Santos: Odir Cunha, the curator of Pele’s Museum in Santos, was initially stumped by the naivety of the question How big is Pele in Brazil? before he gathered his wits to answer in a firm voice. “Before Pele, foreigners used to think Buenos Aires was the capital of Brazil. Pele gave us an identity. His greatness hasn’t diminished a bit even after 27 years of his retirement. Pele is still the most influential Brazilian,” he added.
Cunha has seen the electrifying impact Pele had on spectators during his playing days. “I’ve watched Pele many times. The whole stadium would erupt whenever he touched the ball. I can’t think of anyone in the history of the game who had such a magnetic presence on the field,” he added.
According to Cunha, fierce club loyalties in Brazil cloud the judgement of foreigners sometimes. Pele’s public statements these days aren’t universally welcomed here. He is seen as an establishment man for his utterances in favour of the government and Fifa.
Felipe played down the spats between Pele and younger players. “I don’t think Romario ever tried to belittle Pele’s achievements on the field. They only had a difference of opinion on a not-football issue,” he added.
Pele’s discipline on and off the field has worked against him in a way, for neutral fans always seem to adore Diego Maradona more as the Argentine has cultivated an image of a lovable rogue. A great sportsman spending his post-retirement days in some sort of difficulty financial or health has a certain tragic allure that a 72-year-old man earning more than most of the current players can’t lay claim to.
Cunha also pooh-poohed suggestions that Pele is being sidelined during the World Cup here. “Pele is the figurehead of the tournament irrespective of his presence in the stadium or in other public places. His hands are full with commitments,” he said.
Surprisingly, there were more Brazilian visitors than foreigners to Pele Museum on Wednesday. Andre, a supervisor at the museum, said young Brazilians find details here.
“The timeline section with rare photographs about Pele’s parents and childhood is a treasure trove,” he said.
How many people know Dondinho, Pele’s father, named him after Thomas Alva Edison? Edison Arantes do Nascimento became Edson Arantes do Nascimento in course of time.