Ricki Herbert: ‘Pelé set the standard others are measured against’

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New Zealand football legends are joining the global community with their tributes to Brazilian star Pelé, considered by many to be the greatest footballer of all time.

Pelé has died in Sao Paolo, from cancer, at the age of 82. He remains the only player to win three FIFA World Cups.

Former All Whites coach and player Ricki Herbert said while it was always difficult to compare players of different eras, there was no doubt that Pelé provided a benchmark for others to be measured against.

“He had an extraordinary talent,” Herbert said.

“But even when he stopped playing, his stature within the game was iconic and he oozed class. He was an absolute superstar.”

Main photo: Pelé is hailed as the world’s greatest player after Brazil win the 1970 FIFA World Cup.

Brian Turner with Pelé.

Herbert’s 1982 World Cup finals teammate Brian Turner says Pelé was his footballing idol and his proudest possession is a photograph of the pair together.

“I was named as a substitute for New Zealand’s game against Brazil,” Turner said.

“Pelé was there as a spectator and he came into the changing rooms before the game.

“When he went onto the pitch, I talked (teammate) Allan Boath into coming with me to take a photo of me with Pelé.

“Allan wasn’t too keen because we were meant to stay in the changing rooms, but I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“Pelé was on the pitch with (head coach) John Adshead and I said ‘excuse me, Pelé, can I have a photograph with you?’

“He said ‘of course’.”

Turner said he was in total awe of the Brazilian “and he didn’t know me from a bar of soap”.

But the photograph was taken and has since taken pride of place on the wall of Turner’s Auckland home.

“John Adshead wasn’t that pleased — he looked daggers at me and said ‘only you, Turner, could pull a stunt like that’.”

Another All White player that day was teenager Wynton Rufer, though he missed meeting him by seconds.

Rufer finally met his hero in 1998 when he attended a FIFA event with legends of the game, including Pelé.

Rufer told Stuff he got to know Pelé quite well after that.

“I got invited to his 60th and his 70th birthday celebrations., There were maybe 40 people there and I’m one of them. It was pretty cool.”

Pelé died on Rufer’s 60th birthday and the former Werder Bremen star was wearing a Brazilian shirt, with Pelé’s name on the back, which he received as a present from his sons.

Rufer also revealed another mark of respect he has for his idol.

“His parents called him Dico, and I’ve got that tattooed on my chest,” he told Stuff.

“Pelé’s real name was Edson Arantes do Nascimento, but his parents, Dondinho and Celeste, called him Dico. That tribute has been there for 30-40 years.”

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