A journalist once said his name was the world’s most famous four-letter word. Once, to see him play a ceasefire was declared between warring factions in Nigeria. In Hong Kong on a promotional visit in connection with reviving the New York Cosmos, a club he played for, Pele spoke about his life and the beautiful game. Excerpts
What is the greatest match you ever played?
My first game with the Brazil national team was in Maracana. I was 16. We played against Argentina… But after that, I won three World Cups and had some great moments with my team Santos. It is very difficult to explain which one was more important.
You had an amazing moment in your career in 1969, when you scored your 1,000th goal.
Yes. That was another big, big surprise. Nobody scored 1,000 until then. Everybody thinks a penalty kick is the easiest to score (from), but (it) is not so easy. But a friend of mine, he said, “Listen, God stopped the game because everyone has to see your 1,000th goal. That’s the reason there was a penalty kick”.
You were 29, a veteran but in peak physical condition in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. The man marking you in the final, Burgnich, said: “I told myself he was made of skin and bones like the rest of us, but I was wrong”.
It was my last opportunity to show my best and to retire a champion. I prepared myself. I tried to be in shape. All the moments I was focused on this World Cup. I think it was bad for Italy (in the final), because we were at our best. And for me, it was fantastic, because I retired as champion.
You were born in Brazil into a poor family. Your father was a professional football player. And your mother did not want you to follow in his footsteps.
Yes. I don’t know, I think she was a little bit wrong. Of course, my father was a soccer player. He used to play very good. When I was young, eight, or nine, I just want to be like my father. I didn’t want to be famous. I didn’t want to be a great player; I just want to be like my father.
Then my mother used to say, “You must be a doctor, you have to study to be a teacher”. I said, OK. Then I went to Santos when I was 14. And they signed me. At 15, I was on the team, at 16 on the national team, at 17 in the World Cup in Sweden. Then my mother said — “OK”.
The President of Brazil made you a national treasure so you weren’t allowed to leave the country. Did you resent that?
You know, why I smile? Because — I smile the minute you mention — because they call me national treasure, but I — until now, pay income tax!
Who do you think is the best football player at the moment?
Pele. But, of course, we have a lot of good players, you know? It is difficult to say today, you know, who is the best player. Because every year there is someone different. You know, before, you could mention a player who used to play 10 years — for example, (Franz) Beckenbauer, (Michel) Platini, (Johan) Cruyff, Bobby Charlton, George Best. Then there was Maradona, Zico.
Those players used to play for a long time. Now, players play one year, two years, disappear. It is difficult to say. But nobody does or did what Pele did. Then, Pele, to me, is the best.
You think Brazil will be ready for the 2014 World Cup?
Brazil delayed a little bit. You know, I think, is a little embarrassing…We worked very hard to get the World Cup. To get the Olympics. I think is very big responsibility for the Brazilians, for the government, you know, for the political people. Because it is important to give back what they give to us. And give back well.
Why did you endorse Viagra?
When I was invited to talk with the people from Pfizer — the company which produces Viagra — they said to me, “Listen, we have something that’s going to save the world”. Because what they told me was Viagra was a medicine for the heart, not for erection. That was something people don’t know. This was for blood pressure and for the heart. I did the commercial for Pfizer, not for the product…But a lot of people now, young boys, they go to clubs. They use Viagra, I don’t know why.
Courtesy: CNN-Talk Asia