Dear Edson (or Dico, as your family likes to call you),
Listen very carefully.
When your family moves away from Três Corações, don’t forget the socks of your mother. You are young, only five years old, but you must not forget the socks. If you forget them, your life may be very different.
You and your family will move to a very small town called Bauru. You will move to this place because of your father. You see, he plays for the football club Bauru Atlético. In Bauru, your family has a very simple house. You and your brother share the same bed. This is not always comfortable, but because of this, the two of you will become very good friends.
In front of the house, there is no grass. Only dirt and sand. This is your first football pitch. Many larger ones will come. I will tell you more about this later. For now, the front of your house is your stadium. You and your friends cut sticks and bamboo with sharp knives to make the goals.
You do not have the money to buy a real ball. This is why you must never forget the socks. There is very little money in the family. So, you make a ball by stuffing old newspapers inside the socks.
The ball, it’s not always round. But that’s O.K. You and your friends will play for hours outside, and you are called “The Shoeless Ones” because you cannot afford football boots, either. You will quickly learn to go around the puddles. The biggest danger is water, and the puddles will be your first defenders.
You may need to put this letter down and go call your mother to say sorry. Because you will take many of her socks over the years!
Ah, your mother. She is a very tough woman. As I’m writing this, she is nearly 99 years old. She still teases you to this day. When you visit her, don’t tell her what you wish to talk about. She says, “You are in my house. We discuss my things.”
She is always the boss in the house. Your father is often away with the football club. She is the one who saves the money and makes sure you, your brother and eventually your sister, have books and shoes. She will teach you very important lessons. There’s one lesson that you will remember for a long time. It is the lesson about your neighbor, the one with the mango tree.
One day, you bring home a mango from her tree.
Your mother asks, “Dico, where did you get this mango?”
You say, “I got it from Donna Maria across the street.”
“But you asked her for it?”
“Yes, yes, of course.”
This is a lie.
She says, “O.K. Dico, let’s go ask Donna Maria if this is true.”
Sometimes, you are a bad boy. When you are older, you will remember this and become very embarrassed. But this is the most important lesson your mother will teach you. It’s not about mangoes, Edson. It’s about respecting other people.
Now, let’s talk about your father. Many times, he will watch you play in the street. You score one, two, three, sometimes four goals. But your father is not happy about the goals. He tells you that you have to do better.
What? You do not understand.
He says, “No, no, no, what I mean is that you need to learn to do the other things. You must have many skills on the pitch. Not just scoring goals.”
This is very important advice. Remember this always. Later on, your life will change. But he will tell you the same exact thing when you play at Santos Football Club.
(It is true, Edson! You will become a professional player. Stay calm. I will tell you more later.)
After the match, your father will say, “You made two or three bad passes. Why?”
“But father, we won 4–1.”
He will tell you again, “You must be precise. You can get better.”
You see, your father, he is a competitive man. He once scored five headers in a game. This is a record in Brazil. When you score your 1,000th goal at the Maracanã, it will be a penalty kick, and the entire world will stop for one moment to watch (this is your gift from God). The atmosphere in the stadium will be one big party, no matter what team the fans support. You will receive a trophy. There will be many photographs. This will go down in the history books. During the celebration, your father will whisper to you, “I have scored five headers in one game, but have you?”
You will both laugh. Your father, he is a very special man, and he is the only reason why you chose to play football. Even after his career-ending injury, you will always consider him the best player. All you want to do is be like your father…Read more on theplayerstribune.com
Edson Arantes do Nascimento
Feature photo: Popperfoto/Getty Images