Pelé, Netflix’s newest documentary about the legendary Brazilian soccer player, is a disappointing and incomplete account of the life of the man known to be the greatest soccer player of all time. Directed by Ben Nicholas and David Tryhorn, the documentary is often dark and gloomy, as it revisits its subject’s life from its humble beginnings to the glorious days of his career.
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pelé is a star like no other. Considered by FIFA as the world’s greatest player, and voted by the International Federation of Football and Statistics (IFFS) as World Player of the Century, Pelé was named by Time as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century and is by many considered the “king of soccer”.
But Pelé’s life was not all glory and accolades, and not addressing his transgressions is a great disservice to the story. Although the documentary briefly mentions the player’s friendship with authoritarian Brazilian president, Emilio Garrastazu Médici, and suggests that his lack of political positioning was beneficial to his career during the country’s dictatorship, one of the cruelest in Latin America, it didn’t surprise me that the matter wasn’t discussed with more care and depth. Pelé has long been known for avoiding hard conversations.
It is unusual that the directors did not include interviews with Pelé’s family members, with the exception of his sister, Maria Lúcia do Nascimento. The commentary on his life is entirely done by former teammates, renowned sports journalists and politicians, such as former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. All these exclusions make the documentary incomplete and one-sided.
On a positive note, deep care is given to illustrate the significance of Pelé’s life with black and white pictures on his days as a player for the Santos Futebol Clube, and impressive colored footage of his participation during various FIFA World Cup championships and street celebrations, which was to me the highlight of the documentary, and a huge contrast with the overall gloomy tone that carries throughout everything.
Therefore, it is unfortunate that a series of bad decisions by the directors turn Pelé into a cheap and mediocre documentary, one that, instead of commemorating the singular life of a legendary athlete, tries to paint him under a mushy and nostalgic light. And as Fernando Henrique Cardoso brilliantly said, “Pelé managed to weld his glory to the glory of Brazil. His myth is our myth,” but no one would know that by watching Pelé.