In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Brazilian soccer legend Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as “Pele,” said he was grateful to God “for giving me the gift of playing soccer,” and denounced the violence that has become a part of the sport in recent times.
During the interview, Pele said that what he “hates most” about soccer today has nothing to do with technique, tactics or other athletic aspects of the sport. “What displeases me the most is the violence, which is a plague that characterizes our entire society as well. The violence linked to soccer truly bothers me,” he said.
He also commented on the exorbitant salaries paid to soccer players today. “Today players from a young age begin thinking about how much money they can amass. They don’t care where they play. A player goes to Real Madrid and kisses the jersey. The next day he switches teams and kisses the new jersey, swearing their eternal love.” “In reality,” he said, “the only thing they love is the money. And all of this is dangerous for the future of the sport.”
Pele said he owed his love of soccer to his father, who he said taught him “about life and respect for one’s neighbor.” “God gave me the gift of knowing how to play soccer—because it really is a gift from God—and my father taught me to use it, he taught me the importance of always being ready and prepared, and that in addition to being a good player I should also be a good man.”
Pele recalled that he has had “the privilege of speaking with three Popes. I consider myself very lucky to have met and received the blessings of Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I treasure the pictures I was given at the Vatican of these meetings. I was able to talk about life and about God with these three Pontiffs. They were very important for me and have stayed in my heart,” he said.
He went on to encourage young athletes to stay away from drugs and other social ills and then recalled some of the more memorable moments of his career.
Specifically he mentioned the World Cup of 1958, when his coach had to intervene to allow the young 17 year-old to play despite recommendations from a team psychologist that he was too young to compete. He also recalled his 1000th goal, which he scored as a penalty shot on November 19, 1969. “I remember a journalist said that God himself had arranged that game so that my 1000th goal would coincide with that penalty shot. Thus the entire world would be able to see it,” he said.