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04 Dec 2013
PELÉ and VITINHO
The wager 'O Rei' lost on the beach
Beach Soccer. Champions. Pele. All are connected and all are synonymous with Brazil. In a sport born on the Copacabana beaches of Brazil there have been many moments where the world of football has converged with the world of Beach Soccer, and the overlap that occurred in 1965 in Sao Paulo was one of the most special.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pelé, is arguably the greatest football player to ever lace up cleats and compete on the international stage. He was very unfamiliar to defeat during all his career, but in 1965, he had to stomach one that he would remember for long,
when his praised Nautico faced Vitinho's Copaleme at Santos beach.
'O Rei' and Vitinho met almost accidentally at Santos facilities, where the latter, who had recently signed to the Peixe volleyball team, was training with his new teammates. Vitinho was a star throughout Brazil in his own right. He was an Olympian for his nation in 1964 and by chance was in Sao Paulo in 1965 after he had been offered a spot on the Brazilian heavyweight, moving from Rio de Janeiro.
The carioca-born athlete idolized the soccer legend and when he spotted Pelé at a distance, his knees buckled, he dropped the ball, and headed over to talk with him. After an honest hug, the two sportsmen exchanged many stories and tales of great athletic feats, as Vitinho explained that, though he would make a living out of volleyball, he was no stranger to football, and specifically, beach soccer, a sport he truly loved. He then let 'O Rei know that he played for a star-studded Beach Soccer team in Rio de Janeiro, Copaleme, alongside with teammates Canolongo, Fraguinha, and Pellicano...
The Copaleme Praia Clube was founded in January 1954, involving all inhabitants of the Leme neighbourhood interested in Beach Sports. That same year, Copaleme had dominated all their competition and, after a brilliant campaign, had deemed themselves “Beach Soccer Champions”.
Pelé, who was very much enjoying the conversation and boasts of athletic prowess, was immensely interested by this latter statement, and asked Vitinho: "Do you know the Nautico?". To racous laughter Vitinho responded, “Only the one from Recife.” No one could believe that the guy did not know about the Nautico...
-"Nautico has no equal on the sand", 'O Rei' asseverated, wanting to let the newcomer know the caliber of the team he had no clue about...
At this point, it was Vitinho who though that, whatever Pele's dimension was, he was the naive now... There was only one way to discern who was right.
Vitinho, with much chutzpah, said that as long as Pele did not play, he would bet that his team would win in a Beach Soccer match. Despite everyone laughing at such a boldness, Vitinho was very confident in his team. And being the gentleman that he was, did not want to take anything away from Pele. But 'O Rei' did want to wager something on a match, and Vitinho decided that if his team won, Pele would pose for a picture with a Copaleme shirt.
The match was agreed upon and that very night Vitinho called every one of his best players and got almost all of them to commit to the match. An opportunity like that almost never comes around, the chance to personally win a wager against Pele. The match was set and played very soon after that. Both sides did not want to disappoint their fearless leaders and neither squad did. In an exciting match, Vitinho scored a goal in what proved to be the difference in a 3-2 victory for Copaleme over Nautico.
Pelé was a spectator throughout the match but when the horn sounded he had left the pitch, disappointed in his teams’ loss. The bet was still not settled and the next day, Vitinho met with Pelé after a training session, and 'O Rei' had not fogotten the agreement. Immediately, Pelé smiled and took the photo he had agreed to pose for.
The picture was immortalized on the wall of the Livraria Folha Seca, in Rio de Janeiro, and in a manner that only Pele could do, he confidently wrote, “This Copaleme is truly good”.