By SHANJEEV REDDY
THE national team, clad in their Harimau Malaya jerseys, sat like panellists just three feet from the legendary Pelé himself. It was surreal seeing the football legend in such an intimate setting in our very own Kuala Lumpur.
Pelé, along with fellow Brazilian rising star Oscar, were visiting to endorse the launch of a new campaign by 100PLUS. During this event, the Malaysian squad were able to engage in a Q&A session with Pelé, shortly before their participation in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
Pelé very patiently and gracefully answered every question lobbed at him. It was like witnessing a bunch of eager grandkids talking to their wise grandfather.
Check out the interview below for the full details of what he said!
Why did you chose to play in America instead of in Europe?
The Europeans were always asking me to play there. The Italians especially refused to give up, offering me shares in their clubs and all that. The thing is, I was very happy in Santos. I had a great time and managed to achieve everything I wanted to. I played over 20 years there before retiring. I only joined the New York Cosmos two years later when I was asked to help bring up football in America. I was also thinking about my children and decided it’ll be good for them and myself to improve our English.
Who was your biggest inspiration?
My father was my biggest inspiration. He was also a footballer and I didn’t know this at that time but he was the best header in Brazil. One time he scored five goals from headers in one game! He always told me, being able to play football is a gift from God and my duty is to be a good person inside and outside of the field. To this day, I try to follow this advice.
What was your favourite position to play in?
Yes, scoring goals is very fun but I don’t like to stay in one place all the time. Everybody likes to be the striker and score goals but I prefer to be a midfielder.
What is the most important aspect of football that a team should focus on?
Football is all about teamwork. Today’s football, especially, has come such a long way. So much of study is going into the team’s formation and chemistry that it actually makes it easier for the players. Just focus on the teamwork and everything else will follow. It would have been impossible for me to score 1,282 goals by myself.
How can a player best handle the pressures involved?
Pressure is a good thing. Without pressure, you cannot perform your best. You just have to be prepared and trust in yourself. The better you become as a player, the more people will expect from you, so always be fully prepared. I remember when I had to take a penalty towards the end of my career at Santos – I wasn’t the usual penalty taker but had no choice that particular game, and the Pelé who had scored over a thousand goals – suddenly I found my knees were weak and my hands trembling. This was because I had not prepared myself to take penalties. Luckily for me, I managed to score.
Who do you feel has a similar playing style to yourself?
In Brazil, we have Neymar, who is a very promising footballer. I think we have some similar styles but Messi is currently the most intelligent player in my opinion. He has a very good understanding of the game. Unfortunately for him he’s only one-footed.
What motivated you to pursue football professionally?
I naturally followed in the steps of my father, who later became an ongoing motivation. One day, when I came home after playing with my friends, I saw my father crying. This was very surprising to me because my father always said men don’t cry. That day Brazil had lost the World Cup in the finals to Uruguay. I was so saddened by this that I told him “It’s okay papa, I will win the World Cup for you.” I was nine years old then and somehow just eight years later, I fulfilled this promise.
Pelé’s real name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento.
At 15, Pelé was taken to a try-out at Santos FC and was signed immediately. Except for a short stint in America, he remained loyal to the team for 19 seasons.
On the 19th of June 1958, Pelé became the youngest player to play in the World Cup at 17 years of age.
In total, Pelé won three World Cups for Brazil, two World Club Championships and nine Sau Paulo State Championships.
He scored 1,282 professional goals during his massive football career spanning over 20 years.
Pele finally retired from playing football in October 1977. Since then, he has held several important roles including Brazilian Sports Minister and UN ambassador for ecology and the environment.