Football’s overwhelming urge to romanticise its past is not lost on Edson Arantes do Nascimento, who has made a highly lucrative second career from it since hanging up his boots and embarking on a now almost four-decade-long Pele promotional world tour.
The game, of course, has gone downhill in that time, he claims while perched in front of a giant Andy Warhol print of himself at the opening of Pele: Life, Art, Football at London’s Halcyon Gallery.
“In my time, there were three or four good players in every team. Beckenbauer, George Best, Zico, Maradona, Cruyff, Bobby Moore, they were all world-class. Name four from modern football: Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez – Neymar but he is still to come. You see the difference? Before, you used to have three or four in each team – you have a big problem now.”
Overlooking the fact that the luminous names he has selected from his era in fact span around 35 years, at a conservative estimate, one fact remains unarguably true.
“Who is as good as me? Nobody! No-body! I used to say there is nobody as good as me, and then I would be asked if there ever would be anybody as good as me. But there will be no new Pele! My mother and my father closed the machine.”
Those old enough to have seen both Pele and his more modern counterparts regularly attest that he remains the greatest. Nor can his 1,000 goals – double Cristiano Ronaldo’s tally – be ignored.
Days on from the Premier League’s latest microdrama, Diego Costa’s three-match ban for violent conduct, there is a temptation to look back to a time when such things didn’t happen but the uglier aspects were always there.
“There’s always been bad [dirty] players and good players. It’s always been like that. But today we have more information and we get it quicker.
“I played against a lot of defenders. Bobby Moore I liked. He was very tough, but clean. Beckenbauer was a good opponent. When I play against Italy, [Giovanni] Trapattoni.
The great man pauses to shake his head. “But Bobby Moore was different. He played tough but tried to take the ball. Trapattoni didn’t care about the ball. He just kicked. Two different players.”
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