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God gifted me football, says Brazil legend Pele

Brazilian legend says he would be as good today as he was in his heyday if he were still playing

Kolkata: He tried hard not to utter 'that' name! There were provocations. Like when one of the mediapersons at a press conference yesterday morning asked, "If you are the king, who is the prince of football?" Pele, arguably the best footballer in history, dribbled around the question as gracefully as he would have done against opposition defenders during his playing days. Pointing towards Sourav Ganguly sitting beside him on the dais, he said, "We have a prince sitting next to me here!"

Pele reacts after unveiling a sculpture of his famous bicycle kick during an interaction with students in Kolkata yesterday evening. Pics/PTI
Pele reacts after unveiling a sculpture of his famous bicycle kick during an interaction with students in Kolkata yesterday evening. Pics/PTI

Diego Maradona was not mentioned at all in the hour-long press conference of O'Rei (one of Pele's nicknames meaning 'The King' in Portuguese), who won three World Cup titles with Brazil. However, eventually the Argentine's mention made an appearance at a function in the Netaji Indoor Stadium, when the legend was re-introduced to Mohun Bagan players.

Prasun Bandyopadhyay, an Arjuna-awardee, a former player and a current MP, wanted to know, 'Who is better? Lionel Messi or Maradona?' Pele had absolutely no hesitation in declaring his preference in front of a full-house. "Maradona was a more complete footballer than Messi," said Pele. "Both have almost the same style of play, both are very good. But having seen both, for me, Maradona was more complete, while Messi is the best in the last decade." Pele, visiting Kolkata after 38 years, also gave his opinion on a host of issues.

Excerpts:

Skill or physique?
We cannot separate modern football from old football. The basic requirements are the same. The most important thing is physical conditioning. If you want to last for more years, you need the best of physical conditioning. However, only physique can do nothing, you need skills to excel.

Messi, the best in last 10 years
Across the last decade, Messi has certainly been the best. He plays a team game, while Cristiano Ronaldo is more of a centre-forward, who scores goals. We had Ronaldo in Brazil, Romario, too, who played the same way Cristiano does. You should not compare these two completely different types of players. However, I would love to have both in my team.

Pele showing his skills to the students during the interaction
Pele showing his skills to the students during the interaction

Neymar can be the best
Personally, I take pride in the fact that Neymar too was a product of Santos, my club. And my son, who was the goalkeeping coach in Santos, had a role in preparing Neymar when he was a kid. Yes, he can be the best in the next few years.

Players owned by agents
In our time, we belonged to the clubs, while nowadays, the players are owned by their managers and agents. Moreover, there is no time to build a national team now. Players are playing for their clubs throughout the year. They get so little time to develop as a team. And football is a team game. In Brazil, we have excellent talent, but we need to grow as a team first.

Heartbreak in 2014
In 1950, we were hosts and could not (win the World Cup), losing to Uruguay in the final. And last year, again we were hosts, and lost in the semi-final. It was heartbreaking. Yet, it's great to know that we are the only nation to have won the World Cup five times. And we won all of them far away from our country!

If I were playing today...
Beethoven would have been Beethoven if he was alive and composing now. Greats of any era would have been the same in any generation, because they are the gift of God. And God gifted me football. So, it would be the same if I was playing now.

Secret to success
My father told me when I was a kid, 'Train hard, respect the opponent, never underestimate them and never believe that you are the best. Just train harder to improve. Love the game, be passionate, but don't miss your training. Work harder to prepare yourself to be better and better.'

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