Pele believes his status as Brazil’s greatest player is secure, with not even Neymar able to challenge him, Mirror reports.
A three-time World Cup winner and the scorer of more than 1,000 goals in a glittering career, the former Santos and New York Cosmos striker has already seen off plenty of challengers to his mantle since retiring, including Ronaldo and Romario, who earlier this month backed Neymar to surpass Pele’s tally of 77 international goals.
Whether or not the 23-year-old Barcelona forward is able to do so remains to be seen, but Pele is not worried about the challenge of his fellow Santos graduate.
Asked on Wednesday in Melbourne if Neymar can replace him as Brazilian football’s favourite son, he said: “I think not.”
“I think to be the new king, the new Pele, is impossible. Because my mother and my father closed the machine. I think he’s a good player, an excellent young player and he’s going to be a big star, no doubt.”
While Neymar is Brazil’s great hope, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – playing at a higher tempo than ever before – have proven worthy challengers to the all-time greats in recent years.
But Pele insisted he would still have been a force of nature in the modern game.
“If you ask, would Beethoven be important now? Of course,” he said.
“If I was in this moment and prepared to play in this moment. The thing people forget is I was given a gift to play football, this is something no-one can judge.”
Appearing in Australia for a series of speaking engagements, Pele – in his capacity as the unofficial ambassador of Brazilian football – could not avoid inevitable questions about his country’s shock 7-1 loss to Germany in the World Cup semi-final on home soil last year.
Watching on while the hopes of a nation were shattered, what was he thinking as goal after goal flew in during that nightmare game in Belo Horizonte?
“I didn’t think – I cried,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate that the two World Cups played in Brazil, in 1950 when I was nine years old, we lost. And now we lost again. This is something no-one can explain.”
The Brazilian Football Confederation’s response to the debacle was to hand Dunga – who coached the South American nation at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa – a return to the national team hot seat following Luiz Felipe Scolari’s departure.
Captain of the team that won the tournament for a fourth time in the United States in 1994, the 51-year-old was not a universally popular choice, but he at least has the support of an illustrious predecessor.
“I think with Dunga … (he) has a different style to Felipe (Scolari), more defensive but I believe in Dunga,” Pele said.
“He could make a good national team.”
Quizzed on whether or not Brazil can win a sixth World Cup in Russia in 2018, Pele said: “I hope so.”