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Grassroots development is the key, said Brazilian legend Pele as he held forth on a number of topics in his first public appearance in the city after 38 years here on Monday.
“Start working at the base, it is important to train kids for the future,” said Pele in response to Sourav Ganguly’s “Please suggest a way for the development of Indian football.” Ganguly, who has seen India reach the pinnacle as its cricket captain, put the question to Pele as one of the owners of Atletico de Kolkata.
With age telling on him, the 74-year-old legend had sought a day’s rest — he had reached the city on Sunday morning — before starting his hectic itinerary for the next 48 hours.
Ganguly, a recent entrant to sports administration after being elected president of the Cricket Association of Bengal, asked specifically about another underdeveloped aspect of Indian football — infrastructure.
“You have to give players the chance to go abroad and play and gain experience. They can then come here and share their experiences. But, firstly, you have to support the base,” replied Pele. “You should have football in universities, schools and colleges. It is important to start the sport at the right level,” added Pele.
Ganguly was perhaps unconsciously repeating the question on development first put to Pele by the then Mohun Bagan captain Subrata Bhattacharya when he first visited the city in 1977 with New York Cosmos to play an exhibition match against the Kolkata giant.
Pele had not answered then, as Bhattacharya recalled, but the Brazilian, wise with age and experience, chose to reply to a question that is still pertinent even after four decades.
A firm no
A lot of questions were reserved for Pele on the controversy and allegations of corruption at the highest level plaguing the sport’s world governing body — FIFA. The Brazilian’s one line reply was: “No, I do not have the intention of becoming FIFA president.”
The questions next veered to the comparisons of the best players in world football and specifically about the current state of football. “During my time players belonged to the clubs, but the players now belong to the impresarios,” Pele said, meaning that modern day footballers are more commercial-minded, dominated by agents and managers.
“Modern day football is tough, but yes, I would have still achieved the same feat that I had so many years back. Footballers are born and gain skills as a gift of God,” he said even as he recalled the support of the many talented colleagues who made him what he is.
“I had some great teammates like Garrincha, Didi and Vava. Later I played with the likes of Zico. When I was with New York Cosmos, I played alongside Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia, who were also great footballers. I did not play alone. There was someone who always played beside and with me to make us succeed as a team,” Pele said.
When he was asked to pick his best, Pele partitioned his preferences, saying Bobby Moore of England was the best of his time and hailed Argentine Lionel Messi as the best in the last 10 years.
“People do not take much notice of defenders. To me the best was Bobby Moore. But over the last ten years, without a doubt, it is Messi,” Pele said.
On the comparison between Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, Pele said, “A lot of people compare Messi with Ronaldo. But they are players of a different kind. Ronaldo is more of a scorer, more like a centre-forward. Messi plays deeper. But both are fantastic.”
Pele went on to add the name of Brazilian Neymar in the comparison. “Neymar, no doubt, could be one of the best players at the moment. I hope Neymar wins a trophy for Brazil. He hails from Santos, the club I used to play for. My son Edinho was the one who trained him, so I feel proud and happy,” Pele said.
He rued the absence of a good club league structure in his own country which sees the players moving to Europe and failing as a team when turning out for Brazil.
“We have some of the best players in Brazil, but, unfortunately, we did not have much time to prepare the team before the World Cup.
“You have to have the players together for a longer time to prepare, better but that is not possible as most of them are playing in Europe. Nowadays players’ managers decide if they should play for the country or the club,” Pele ended with a note of concern.
From: The Hindu