SANTOS (Reuters) - Winning the World Cup would be the absolute pinnacle for most footballers but achieving that feat not once but twice still rankles with Brazilian striker Pepe. The reason? He never got to play.
“There’s a lot of joy and a lot of sadness too,” Pepe, one of only three men to hold two World Cup winners medals without playing a game, and the only one still living, told Reuters.
“I was never very lucky with the selecao. I got injured ahead of both World Cups, in ‘58 in Sweden and ‘62 in Chile. Serious injuries and I couldn’t recover in time.
“So there’s the sadness and then there’s also the joy of being a champion, part of a winning group. I consider myself a double World Cup winner despite all these problems.”
Pepe, whose full name is Jose Macia, was Brazil’s first-choice left winger ahead of the 1958 tournament.
He was in goal-scoring form but injured his ankle in the final warm-up against Inter Milan and was replaced by a skinny winger-cum-midfielder called Mario Zagallo.
Zagallo was less of a goal threat but more adept at chasing back and he performed well as Brazil, featuring a 17-year old Pele, stormed to their first title.
Pepe recovered his place after the tournament, and was in line to make the team that defended its crown four years later in Chile.
However, disaster struck again. Pepe limped out of the final warm-up match against Wales and was forced to watch from the sidelines in Santiago as Brazil retained their title.
Now 83, he still lives in Santos and is adored in the city where he scored 405 goals, a number second only to Pele.
He won the Copa Libertadores twice, the Intercontinental Cup twice and represented Brazil on 41 occasions, scoring 22 times.
When his playing days were over he moved into management, fondly remembering his days in Saudi Arabia coaching a certain Pep Guardiola at Al Ahli.
More than half a century after his double disappointment, people still ask him about his dubious ‘feat’.
And though every four years he puts on a brave face, behind the smile the disappointment has never truly faded.
“It doesn’t bother me, people ask me about it even today,” he said with a wry chuckle. “But there’s still a pang of hurt at not being able to play, even though I wanted to. That’s life.”
Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Christian Radnedge