Jeanne Koré Salvato

Richarlison scores a brilliant goal for Brazil, and the commentator says, “That is jogo bonito. That is the beautiful game.”

If you don’t know Pelé, then perhaps you don’t know quite what is behind this comment. 

The story of Pelé, who won three world cups for Brazil, is the story of a soccer player and a Brazilian team that had yet to embrace its legacy of capoeira and street soccer. Capoeira [pronounced cop-uuh-where-a] began with the slaves who escaped into the jungles of Brazil, and their feints and dancing developed into this martial art. Pelé and the Brazilian team knew these moves because they would play soccer in the streets, keeping the ball moving by having it land on various parts of the body.  This kind of soccer was called ginga style.


Here’s what capoeira looks like.,vid:Z8xxgFpK-NM

So, Pelé comes from a small town and goes off to play with the national soccer team.  But the coach hated this ginga style of playing soccer and found it primitive.  Pelé could not adjust to not keeping the ball on his body and was ready to give up and go home.  Imagine!  Pelé, who along with Argentinian Diego Maradona, was named best soccer player of the 20th century, about to quit. Instead, he inspired his team to return to the ginga style of play and won the three world cups, giving to soccer the name, the beautiful game.  

Reader:  How did you come across all this?

Me:  One day I was on the way back to France from a trip to the US and there was a biopic on offer called Pelé: Birth of a Legend. If you have not seen it, you must.  I bought it and played it for my students, class by class, at the end of term when the students have gone far beyond any ability to think.  (As have we, their teachers.) And what I love about this film, which of course has some cinematic choices a bit over the top, is the moving way a family is healed by Pelé’s success, and the way a country has their pride restored.  In the film we learn that Pelé’s father was a soccer player himself, but he was injured and now cleans toilets for a living.  But it is he who coaches Pelé with mangos as soccer balls; he encourages his son to try to achieve the dream he, his father, did not realize, and this encouragement despite his wife’s disagreement. The sense of meaning that can come to the disenfranchised through a game well-played is very affecting.

Here’s the trailer

Some of us (you) may find bonding over a game a bit strange when we could bond over measurable life improvements, but really, bonding over a game is good!  Take the Bills Mafia, the so-called fans of the Buffalo Bills, who donate funds even to the families of players on rival teams when they’re in need. 

France loves its soccer, and, in fact, is the defending World Cup champion from 2018. When a French player makes a goal in the World Cup, well, the horns are a honkin’ all across the nation.

Notice the number 10. Same as the number on Pelé’s jersey.

And, in fact, as fate would have it, the first day I played the movie about Pelé to the kids in France, Pelé happened to be in Paris, and Kylian Mbappe, the great French soccer player, had a selfie taken with the world renown Brazilian.  France still has close connections with Pelé, who is now 82 years old.  He was suffering from respiratory issues so he’s been in the hospital for the World Cup 2022.  Many well-wishes have poured in from France and elsewhere for his recovery.  And France’s Mbappe has been compared to Pelé, due to the similarities in their ages and their successful career.

And here’s the man himself. Pelé.

A good teacher is supposed to help the students highlight what they have learned.  And if I were to do that, we would say that we learned about the history of the term, “the beautiful game,” and something of Brazilian history through capoeira, and now it’s time to see what jogo bonito has to do with the beautiful game.

Reader:  Now who is Jogo Bonito?  I’ve heard the name.

Me: He is the Brazilian soccer player who first appeared at the beginning of the blog.  Ha ha!  No.  Jogo bonito is a Portuguese expression for “the beautiful game.” And now we even know Portuguese!

Here’s the Brazilian goal in this World Cup 2022, carrying on the legacy of Pelé and the beautiful game that is Brazil’s.

And speaking of things soccer, a beautiful photo reveals something of the kindness of the human spirit, thanks to World Cup soccer. A US soccer player comforts a rival Iranian soccer player after Iran’s loss to the US. With the unrest in Iran now, you can imagine how much the Iranian team wanted to show another side to the world, its prowess and athleticism on the field.

Now a coupe is a big cup, a funny thing, perhaps to name a soccer match.  Here you pronounce the “p.”

World cup trophy (not a cup): solid gold with malachite bands. Two figures holding up the earth. Worth 20 million dollars.

Now, if you drop the “e” you have a blow, un coup. Here you do not pronounce the “p.” A coup de main is a helping hand, (without a cup). You can also have un coup de soleil, which is sunburn, for which you would need un coup de whisky, a shot of whisky. My personal favorite is un coup de theatre, a dramatic turn of events, which is literally a blow of theatre. I suppose we could say theatre strikes a blow.

As if there weren’t enough coupes and coups in French, there is also du coup, which requires a video to explain. Here’s a funny video which covers a lot of ground.,vid:nJWDHxKy3rU

I borrowed the following from Merriam-Webster: “It may surprise some people to learn that the term ‘hat trick’ as it relates to sports actually originated in British cricket. A bowler who retired three batsmen with three consecutive balls was entitled to a new hat at the expense of the club to commemorate this feat. Eventually, the phrase was applied to a single player scoring three goals in any goal sport and later to three victories or successes in sports as different as horse racing and golf. The phrase finally broadened to include a string of three important successes or achievements in any field.”

When I saw the connection to cricket, and I remembered that Beckett was a quite good cricket player, it dawned on me that the bowler hats that Beckett wanted the vagrants to wear in his play, Waiting for Godot, come from that tradition.  I knew Beckett was sportier in his play than it seemed!

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