, Georgio and Tony Fields on the left flank were indulging in a triangular passing bout when the ball, was moved sinuously; such grace, such control using the necessary force, without anybody having to survey the field tar back or up ahead; the instinctive understanding resulting in the ball being moved with a sensitive touch of the outside of the instep leaving the defender disarmed in a false sense of security and before one could bat an eyelid, there appeared Carlos Alberto to gain possession to score that memorable goal.

The element of surprise is the very essence of a successful attack which is the basic factor underlying collective attack but for the Cosmos attack with world class players, a mere pass could be a surprise, when the one receiving the ball was not the one approaching it but the one who was doubling up for the lead man who moves away as if he changed his mind about receiving the ball.

There was Scullion specially in the second half playing as a medio. Every time he gained possession he was not looking for anyone to release the ball to, but worked up the whole half of the field right up in front, to finish up.

Those who were earlier on that flank disappeared into other positions while he was accelerating towards the target. Accuracy was more important than force, hence every time a player struck, his limbs did not at any stage look fully stretched, which was a sign of giving the ball just enough force to reach the target more accurately than to give the ball more speed than necessary without control.

Dimitrijevic the lean and lanky Yugoslav was a picture of agility in this respect when at times he unleashed terrific drives without displaying any overstretched and tensed lower muscular make-up. Cool as a cat, he could move with ease and accelerate without seeming to make any special effort about it.

The ability of a midfield player is not only to set the ball rolling for his attack but keep a vigilant eye on his own defensive formation. In this, Garbett keeping company with Dimitrijevic was most versatile. After every attacking movement he would retrieve himself as fast as he made the lead point click. This too done as per the demand of the game situation when instead looking for a pre-planned defensive position, he would fill in whatever gap was needed to be closed, in whatever part of the defensive set-up.

Speaking about defence, the ease with which Carlos Alberto robbed the enterprising attacker of the ball was yet another master craft on display. When an attacker feints to move on one side, Carlos is already in position to tackle the ball which is moved in the other direction. How does he achieve it?

While the attacker is about his task of feinting like all attackers Carlos knows by instinct that the player is more at home moving in the other direction, for every attacker would want ultimately to move the ball on to his pet foot when getting past the defender specially deep inside the penalty box. Hence instead of standing with his feet apart, he is seen standing almost at attention, giving the attacker the notion that he has still not understood what is in store for him but as soon as the attacker makes his move. Carlos is already away with the ball, as if it was all alone in his possession.

This is the ability to judge the attacker's mind based on his movement psychology which is very common in certain given game situations. In an ordinary team, even a free-kick on top of the box, especially with a defensive wall in front, is a matter of chance. It may or may not work. But, for the Brazilians, a goal is dead certain irrespective of all types of defensive formations. They are the best in the world even to this day in this fine art.

To an extent, this was also evident at the Cosmos game, when Pele took the first free-kick a little further from the top of the box when he gave the ball some spin, not perhaps as much as he wanted due to the slushy underfoot conditions. The ball rose in the air rather slowly and spun in towards the left upright low down and Shivaji at the Mohun Bagan goal was spared the trouble of having to pick the ball up from inside the net. Due to insufficient flight, the ball veered away low and Shivaji managed to push it away diving low. But every one in the Mohun Bagan defence thought it would be the same when in the second half, the Cosmos was awarded a free kick right on top of the box. This too was taken by Pole, but this time Tony Field ran over the ball while Pele chipped it, in such a way that the ball rose just enough to go over the defensive wall and even as it was dropping behind, Georgio was there to give it back to Tony Field who had taken a vantage point for the final assault.

But Tony in making contact, seemed to have lost his balance, and without the required control behind the volley the ball went a bit past the left upright. Individually and collectively there were some efforts on the part of players other than Pele. The team as a whole even in a relaxed mood had a touch of world class which could serve the cause of the technical development of the game if studied in its proper perspective.

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