At 8.20 am on Sunday, Brazilian football legend Pele arrived in Kolkata for a three-day visit, his first to the country in 38 years, that will include watching the Indian Super League match between Atletico de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters on Tuesday.
Visibly tired after a long flight from Brazil, Pele took a small break at the airport lounge. He came to the exit of the airport on a golf cart at 8.48 am before getting into his car amid tight security.
Dressed in a black blazer and a grey t-shirt, he stood on the footboard of the car and wave out to the fans waiting to welcome him. While exiting the airport, the legend only said “Loved the city, loved the people,” referring to his first visit to this city, when he had travelled with the New York Cosmos team in 1977 to play an exhibition match with Mohun Bagan. The match ended in a 2-2 draw.
The crowd chanted “Pele, Pele” while holding Brazilian flags; even a Mohun Bagan flag was spotted. However, the crowd wasn’t as big as the one that had descended on the airport when Diego Maradona had come in 2008. That visit of course was planned by the ruling state government, while Pele has been brought by a private organisation.
The 74-year-old has no activity lined up for Sunday and will be driven to a five-star south Kolkata hotel, where he will rest.
His tour will kick-start on Monday with him revisiting the historic Eden Gardens ground, where the 1977 exhibition match was played. In a double bonanza for sports buffs, Pele and the city’s very own former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly will come together during a chat show at the Netaji Indoor Stadium on the same day.
Among others to be present at the event will be Academy award-winning music composer AR Rahman and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Tennis star Rafael Nadal will also join the show through a video conference.
Members of the Mohun Bagan team who played in the 1977 match will also be present and get a chance to interact with the Brazilian superstar. Prior to the chat show, Pele will hold a press conference at a five star hotel and then head off to the NSHM Knowledge campus for a tete-a-tete with the students.
On Tuesday, Pele will be the guest of honour at the ISL defending champions Atletico de Kolkata’s home game against Kerala Blasters. He will also meet the ATK players the same day.
The Brazilian will round off a hectic day by taking part in an auction dinner. The proceeds will go to the chief minister’s relief fund.
The buzz surrounding his visit is palpable with banners and posters of the legend splashed across the city while some of the leading confectioners and hotels have plans to prepare delicacies in his honour.
(With agency inputs)