Pelé and Bologna, the three friendlies against Santos in the summer of 1971
At the tail end of the very long 1970-71 season, with the last official match in mid-June: the final of the Anglo-Italian Tournament, (a loss to Blackpool in Bologna) a North American tour was arranged by president Filippo Montanari and the United States Soccer Football Association, with five summer friendlies.
Mondino Fabbri’s squad for the tour: Adani, Roversi, Prini, Cresci, Janich, Fedele, Perani, Rizzo, Savoldi, Testa, Battisodo, Righi, Scala, Pasqualini. Some loan players joined the group too: Fogli from Catania, Enzo from Cesena, Caporale from Udinese and Ferrari from Seregno.
After two victories over West Ham, (1-0 in Toronto 1-0 thanks to Enzo’s goal, and a 2-1 win in New York sealed by Savoldi and Enzo again), Bologna, who had just finished fifth in the league, came up against Santos, who were preparing for the imminent start of the first Brasileirao in history, after years of domination in their Paulista league.
An 8,000 dollar bonus for participation, Jader and Mazinho as reinforcements and commercial agreements with Pepsi: the Alvinegra’s tour began in Toronto, with the first match against Bologna on 23 June, which started with a symbolic kick-off by Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.
There were 23,000 spectators in the stands, plus at least another 4,000 who had entered the Varsity Stadium by climbing over the fences, to see O Rei, of course. In the 5th minute of the second half, at 1-0 to Santos, Pelé himself scored the Paulistas’ second. It ended in a 2-1 defeat for Savoldi’s men.
Two days later, at the Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, not far from New York, Bologna managed to hold the Brazilians to a 1-1 draw, with Savoldi’s goal, which was nullified six minutes from the end by a goal from Jader.
Then the last stop in Canada, on 30 June in Montreal: never before had 20,000 people attended a football match there, and to ensure that the stadium was as full as possible, the start of the match was delayed by more than an hour, until 9.40pm. The decider of the friendly was inevitably Pelé, who, after 14 minutes, skipped past Vittorio Caporale in a sharp dribble and beat Amos Adani again.
Amidst the smiles and pleasantries typical of summer post-matches, O Rei had some sweet words for the Rossoblù with the journalists: ‘Bologna’s performance could not have been better: your team was the best European formation we have ever encountered. I knew you would give us a hard time, and Adriano Fedele in particular made me sweat with his marking’. After the customary goodbyes to Roversi and his teammates, he also announced his farewell to the national team, with whom he played his last game in Rio a couple of weeks later, finishing with 77 goals in 92 games and three World Cups won.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pelé, Três Corações, 23 October 1940 – São Paulo, 29 December 2022.