The mystery of Pelé’s missing World Cup trophy

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What a kick in the pants to Pelé.

A replica of the iconic Jules Rimet trophy presented to the soccer legend after winning his third World Cup with Brazil in 1970 mysteriously turned up at auction this week, four years after it disappeared under murky circumstances, The Post has learned.

The trophy, valued at more than half a million dollars, was to go under the hammer Dec. 7 before the lot was suddenly pulled from Sotheby’s & Goldin “A Century of Champions” auction without explanation Friday.

That the Jules Rimet memento was even up for bid was as shocking to Team Pelé as the US men winning a World Cup.

“That trophy is very important to Pelé. It’s a huge milestone for him, it was a huge milestone for Brazil. Those memories and that trophy are irreplaceable,” Pelé’s manager, Joe Friga, 49, told The Post.

The superstar dubbed “Soccer’s National Treasure” captured the World Cup in 1958, 1962 and 1970. He is beloved in the NYC area, where he played with Cosmos in the late 1970s.

In 2016, more than six decades after first signing as a professional footballer, Pelé put everything up for sale with a portion of the proceeds going to charity, CNN reported. Among the 2,000 items were his World Cup winner’s medals and the football boots he wore during the 1981 movie “Escape to Victory,” which also starred Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine and Max von Sydow.

“I felt I could do much more good by sharing these items with the world, as well as helping the causes that are important to me,” Pelé said at the time.

Julien’s Auction House in London sold the treasure trove over the course of three days. In a video promoting the trophy sale, Pelé gushed, “I’m the only athlete in the world to win three Cups and truly conquer the Jules Rimet. I have to thank all the players that were by my side. … I thank God for giving me this joy.”

Although the media reported that Swiss luxury watchmaker Hublot submitted the $570,000 winning bid for the trophy in June 2016, Julien’s Auctions told The Post on Friday night that Pelé’s then-manager, who they declined to identify, “instructed them” to cancel the sale. “We were not happy, but we were obliged to accommodate Pelé,” CEO Darren Julien explained, adding that within three months the Jules Rimet trophy “went back to Pelé’s management at the time and to this day it (the lot) has been marked as unsold.”

Julien said he lost a $200,000 commission on the canceled sale and didn’t know what happened to the trophy after it was returned.

Pelé’s current manager Friga said his team came on board in 2017 and it was late last year when a marketing agency approached him about loaning out the trophy for a mobile museum that would mark this year’s 50th anniversary of Brazil’s 1970 4-1 World Cup victory over Italy in Mexico City. The triumph gave Brazil its third World Cup, which allowed them to permanently keep the Jules Rimet Trophy.

When Friga realized Pelé didn’t have the trophy, he contacted Darren Julien, who filled him in on the canceled sale.

On Nov. 21, a Pelé pal from Brazil emailed Friga a story link trumpeting the Sotheby’s & Goldin auction featuring what appeared to be the missing Rimet trophy.

“When I looked on Sotheby’s website, I blew up the photo and observed the markings and it was the same!” Darren Julien told The Post.

Like a soccer ref issuing a red card, Friga now has Pelé’s attorneys on the case.

“We are trying to verify if the trophy should be with Pelé or not. Obviously, there is a question mark. We want to close the loop on this,” he said.

Friga said he has yet to discuss the trophy mystery with the 80-year-old Pelé.

Said Julien: “Our goal is for the trophy to be returned to its rightful owner and according to our records, it’s Pelé.”

Sotheby’s did not immediately reply to a Post email inquiring why the Pelé trophy lot had been withdrawn.

That there’s controversy surrounding the replica Jules Rimet trophy should not be a surprise.

The actual gold-plated, sterling silver Art Deco trophy first came into existence when then-FIFA president Jules Rimet commissioned French sculptor Abel Lafeur to create the trophy for the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay in 1930. Its many disappearances are the stuff of legend.

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