The death of Pelé, one of the best players to have ever graced a football pitch, has united the football fraternity in paying a fitting tribute to the Brazilian who left a lasting impact on the lives of young players not only in Brazil but in all corners of the globe.
In Malta, Pelé’s death has inevitably revived the memories of when the Brazilian superstar came to our islands in 1975 as part of a European tour.
During his stay he visited the Centru Sport Edukattiv in Marsa, run by Fr Hilary Tagliaferro, with whom he became friends at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
Fr Tagliaferro had a special surprise for the young players attending the Centru Sport Edukattiv, as for a selected group of players, he organised a special training session at the Empire Stadium in Gżira that was led by Pelé himself.
One of the young players selected for this training session was former Malta international player Michael Degiorgio who went on to enjoy a highly-successful football career with both Ħamrun Spartans and the Maltese national team.
Degiorgio is seen by many as one of the best football talents in Maltese football.
In fact, he became the first Maltese player to turn professional in the 1980s and went on to enjoy a stellar career with Ħamrun Spartans with whom he won over 20 domestic titles, which included four league titles and six FA Trophies.
He went on to establish himself with the Malta national team, picking 77 caps throughout his career.
“That training session with the legendary Pelé was one of the best experiences in my life,” Degiorgio told the Times of Malta.
“At the time, I was only 12 years old and for us young players, Pelé was someone we looked up to and were keen to follow his footsteps in football. He was just like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are for today’s young football players.
“So when the opportunity came up to train with Pelé, I was really excited. I remember that they had made a selection process for this training session and I was over the moon when I learned that I would be one of the players to be given the opportunity to learn from such a huge football star.
“The Empire Stadium was full of people on the day as they watched us train with Pelé. I remember that among the players that trained with me that day were Alex Azzopardi and Raymond Vella, two future team-mates in the golden years at Ħamrun Spartans.”
Degiorgio said that the training session with Pelé focused a lot on football skills, something that today is given a lot of importance at grassroots level.
“He believed that to become a good football player you had to work on your individual football skills,” Degiorgio said.
“During those days we didn’t work much on that but today coaches at grassroot levels give a lot of importance to individual football skills.”
Asked whethere there was one particular message delivered by Pelé that remained in his mind, Degiorgio said: “His message on the day to us was very clear, he highlighted the importance of always remaining humble and to have a lot of faith in God.
“I remember him telling us that the first thing we should do at the start of every match is to make the sign of the cross.
“Secondly, he emphasised the importance that one should never forget from where he started. Pelé was born in very modest surroundings, and his family was very poor. But despite becoming the best player in the world he continued to remain close to the people and helped those in need, contributing a lot financially to charities in his country, Brazil.
“He was a very humble person and that is something that I always admired of him.
“Even when he was here in Malta he took hundreds of pictures with the people surrounding him and he never refused to give autographs.
“He was really always there for the people who loved him.”
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