© Lisl Steiner
1977. Giants Stadium at East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento "Pelé" has already been playing with the New York Cosmos club of the NASL (North American Soccer Association) for two years, after having signed in June 1975 a 2.8 million dollars contract for three years, an astronomical figure for a sportsman at that time, hired by Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, founders of the team in 1970 along with Steve Ross, CEO of Time Warner Inc. and Warner Communications, main economical driving force of the club and who since the mythical Mexico 1970 World Championship has strived after turning United States soccer into a glittering mass entertainment and sport in a similar way to NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL, having financed the transfer of great legends of international football like Pelé, Carlos Alberto, Beckenbauer, Chinaglia and others.
After a first adaptation year in which Cosmos achieved a third position in the United States Soccer League, Pelé has managed to lead the club to the top, being named MVP of the NASL in 1976, proclaiming Champion of the NSLA with New York Cosmos in 1977 on beating Seattle 2-1 in the Soccer Bowl of that year and making remarkable performances on the United States soccer pitches, scoring 37 goals, giving 30 goal assists and bringing about such a level of expectation and massive attendance of spectators to the games that it was necessary to change from Downing Stadium to Yankee Stadium in 1976 and a few months later to the Giants Stadium of New Jersey, where every match throughout 1977 has been disputed.
Pelé, the best football player ever, three times FIFA World Cup winner in Sweden 1958, Chile 1962 and Mexico 1970, the man who has scored more than 1,200 goals in official games, the teenager who being only 17 years old dumbfounded the world in the final match of 1958 Sweden World Cup after controlling the ball with his chest inside the Swedish box, doing a stratopsheric and immortal hat over the Swedish defender Sven Axbom and beating Svensson goalkeeper with a low shot, the magician of the ball who with Rivelino, Jairzinho, Tostao, Gerson, Carlos Alberto, etc, annihilated 4-1 the Italian catenazzo in the final match of Mexico 1970 FIFA World Cup, the player who broke all the audience records in a football game in United States the day of his debut with New York Cosmos against Dallas Tornado on June 15, 1975, which was broadcast live by CBS and watched by 10 million spectators and who has been able to double the attendance of football enthusiasts to matches all over United States, is already 36 years old and his professional sporting career will finish shortly.
The photographer Lisl Steiner inside the Blaue Bar of Hotel Sacher Vienna in 2015, 38 years after getting the pictures of Pelé in New York.
The photographer Lisl Steiner, a photojournalist working for Keystone Press Agency and the New York Times at the moment, realizes that O Rei Pelé is already standing up on a side of the football ground with the rest of his teammates a few minutes before the beginning of the match.
The Brazilian player is experiencing some seconds of introspection in which his mind becomes a melting pot of remembrances and contained emotions of a whole life started in Tres Coraçoes (Minas Geraes) where he was born and a childhood and teenage years throughout which he grew up under conditions of great poverty, working as a tea shop servant in Bauru (Sao Paulo) and practising football with a sock stuffed with pieces of newspapers and tied with strings and other times with a pomegranate, since he hadn´t got the wherewithal for buying a ball.
Lisl Steiner approaches him, equipped with a 24 x 36 mm format Leica M3 rangefinder camera coupled to a Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 Dual Range, featuring 7 elements in 6 groups and ten blades, frames vertically, presses the shutter release button of her camera and creates a great picture in which she captures Pelé sweating profusely after the warm-up, immersed in his thoughts and whose countenance reflects a great emotional intensity.
Pelé goes on being pensive and his face now reveals an even greater angst for the impending retirement than the previous picture.
© Lisl Steiner
Very quickly, Lisl Steiner moves on the right and gets a second photograph oozing drama, with Pelé´s face showing concern a few weeks before his good-bye to football, the thing he has most loved in his life, which will take place on October 1, 1977 with his farewell match New York Cosmos-Santos at the Giants Stadium of New Jersey, with an attendance of 75,000 spectators.
© Lisl Steiner
Inside the locker room of New York Cosmos. 1977.
Using her Leica M5 coupled to a Walter Mandler designed 8 elements in 6 groups Elmarit-M 28 mm f/2.8 second version made in Leitz Canada Midland (Ontario), Lisl Steiner photographs Steve Ross hugging Pelé from a very near distance, using Kodak Tri-X 400 black and white film, while Steve´s son Mark can be seen on the right of the image.
The CEO of Time Warner Inc. and Warner Communications was a very important man in the operation to bring Pelé to play football to New York Cosmos, thanks to his financial support and his great illusion to extend soccer in United States. Besides, his outstanding psichology, charm and faith in the project was fundamental to gain the confidence of the famous foreign players arriving in USA like Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto and others, for whom Steve Ross became a father, because the legendary Time Warner Inc. chairman, a visionary man regarding media and entertainment, as well as being a enthusiast of sports, had always one top priority much more important than money: the welfare of his friends and employees. He captivated them in a turning point time in which it was necessary to build professional soccer in USA almost from scratch, and his work was fundamental for the quick arrival in United States soccer of other great international players like Gordon Banks, Geoff Hurst, Eusebio and George Best.
Another key man was Clive Toye (National Soccer Hall of Fame 2003), who was then General Manager of New York Cosmos and developed very long negotiationsthroughout four years, which began in Kingston (Jamayca) on January 31, 1971 with a visit he and Kurt Lamm (Secretary of the United States Soccer Federation) made to the island to contact Pelé — who was going to play a friendly game with his club Santos of Brazil against the Jamaican Team — , and after a lot of aircraft trips and subsequent meetings in the Brazilian cities of Sao Paulo, Santos and Guaruja, Pelé began accepting to play Cosmos on March 27, 1975 in Brussels, during a homage match to the Belgian forward Paul van Himst, after which negotiations went on and the world-class Brazilian player confirmed in Rome two weeks later that he would play in New York Cosmos, subsequently signing the 2.8 million dollars contract in Hamilton (Bermuda) on June 3, 1975, while the New York Cosmos organized the ceremonial signing, which was held at the Manhattan Club 21 in New York a few days later, until Pelé made his début in the New York Cosmos vs Dallas Tornado match on June 15, 1975.
© Lisl Steiner
1977. Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State of United States, hugging Pelé inside the locker room of New York Cosmos at the East Rutherford Giants Stadium in New Jersey, while Ahmet Ertegun (President of Atlantic Records and co-founder of the New York Cosmos soccer team) is just behind Kissinger and Jay Emmet (Vice President of Warner Communicatios Inc.) is behind Pelé, raising his left arm about to take the Brazilian player to another area.
The level of expectation brought about by Pelé in USA, wherever he could be, was something really unprecedented within the scope of soccer in North America.
Henry Kissinger had been making an intensive diplomatic activity and conversations with top Brazilian politicians, trying to strengthen the relatioship between both countries and striving after persuading them to grasp the huge benefits that would mean for Brazil the arrival of Pelé to United States and the immense posibilities it would generate to foster soccer in United States, until it was attained and the best football player in the world arrived in New York in June 1975, after which more world class stars like Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, George Best, Johann Cruyff, Johann Neeskens and others would play in the NASL.
Later on, in 1983 Gene Edwards (President of the United States Soccer Federation) named Henry Kissinger President of the North American Soccer Committee for the organization of the 1986 Football World Cup, which was finally held in Mexico.
But he persevered and went on supporting the United States soccer with Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer (Kissinger is an honorary member of Bayern Munich club) until getting the organization of the 1994 United States Football World Cup, which was a great success both form an economical and sporting view.
During the halcyon days of Cosmos New York, Kissinger — a great football lover, who was Chairman of the North American Soccer League for some years — became a regular visitor to its dressing-room.
José Manuel Serrano Esparza