São Paulo, Brazil — Pelé is the greatest footballer the world has ever seen, more likable than most puppies, as globally respected as the Pope (possibly), an unquestionable deity of the world’s most beloved sport. These days, Pelé is involved with several cash-money endorsements that leave the 73-year-old busier than Kanye, and with the FIFA World Cup fever in full swing, Pelé spoke to BuzzFeed at a recent Volkswagen event — Pelé is an ambassador of VW Brazil — held at the Santos FC stadium.
2. Who do you think is the best player in the world right now?
Pelé: It’s difficult to say, but I’m going to say the two best players are Ronaldo, no doubt, and Messi. When Messi plays on Barcelona, he’s one player, and when he plays for Argentina, he’s a different player. But I think he’s one of the best.
3. What do you think of Neymar?
Pelé: The year or so he’s played in Europe was great for him and Brazil. But this is his first World Cup. I don’t think you can put all the responsibility on him to win. Everyone’s saying, “Oh Neymar is going to win the World Cup for Brazil,” but I think it’s too heavy a responsibility for him.
4. Of all the players you’ve played with, who was the best teammate?
Pelé: I had a lot of great teammates, that’s why I was able to score so many goals! But when I played on Santos, Coutinho was the center of that team, and on the Brazilian national team, Garrincha was the player. When Pelé and Garrincha were on the field, in 15 years, Brazil never lost.
5. How is football or soccer different from when you played, compared to now?
Pelé: I think the media and visibility today make football more important and difficult than in my time. With Santos, we used to go all over Europe and play five games over a month or two, and then come back to South America and play five games here. That’s no longer the case. The amount of money in the sport is also different now. But the one thing that’s the same is that the good players are good and the bad players are bad; time doesn’t change that.
6. Did you ever experience racism as a player?
Pelé: We’ve always had racism in football. In my time, they threw mangoes, oranges, and bananas [at players], but we didn’t pay any attention to them. When I started to play, they used to say the same [things], but we didn’t care.
8. Do you think the U.S will ever get to the top in soccer?
Pelé: People forget in the World Cups [that took place] in Japan and Korea, the U.S. almost made the Final. They have a good team, but every team is difficult to play now because the players know [each other’s strengths and weaknesses from playing together in Europe]. It evens things out.
9. If Brazil ‘58 played Brazil ‘70, who would win?
Pelé: Which team are you going to put me on? (laughs) ‘58, you had more individual players, all the top players. In ‘70, we had a more organized team that was much stronger than ‘58. ‘70 would win. It was the best national team Brazil ever had.
10. What would happen if Brazil doesn’t win the World Cup?
Pelé: I’ve experienced it. I was 9 years old, and I walked up to my father who was by the radio, and his friend was next to him, crying. I asked, “What happened?” They said Brazil lost the World Cup. There was a great silence, sadness. Brazil was very good, and nobody expected Brazil to lose. Now I hope my son doesn’t see me cry.
11. What do you think of the demonstrations and protests?
Pelé: We were a bit worried about the demonstrations and about the protests, but football has always been a way to promote the country. Brazil lost a big opportunity with the delays in construction and everything that happened, but the protesters have to realize that the players and national team have nothing to do with that corruption. You have to separate the game from this.
12. This will be the first World Cup with goal line technology. Do you like goal line technology for the World Cup?
Pelé: Yes, I was with FIFA and the committee when we voted for this experience. At first, there was a chip in the ball that would signal when the ball passed the goal line, but the goalies learned to cover the chip. It was a good idea that didn’t work, so they had to change the idea.
Editor’s note: FIFA will use GoalControl, a system that employs 3D images generated from multiple cameras, and sends an immediate signal to watches worn by the referees when the ball passes through the goal line.
13. When did you first know you made it?
Pelé: My first test came with Santos when I was 16. When I arrived, I was already confident in myself. Later that year I got to play against Argentina, and I got a little experience (laughs).
14. Of all the 1,283 goals you’ve scored, is there a favorite, or best goal?
Pelé: It’s difficult to say. In ‘58, my first goal sent Brazil to the final. We won 1-0 and that was a very important goal. Also, my 1,000th goal, which was in front of everyone in Maracanã stadium. Some people say, “Ah, but it was on a penalty kick.” But it was my 1,000th goal! And for the first time in my life, when I put the ball down to kick, I was shaking. I looked around Maracanã, and I said, “Oh my God, if I miss this!”