Where's Pele? 'The King' shunned at World Cup
He’s ‘the king’, renowned as football’s greatest ever and the icon of Brazilian World Cup success.
But with the tournament finally back in his home country, it seems somebody forgot to invite Pele.
At the opening ceremony in Sao Paulo, attended by President Dilma Rousseff and a clutch of visiting heads of state, Pele was a notable absentee despite living not far away in Santos.
Rather than Pele, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen is tipped as the personality most likely to hand over the trophy at the July 13 final in Rio de Janeiro.
For Brazil’s second game in Fortaleza, the three-time World Cup winner was not only not at the game – he was in his car, stuck in Brazil’s notorious traffic near Sao Paulo.
“It was the second time I heard a Brazil World Cup match on the radio... in 1950 and today,” he told Globo television later, referring to when Brazil first hosted the World Cup.
Not taken seriously
Brazil is not short of successful ex-players. But Pele, 73, was named an honorary ambassador in the build-up to the World Cup and has an unmatchable following abroad.
Pele poses with young players during the inauguration of the Pele Museum, in Santos, Brazil, on June 15, 2014. The Pele Museum was built in an area of 4,134 square-metre at a cost of 20 million US dollars and has a collection of 2,545 pieces of one of the world's biggest football idols.
Last week, a museum celebrating his life was unveiled in port city Santos, where Pele played his club football.
However, at the World Cup his appearances have mainly been restricted to TV advertisements for supermarkets, fast food and shampoo at half-time.
Journalist and historian Marcos Guterman said Pele’s image has steadily diminished in Brazil, which is in the midst of great social upheaval.
“People here don’t take him as seriously as foreigners,” said Guterman, author of Football Explains Brazil - a history of the biggest popular expression of the country.
“Pele is a symbol of a great era for Brazilian soccer but he’s part of the past.There are many other soccer players that are more important than Pele, for example Socrates. His opinions were very important to us because he was politically engaged here in Brazil. Pele wasn’t. He’s sympathetic to the government, whatever government it is. He speaks for the government, including the dictatorship. So we don’t take his political opinions seriously.”
Brazilian fans display a portrait of Brazilian football star Pele prior to a Group A football match between Brazil and Mexico in the Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 17, 2014.
Last year Pele misjudged the public mood when he criticised protests against Brazil’s inequality and lack of basic services during the Confederations Cup.
“It was embarrassing... he was very unpopular because of that opinion and of course people don’t forget that,” Guterman said.
Jose Paulo Florenzano, an anthropologist and soccer expert at Sao Paulo’s Pontifical Catholic University, agrees that Pele is out of favour with Brazil’s media and progressives.
Nevertheless, he said it was “too strange... that he’s missing from all this spectacle”.
“If Brazil goes forward in this tournament, at some moment Pele will appear in the stadium,” he said. “But for me, this doesn’t change the situation that we’ve noticed.”