Pele: When Brazil World Cup Football Icon Visited Kenya

Pele: When Brazil World Cup Football Icon Visited Kenya

Martin Moses
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:21 PM
In this article:
FIFA World Cup logo
FIFA World Cup
  • Football legend Pele was infamously denied a chance to play an exhibition match in Nairobi
  • Then football chief Kenneth Matiba decried a lack of consultations and thus refused the visit
  • Pele failed to mention Kenya in his autobiography, perhaps indicating he felt disappointment

The football industry, and the whole world in general, is still trying to come to terms with the passing of one of the greatest footballers in history - Edson Arantes do Nascimento - better known as Pele.

Pele passed away on December 29 after a long battle with cancer, throwing Brazil into a period of national mourning.

Pele, Brazil, Kenneth Matiba, Pepsi Cola, Kenya
An image of football icon Pele on display in Sao Paulo, Brazil after he passed away on December 29, 2022. Photo by Mauro Horita.
Source: Getty Images

The Brazilian is the only player in history to have won three World Cups and was a dominant force to reckon with in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

Pele's trip to Kenya

It is almost unheard of for a football legend of the calibre of Pele to visit a country and not get to do what he had originally flown in to do.

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Kenya was among the countries the legendary Pele visited. The Standard reports that in 1976, Pele engaged students at the Starehe Boys Centre, as part of an initiative he had signed with the Pepsi company.

"It was in 1973 that I signed a contract with the Pepsi Cola Company, to work on a worldwide project of football workshops for children called the International Youth Football Programme, on which I would collaborate with Julio Mazzei."

Pele said he decided to become involved for year only, but it turned out to be one of the best things he had ever been part of.

After the first year was done, I signed up for another five. The programme was a triumph. It cost nothing to coaches, schools, or players."

Pele's wrangles with KFF

However, the Starehe Boys visit was just an effort to save face, because his Kenya visit turned out to be a disaster.

Then president of the now defunct Kenya Football Federation (KFF), Kenneth Matiba refused to allow Pele to play an exhibition match in Nairobi.

Matiba was at loggerheads with the organisers, claiming he was not consulted about the tour.

"Those planning to put Pele in shame should know that nothing happens in the world of football when rules are not adhered to," he said as quoted by Team Kenya.

The organisers tried to seek refuge in Mombasa, but faced a similar setback when the branch head Mubarak Said refused to grant their request.

Pele would then end his Kenya tour prematurely. Years later in his autobiography Pele: The Autobiography, the three-time World Cup winner gave the African country a wide berth but mentioned his visits to Uganda and Nigeria.

Pele's daughter pays him tribute

Sports Brief had earlier reported that Kely Nascimento has paid a heartwarming tribute to her legendary father, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, following his death.

Many tout Pele as the greatest footballer to have ever graced the sport. He passed on aged 82 after a long battle with cancer.

The Brazilian icon's condition failed to improve, after he was re-admitted to the hospital in Sao Paulo.

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Martin Moses
Martin Moses is a sports journalist with over five years of experience in media. He graduated from Multimedia University of Kenya (Bachelor of Journalism, 2017-2021)