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38 years on, 'King of Football' Pele still humble in Kolkata

Kolkata: It all began with a wait, a long wait at a packed ballroom of a top hotel here. Pele was an hour late for the media interaction but, then, that was okay this day. The actual wait had been way too long, after all. It took 'The King' 38 years to revisit the city he had mesmerised with his appearance on a football pitch. So, what had changed in the city from that September of '77, someone asked the legend.

Pele greets West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata yesterday evening. Pic/PTI
Pele greets West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata yesterday evening. Pic/PTI

"I have been in the hotel since my arrival yesterday," offered Pele. But, then, he wouldn't have had to step out to find out that a lot had changed. It had to. This is a different era. If the 1977 visit was about a football match, and of that rare opportunity to watch the incomparable 'Black Pearl' in action, this day was about a city connecting with those indelible memories.

A different era
On the one hand was a greying generation that swore by his name, and a new one that sought to find a suitable place for him on a pedestal that they have decorated with the Messis and Ronaldos. It is different because the great man will turn 75 in 10 days' time — an occasion 'celebrated' in advance during an evening function that saw members of the Mohun Bagan team that took on Pele's New York Cosmos in 1977 being felicitated.

It was at the function that Pele, almost on demand from the emcee, conceded that the penalty that gave Cosmos the 2-2 equaliser was flawed. "Everyone makes mistakes, and maybe the ref made a mistake that day," he said to great cheering from the audience at the Netaji Indoor Stadium.

Ganguly reminisces
There was Sourav Ganguly in conversation with Pele, and AR Rahman among the galaxy of guests. "I was four in 1977," Ganguly reminded. This time was bound to be different because it's the digital age of the high-decibel hype and well-executed events, where sponsors and backers demand and get their pound of flesh. The great man was in the hand of his handlers.

In 1977, he had defied his insurance agents to play on a treacherous turf at the Eden. Wonder if he could have done something like that if it was 2015. But, then, he did get his word in. Pele's humility was intact. Politely shying away from all comparisons with himself, he was full of praise for others. What hadn't changed too was the love and adulation he still got from fans of the beautiful game. So much hadn't changed with the 'King of Football'!

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