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Pelé: “Stallone didn’t even know how to kick a ball”

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Edson Arantes do Nascimento, AKA Pelé, on meeting Andy Warhol, being coached by Michael Caine and what had him shaking on the pitch

You now have an exhibition devoted to you in London. Is it strange being surrounded by pictures of yourself?
This is common for me. I was 17 at my first World Cup. Then as I grew, my personality and life was this. I never had a problem, I always felt comfortable with it. It’s an honour.

One of the pictures is by Andy Warhol – what was he like when you met him in New York?
It was a good experience. When I went to the New York Cosmos, I was told, “There’s this guy, Andy Warhol, he wants to talk to you.” I said, “OK, what position does he play?” [Laughs]. It was the first time I’d heard of him. 

When you were filming Escape To Victory, did Sylvester Stallone have any idea what was going on?
When I got the first script I was a goalkeeper and Stallone was a forward! I said, “Listen, I can’t play as a goalkeeper.” When we started training for the film 
we saw Stallone knew nothing about football [laughs]. We teased him because he didn’t even know how to kick a ball. Michael Caine was my teacher. He’d call me over and say: “Pelé, you must be more patient – this is a film, not reality.” He was fantastic.

So many players have been called the ‘new Pelé’ – who do you think came closest?
Oh, that’s a good question. When I travelled around Brazil with Santos I would be told I would see ‘the new Pelé’, but you cannot compare. People don’t say it about goalkeepers such as Lev Yashin and Gordon Banks, but were at that level. And the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Bobby Moore or Johan Cruyff. Eusébio was called ‘the Portuguese Pelé’. And now we can mention Lionel Messi. That’s the style I used to play. And my son used to coach Neymar.

Do you regret not playing in a European league?
I didn’t want to leave Brazil. Santos was the top team. Now it would be easier to move. I was invited to Real Madrid and close to coming to Manchester United [laughs].

Wayne Rooney has just beaten Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record for England. Do you think Rooney is as good as Charlton?
It’s hard to say because they are so different. If had to pick one to play in a team with me, I’d say… both [laughs].

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How does the current Brazil team compare to the teams in your day?
We have some problems now with the organisation of the team. Sometimes the players called up aren’t the best ones, because they are busy in Europe, and this is a shame. The last World Cup was a disaster for Brazil.

Everyone wanted to swap shirts with you. What have you done with them all?
Some of them I’ve lost, but the majority of the most important ones are in a museum in São Paulo. The photograph of me swapping shirts with Bobby Moore is my favourite picture – it’s there in my museum.

Fifa says you scored 1,281 goals, but which is the favourite?
There’s a bit of debate over the number. Santos says it is 1,283. To me, the two goals don’t make a lot of difference [laughs]. It’s hard to pick a favourite. Sometimes you can score a penalty and it’s more important than a bicycle kick.

Do you think you’d be able to score a penalty against a top goalkeeper now?
People think scoring a penalty is easy, but it’s not. It can depend on the moment. My 1,000th goal was a penalty. It was at the Maracana against Vasco Da Gama. I was shaking and afraid. It was difficult. The goalkeeper almost saved it because I was so nervous. People boo someone for missing a penalty because they don’t know how hard it is.

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Did you ever play the old Atari game Pelé’s Soccer?
Oh yes. I was very good at it! Today I’m a bit too old for those games, but I used to play with my friends.

You also promoted Viagra. Were you worried people assumed you needed it, too?
[Laughs] I felt comfortable even though I didn’t need to use it, but to promote it and give advice about it was fantastic. It’s just a medicine people need to know about, like Aspirin.

If you’d needed it do you think you would have got it for free?
Of course! [Laughs]

‘Pelé: Art, Life, Football’, an exhibition of art inspired by Pelé to celebrate his 75th birthday, is at Halcyon Gallery London until 16 October and includes work from artists such as Andy Warhol and Lorenzo Quinn

[Images: Rex]

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