GURGAON: Pele didn’t get an opportunity to teach us football on his second visit to India, but in the little time that he has spent with the media and the football fraternity, he has given people lessons in free speech.
During the media interaction with the legend here on Thursday, Pele was asked who he would like to see as the next FIFA president. It was a pertinent question under the circumstances, with the world body fighting a battle of credibility.
Even as Pele was taking a moment to frame his answer, the emcee, a man in uniform, promptly began wielding control: “He is not allowed to take any FIFA questions.”
That’s when the liberal spirit in Pele spoke up. Stopping the Indian Air Force man in his tracks, with the same ease he would dodge his marker, Pele said, “Listen, listen, this is a democracy. Can’t we question and answer at will?” It was perhaps the moment that made his visit here complete. A spontaneous applause rang through the packed hall. Pele had made his point in a simple but telling way.
He then followed it up with a detailed response to the FIFA fiasco. “It is easy to criticise FIFA. But we must not forget the wonderful job they have done over the years in Africa, South America and Europe. FIFA has created a lot of opportunities there. We must keep that in mind before jumping to conclusions.
“The problem is not with football. The problem is with a few individuals. It is the same in politics. It is a few individuals who create problems, as in Brazil or United States or anywhere in the world. What is happening in FIFA is shameful. It is true, we need honest people to run FIFA.”
Asked if fellow Brazilian Zico could be a good candidate for FIFA presidency, Pele said, “He is one of the players who have done a lot for football – in Japan and other countries. He wants to stand for FIFA presidency. I told him that he had the courage to go for it which I don’t have.”
When told how Indian football was ailing and the national federation was not doing enough to arrest the slide, Pele said, “Every federation has a problem, be it Brazil or other countries. The important thing is to focus on grassroots. Indian players should go out and play in Europe, South America etc. That will help them. Moreover, there should be exchange programmes (with other countries).”
He even offered to help. “I can organize exchange programmes for young Indian players of 15 or 16 in Rio de Janiero or somewhere in Brazil. I can help in doing this with Santos (his club of 25 years). I can do this,” Pele said, looking at the Subroto Cup organizers, who shared the stage with him.
Pele will be the chief guest at the Subroto Cup Under-17 final at Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi on Friday, the tournament being organised by the Indian Air Force.