Strengthen base to improve standard, Pele tells India (roundup)

Kolkata, Oct 12 (IANS) Football king Pele on Monday asked India to strengthen the health of the game at the grassroots level, and underlined importance of the Indian Super League (ISL) to lift the country’s poor standards.

“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 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 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.

In a city which has been madly in love with him and his country’s football exploits through the decades, the septugenarian seemed as youthful, skilful and in control of the proceedings as he used to be during his playing days. He was ailing in hospital only months back and needed help to mount the stage during the various programmes here.

He effortlessly switched from the serious to the frivolous – giving thoughtful answers on technical and topical football matters, regaling students with witty, fun-filled answers. He recalled his childhood days when he played on the street and 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, and 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.”

Considered the most complete footballer the game ever saw, he conceded his legendary teammates like Garrincha, Didi and Vava too contributed to his enormous success.

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.

When asked to offer suggestions on how to play well, Pele stressed on respecting people, staying humble and put emphasis on fitness and homework.

“You can’t separate modern football or old football (genres). The player has to be prepared for the future football. Sometimes you see a lot of good players but not in a condition to play because of health. The most important thing in life is health,” he said.

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