Human Interest

Brazilian looks back on 64 years as Pele’s barber

By Carlos Meneses Sanchez

Santos, Brazil, Oct 20 (efe-epa).- If not for the mirror and the barber’s chair, you’d think you were in a museum.

The walls of this modest establishment near Vila Belmiro stadium are covered with photos and press clippings documenting the career of soccer legend Pele, the most loyal client of owner Joao “Didi” Araujo.

At 82, Didi is a celebrity in Santos. He has been the barber to the “king” since the man born Edson Arantes do Nascimento arrived here in 1956.

But what began as a business relationship evolved into an enduring friendship.

Despite winning three World Cups with Brazil and becoming a global star, Pele – who turns 80 on Friday – has never changed barbers.

“There won’t be anyone else” like Pele, Didi said in an interview with Efe.

The two men were both born in the state of Minas Gerais, albeit two years apart and in towns separated by 1,000km (600mi), yet it was in Santos that their paths crossed.

“Pele’s barbershop and yours, too,” reads the sign over the entrance. The writing is flanked by emblems of the Santos soccer club, where the king played for 18 years.

The future icon wondered into Didi’s shop shortly after coming to Santos as a 15-year-old and addressed the owner: “I wanted to see if the gentleman can cut my hair because so far, nobody has done it correctly.”

“I told him (his haircut) was a little bad and that I would look at how to fix it. Then I cut his hair,” Didi recalled. “He liked it a lot.”

The barber then recounted his final words to Pele on that occasion: “If you like it you can come back, and if you don’t like it you can look for someone else and our friendship will remain the same.”

Pele, who dubbed the barber Didi for his resemblance to another Brazilian soccer great Waldyr “Didi” Pereira, came to view Araujo as a confidant.

“He talked quite a bit. For him, I was like his brother,” Didi said.

Though he was just 17 when he hoisted the World Cup for the first time, Pele “continued to be the same person,” according to Didi. “It never went to his head.”

Even so, Pele’s growing fame created an issue for the barber, as the king’s devoted fans began to flock to Didi’s shop as if it were the soccer equivalent of the Sistine Chapel.

One of the photos on the wall shows Didi cutting Pele’s hair amid a crowd of onlookers.

“They knew was coming and they waited for him. To cut his hair, I had to keep them outside,” Didi said.

One of his most cherished possessions is a photo of Pele the striker gave him after leading Brazil to triumph in the 1970 World Cup.

The Brazil captain included a dedication to “the best barber in Brazil.”

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