Football king Pele on Monday asked India to strengthen the health of the game at the grassroots, arrange more foreign exposure for coaches and players to lift the poor standards and said he would be glad to help out.
“You have to start working at the base. You have to give chance to players to go abroad and play, from where they can gather experience. They can then come here and share their experiences. But firstly you have to support the base,” Pele said at a media interaction in Kolkata on day two of his week-long visit to India.
“You should have football in universities, schools and colleges. It is important to train kids for the future.”
Pele later suggested that Indian coaches be sent to Latin America and Europe to gain experience.
“I think Indians have an excellent opportunity to grow in football. Coaches from India can go to South America and Europe to get experience. You have lot of talent. It will take a little time. You need to have patience.”
Responding to a query, he said he would be glad to help Indian football in any way.
“If I can help in some way, I’ll be here. No problem.”
Pele returned to India after 38 years, first setting foot in 1977 to play in an exhibition game against city giants Mohun Bagan.
He will travel to New Delhi from here to attend the Subroto Cup final on October 16.
The 74-year-old had a hectic Monday, beginning with a public interaction with the ISL franchise Atletico de Kolkata co-owners, led by Sourav Ganguly, answering a wide array of queries from media persons and students at the NSHM Knowledge campus.
He later felicitated members of the Mohun Bagan team which had played against him by handing over mementos and shawls, and took part in a chat session with former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly and Academy award winning music composer A.R. Rahman at the Netaji Indoor stadium, where West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was also present.
Pele, who completes 75 on October 23, turned visibly emotional when a big cake shaped like the Jules Rimet trophy – which Brazil won permanently in 1970 by lifting the World Cup for the third time – was cut.
“Thank you God for this day, for giving me this moment. Thanks to everyone who made it possible. People worked very hard to give me this opportunity. God puts you in right places with the right people and now I am with the new generation,” he said, flanked by Ganguly and Banerjee.
He rounded off the day by inaugurating a Durga puja marquee in south Kolkata.
In a city which has been madly in love with him and his country’s football exploits through the decades, the septugenarian seemed in high spirits.
He effortlessly switched from the serious to the frivolous – giving thoughtful replies on technical and topical football matters,and regaling students with witty, fun-filled answers.
He recalled his childhood days when he played on the street and expressed his respect for women players.
He was a trifle surprised to hear ISL lasts for only about three months, but had no doubt the league can improve Indian football.
“Oh yes! ISL can improve Indian football, no doubt about it.”
To a poser from Atletico co-owner Sanjiv Goenka as to what advice he would like to give to the local franchise, Pele replied: “I would tell them to respect opponents, and be prepared always. You also have to keep on learning.”
The three-time World Cup winner (1958, 1962 and 1970) rated Argentina’s talismanic forward Lionel Messi as the best footballer of the last ten years, but said Maradona was a more complete player. Pele also declared he has no intention of heading FIFA.
The Samba magician also named former England defender Bobby Moore as the best he has witnessed, adding Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi were two very different players.
“Lot of people compare Messi with Ronaldo. But they are two different kind of players. Roanldo is a more scorer (sort of), player… more centre forward. Messi plays more deeper. But both are fantastic.”
Speaking about Brazil’s current poster boy Neymar, he said: “I hope Neymar wins a trophy for Brazil… He has a good future… Neymar, he could be one of the best players now, at the moment, no doubt.”
The Santos icon refused to answer questions about the ongoing FIFA’s corruption crisis, but exuded confidence of achieving the same lofty success level had he played in the modern era.
“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. God gave me the gift to play football.”
At the NSHM, as female members of the audience threw questions at him, Pele graciously replied and admitted that it was a pleasure for him to answer queries posed by the women.
Asked to offer suggestions on how to play well, Pele stressed on respecting people, staying humble and put emphasis on fitness and homework.