Statesman by day, football superfan by night – Remembering Henry Kissinger

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FOOTBALL Statesman by day, football superfan by night – Remembering Henry Kissinger

Festus Chuma 17:39 - 30.11.2023

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a noted diplomat, had a deep love for soccer, even luring Pelé out of retirement to play in the USA.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, known worldwide for his remarkable diplomatic career and Nobel Peace Prize, left a lesser-known but profound legacy on the soccer field.

Kissinger, who passed away at the age of 100 at his Connecticut home on Wednesday , was not only a statesman but also an ardent soccer lover whose love for the beautiful game transcended borders and politics.

According to NewsWeek, Kissinger's deep affection for soccer can be traced back to his roots in Germany, where he was born on May 27, 1923.

"I have not lived in Germany for many more decades than I care to admit, yet I still follow the fortunes of that team which, in the age of high-salary professionalism, has been relegated to the second division," he confessed.

In 2006, Kissinger penned an essay for Newsweek, in which he dissected the greatness of the 1970 Brazilian soccer team's corner kick, showcasing his deep understanding of the game's intricacies.

He compared soccer to ballet, emphasizing its beauty and elegance while acknowledging the contrast between teams that focused on individual skills, like the Brazilians, and those strategically oriented to score goals.

Yet, it was his relationship with soccer legend Pelé, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, that etched his name into the annals of soccer history.

Pelé, widely considered the greatest soccer player of all time, led Brazil to World Cup titles in 1958, 1962, and 1970.

It was Henry Kissinger who played a pivotal role in convincing the superstar to come out of retirement and make a historic move to the United States.

In a 2016 interview with Esquire, Pelé reminisced about the life-changing conversation with Kissinger that led him to join the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League.

"Listen, you know I'm from the United States, and I'm in politics there. Soccer is coming along there—they're playing it in the schools. Would you like to help us promote soccer in the United States?" Pelé's initial response was, "My God!," he said.

"I accepted—I said I would go for a year," Pelé continued. "But then, once we started to promote it, it became very interesting. They brought over [Franz] Beckenbauer, and [Johan] Cruyff, and Giorio Chinaglia. That's when I said, 'Wow, this is great,' and I agreed to play three more years. It kept going, they started playing in colleges, and it moved forward."

Pelé's journey to the United States not only revitalized his own career but also played a pivotal role in promoting soccer in a nation where other sports traditionally dominated.

Kissinger's vision helped pave the way for the growth of soccer in the United States, culminating in the 2026 FIFA World Cup being hosted across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, fulfilling Kissinger's long-cherished dream.

He attended numerous World Cup finals and was even recruited by the U.S. Soccer Federation to support the bid for the United States to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

While the hosting rights ultimately went to Qatar for 2022, Kissinger was optimistic, stating, "I'll be 99 years old [in 2022], so it's sort of an obligation to stay around."

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