When a 10 year old Gio Savarese met Pele
Growing up a soccer crazy kid in Venezuela, ten-year-old Gio Savarese got the opportunity of a lifetime when he was invited in 1981 to attend the Pelé Soccer Camp in New York City. At the time, the young Savarese knew he wanted to be a professional soccer player but little did he know, this trip to New York would take him to the stadium where he would achieve legendary status as a player and to see the team that he would eventually manage.
“I loved soccer since I was a little kid, I used to play all the time, so my parents thought it could be a good experience to go on this trip.” Gio said, “for me, it was my first time in New York. So I didn't know what to expect, I didn't even speak any English.”
One of the first things that Gio noticed was the unique way in which the camp was divided into different groups. “They were divided into the names and nicknames of Pelé. So there was a group called "Edson", then “Narantes", then “Nascimento”. It was the different names of Pelé that divided the groups.”
That camp was held at Manhattanville College. One day after the normal training sessions, drills and competitions, the campers had a special guest. Gio explains, “Pelé came in and everyone was taking pictures. I got to interact a little with him. He had some kind of aura that made you feel attached to him right away.
“Pelé sat down and spoke with us. He gave us advice and he definitely inspired us in different ways. He also said that he played for the Cosmos. That’s when I learned about the New York Cosmos.”
Part of the camp schedule had the kids attend a Cosmos game at Giants Stadium. This match and the experience of that game left an indelible mark on the young aspiring soccer player.
“We got to get on the bus and we had to drive to Giants Stadium. I remember on our way to Giants Stadium, it was the first time that I saw Manhattan. I saw the Empire State Building. It was a thrill.
“We went to the Stadium. I still remember when I was on the bus and we were driving, seeing the spirals of Giants Stadium. It was amazing. When we got inside the stadium there was a lot of energy and a lot of people. It was so big inside.
“I remember the Cosmos were playing the Seattle Sounders. I also remember it was an interesting game. Seattle scored two goals first and they were leading the game.
I enjoyed watching the game. I was really into it. I think at the end, the Cosmos won in a shootout. It was incredible. The environment, the energy, the whole thing.”
Gio went back to Venezuela after his time at Pelé’s camp with not just a renewed sense of motivation to become a professional soccer player but also a picture with the Brazilian soccer legend himself. “I went back to Venezuela and that picture with Pelé was always hanging in both my grandmothers’ houses. It was always a picture that you saw when you first walked into their houses.”
“It was an amazing memory to be next to Pelé. That inspired me even more to continue playing soccer and to try to become a professional player.
“One of the most amazing things that I experienced was how humble Pelé was. He joked with all of us during the time that we were there. Pelé inspired me, seeing such a humble person.”
And now after being named head coach of the New York Cosmos it has all come full circle for Gio Savarese, something that even he admits is a little surreal.
“At the time, everything in New York seemed to be so far and a place where I would never expected to be living in the future. I never thought in the future, this would be my city, this would be the place that I would come to and live. “
“At the game, couldn’t have imagined it would be that same stadium that I would be playing in the future or that I would end up coaching that team in the future. So everything is very surreal, how things sometimes come full circle.”