With the World Cup kicking off later this week, it’s easy to get excited about Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. But let’s not forget the stars who came before, including the man many consider to be the greatest footballer of all time: Edson Arantes do Nascimento, a.k.a. Pelé. His records are too numerous to mention, but all you really need to know is that the Brazilian scored 12 World Cup goals, won three Cups and embodied the notion of jogo bonito (“beautiful game”) with his technique, flair and passion.
In connection with his new King of Football app, we asked Pelé a few questions. Check out what he had to say about the upcoming tournament, the USA’s future and what it takes to play beautiful. Oh, and Victory.
“Teams are now more concerned about not losing than winning the game. It’s more about defense these days. In my time, players tried to put on a good show for the crowd.”
We’ve heard you say Brazil will win the 2014 World Cup at home. What makes you so sure, and whom do you see as the other major contenders?
The World Cup is always full of surprises and my wish is that Brazil wins. However, we still must respect these other countries and I believe that Spain, Argentina, Germany and Italy are really great contenders.
Which player are you most excited to watch in the Cup… and how does he compare to you in your prime?
For my first World Cup I was only 17, so young and so new to the team. This year, many people are looking at Neymar to be the star of the tournament. He’s only 22 and this is his first-ever World Cup. I am excited to see how he will perform and lead the Seleção. We both come from Santos FC and I wish him a lot of success. I hope he will experience the same joys that I experienced in 1958.
Who’s your favorite American player?
Tim Howard is a good and experienced goalkeeper. Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are great forwards for the US Men’s National Team.
When do you think the USA will win the World Cup, if ever, and what will it take for that to happen?
The future looks bright for the US National Teams. Already, the Women’s team has proven to be the best in the world. In addition, there is a good strong base of youth playing, it is well organized and has a lot of support, which will definitely produce many talents. The Men’s team has played in every World Cup tournament for the past 24 years. Consistency and experience, and a little bit of luck, are key factors to winning a championship.
Will another Brazilian star be hoisting this shiny bauble when it’s all over? Only time will tell…
What do we fans fail to understand about the life of a professional footballer?
In order to have longevity in your career, you need to be disciplined on and off the field. When I was a kid, my coach Waldemar de Brito—who first brought me to Santos FC—told me not to drink or smoke because a professional athlete had to be in top physical form. I applied his advice during my playing days and even after my retirement from football.
We loved you in Victory. Who was more convincing on the pitch, Sylvester Stallone or Michael Caine?
I have many great stories from the shooting of Victory. Actually, I have a very funny one about Sylvester Stallone. I was supposed to be the goalkeeper in the movie and he was going to play the striker—doing the bicycle kick! During filming of the scenes, his football skills did not match up so well with his acting abilities, so we had to switch roles!
We’ve heard that you do not believe the jogo is as bonito as it used to be. What will it take to bring The Beautiful Game back?
Teams are now more concerned about not losing than winning the game. It’s more about defense these days. In my time, players tried to put on a good show for the crowd.
If football did not exist, what do you imagine you’d have done for a living?
As I explained in my new book, Why Soccer Matters, I had dreams of being a pilot. Growing up in Baurú, I spent long afternoons watching planes overhead. However, it was a very risky profession, I even saw the site of a plane crash, and I quickly changed my mind! Thank God I was given the ability to play football, to become successful, to travel the world to promote health and fitness and to inspire future generations.
What’s your number one tip for the casual player?
Keep the ball rolling!
Editor’s note: In case you had any doubts about Pele’s greatness, this video should clear that right up…