Nothing prepares you for a meeting with Pele. Not even a setting that seems heavenly and is called the Skye. With well lit high-rises fringing the Jardim Paulista area here, champagne flutes and finger food circulating among guests, you somehow think it is appropriate that the rooftop restaurant is called that even after finding out that it is actually named after a former singer-owner.
Completing the football hedonist’s delight on Sunday evening was former Brazil skipper Cafu. Between them Pele and Cafu, striker and defender, have been part of all five’s Brazil’s World Cup titles.
Football’s O Rei (The King) was late by over an hour leaving Cafu to pose for photographs on just about anybody’s mobile phones, veteran journalists included, and make small talk. With a polite ‘No Ingles’, he cut short HT’s bid to get in a few questions. Those who knew Italian were more fortunate. But even Cafu, a player whose distinction of featuring in three successive World Cup title-round matches Pele doesn’t have, was eclipsed by the arrival of a man born as Edson Arantes Do Nascimento.
“Everyone’s hassling him now,” Pele’s minders were heard complaining to the restaurant staff. Looking like he has been over the past two decades and seemingly unruffled by the news of a 33-year jail term for his son, Pele, 74, emerged from one of the elevators that wasn’t being man-marked by journalists and contrary to what his minders were saying, happily obliged everyone eager for a photo-opportunity.
Unlike Cafu, he took questions in English and Portuguese and seemed ready for more when the host cut short the media interaction. But in the time he was there, Pele did his bit to ease the pressure on Brazil. “Brazil has no obligation to win the World Cup,” the deep voice ringing out into the night. “What Brazil has is the obligation to play well but the pressure on the team is very, very high,” he said.
“We have to get into the pitch respecting everyone. Football’s unpredictable. You can play well for 85 minutes and then lose the game in the next five...There won’t be any easy games in the World Cup. It is a great thing that Felipao (coach Luiz Felipe Scolari) is absorbing a lot of the pressure preventing it from getting to the boys. We must all back this young bunch.”
Things were different when he played his first World Cup, Pele said. “When I got to Sweden, nobody knew about Brazil. They would think it was part of Argentina or they would think that the Amazon was all that there is to our country. Football played a large part in changing that perception. So it’s fitting that football’s most important tournament has come to Brazil,” he said.
It followed what he had said in an earlier interview: “As a Brazilian I feel sorry because you have two or three big opportunities to showcase the country — the Confederations Cup, the World Cup and the Olympic Games (in Rio de Janeiro in 2016). I think this will be a great opportunity to show the country, to make money, to get tourism. And it’s important that the demonstrations do not damage everything.”
And when someone asked about the nightmare of 1950, the only other time Brazil hosted a World Cup, following up the poser with a what if Brazil played Argentina in the final, Pele said: “You might want us to play Argentina but we would prefer to meet Uruguay in the final. It would give us a nice chance to take revenge.”