Giving his recipe for improving Indian football standards, Brazilian legend Pele on Monday said the authorities must focus on the base – the grassroots – and spread the game in the schools, colleges and universities to groom youngsters, besides ensuring foreign exposure for players and coaches.
He also lauded the Indian Super League (ISL) as a tournament which can lift the game in the country.
“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 here at Taj Bengal hotel.
“You should have football in universities, schools and colleges. It is important to train kids for the future,” said the 74-year-old.
Later, at a chat session, Pele suggested that Indian coaches be sent to Latin America and Europe to gain experience.
“I think Indians have an excellent opportunity to grow in football. (You need) to have more exchange programmes for experience. Coaches from India can go to South America and Europe to get experience. You have lot of talent. It will take a little time.”
Pele said Indian needed to be patient. “You need to have patience, you need to have experience.”
To buttress his point, he narrated Brazil’s experience before they became the giants of world soccer.
“Today Brazil has a big reputation in football, But it was not so when we came up. Brazil played the first World Cup final in 1950, but lost at home. I was only ten years then. Then people said how can Brazil go up in football, how can Brazil become big (power).”
The legend, who was little astonished to hear ISL lasts for only about three months, had no doubts that the league can improve Indian football.
“Oh yes! ISL can improve Indian football, no doubt about it.”
To a poser from Atletico de Kolkata 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.”
In his opening address, Pele also fondly spoke about the love he has got from the city.
“I have been received with a good heart. The love for me has not changed over 38 years. It was with the same love and respect that the people received me. That is most important for me. From all Brazilians and me I say, I love you, thank you very much.”
The three-time World Cup winner’s made his maiden trip to Kolkata in 1977, and turned out for American side New York Cosmos against local giants Mohun Bagan at the Eden Gardens ground. The match ended 2-1.
Former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly also recollected that as a child he had seen the film “Giants of Brazil” featuring the travails and indomitaable spirit and the ultimate success of the Samba magicians.
“When you were here last time, I was a four year-old kid. So I don’t remember much and I have never seen you play live. But I have seen your videos and it was an unbelievable sight to watch somebody so skillful.”