Nostalgic Pele's message to modern soccer

Former soccer stars Pele (right) and Franz Beckenbauer. "I played for nearly 30 years and I didn't make as much money as the guys now earn in three years. The biggest change has come from all the money the big companies have brought into the sport," says Pele. — Pic. AP-Former soccer stars Pele (right) and Franz Beckenbauer. "I played for nearly 30 years and I didn't make as much money as the guys now earn in three years. The biggest change has come from all the money the big companies have brought into the sport," says Pele. — Pic. AP

PELE moves around the modern world with ease, but soccer's most revered player admits he sometimes misses the days when making a call home was an adventure.

PELE moves around the modern world with ease, but soccer's most revered player admits he sometimes misses the days when making a call home was an adventure.

The 62-year-old grandfather believes he still has something to offer the sport he dubbed "The Beautiful Game," including advice on how best to spend the money flooding into football to help development in poorer countries.

"Some of my fondest memories are from the 1958 World Cup in Sweden," said the soccer great, who was just 17 when he burst into the limelight by inspiring Brazil to victory in that tournament.

"After we won I wanted to call my mother but I couldn't find a phone and I had to wait for the next day. Today the guys just pick up their cell phones and that's it. It's nice but it's too easy, really." That is not the only thing that has changed since Pele retired in 1977, after lifting the World Cup three times and scoring over 1,000 goals to establish himself as the best player the world had ever seen.

"I played for nearly 30 years and I didn't make as much money as the guys now earn in three years," Pele said. "The biggest change has come from all the money the big companies have brought into the sport," he added.

"But the game as such has not changed that much. Of course it's tougher because there is so much more at stake but what makes a good game is still good players, and the definition of a good player is pretty much the same today as it was in my time."

Since hanging up his boots, Pele, whose name still sparks instant recognition worldwide, has been his country's minister for sport and amassed a fortune from promotion and advertising deals, one of which was the reason for his visit to Berlin.

"I have a lot of proposals to endorse companies but I never endorse something I don't believe in," he said, looking as smart and lean as ever in a blazer with a company badge.

"If I wanted to make money, I could endorse cigars or whisky but I will never do that because it's bad for your health and it's not good for sport." Pele, whose bright eyes and sharp silhouette suggest he could still do damage with the ball, said the company of children was what he valued the most.

"What makes me really happy is when I work with kids," he said. "We do commercials with children who are about 12 and who never saw me play. That keeps my name on top. I give something to them and I receive a lot."

Asked the reason for his amazing popularity, he remained silent for a few seconds, looking for an answer.

"I started very young," he said. "I played in a World Cup at 17 and from then on I travelled all around the world. Football was the biggest sport already then and people identified with Pele."

Edson Arentes do Nascimento does not only help sell products but he also has a message, which is that world body FIFA should do its utmost to help develop soccer in the poorer nations.

"I always advise FIFA to help the poor countries by working on the coaching there and getting the local leagues better organised," he said.

"That's what I would do if I were President of FIFA, but I never wanted to be that."

One of those countries is his own, which produces endless exceptional players and could stage the 2014 World Cup, which FIFA has announced will take place in South America.

"If 2014 was now, Brazil would be the only (South American) country capable of staging the event," he said.

"I have a vision on that. If Brazil won the right to stage that World Cup, I think the money should come from private companies, not from the government. It's too much money for a poor country. I think it's not fair to take money from poor people to organise a World Cup. If Brazil can't find the money, then the World Cup should go to another country."

Mismanagement of soccer in Brazil, Pele said, was the only reason other countries had any chance of winning the World Cup.

"The way the game is organised in Brazil is not good," he said. "That did not stop us from winning the World Cup because we have so many great players but if the game in my country was more professional, we would win the World Cup every time and be world champions at every single age class."