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For many Brazilians, 'King' Pele is no longer relevant

By Agence France-Presse in Santos, Brazil (China Daily) Updated: 2014-06-23 07:11

He's 'The King', renowned as soccer's greatest ever and the icon of Brazilian World Cup success.

But with the tournament finally back in his home country, it seems somebody for got 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.

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.

Brazil is not short of successful ex-players, but Pele, 73, was named an honorary ambassador in the buildup to the World Cup and has an unmatchable following abroad.

Last week, a museum celebrating his life was unveiled in the port city of Santos, where Pele played his club soccer. O Rei (The King) cried freely at its inauguration.

However, at the World Cup his appearances have mainly been limited to TV commercials for super-markets, fast food and shampoo.

Rather than Pele, Brazilian super-model Gisele Bundchen is tipped as the personality most likely to hand over the trophy at the July 13 final in Riode Janeiro.

It is a surprising demotion for a man named "athlete of the century" by France's L'Equipe sports magazine and who is feted the world over.

Guilherme Guarche, historian at Santos FC's Memorial das Conquistas, the club museum, suggested Pele had fallen out with soccer's world governing body, FIFA.

"It depends on the conversation between Pele and FIFA. We don't know what happened between them, why he didn't show up. It's FIFA business," he said.

But 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.

"Socrates' opinions have always been very important to us because he was politically engaged here in Brazil.

"Pele wasn't like that. 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.

"Pele stands for nothing more than a memory from the past; he's not important for us now. When he speaks about politics or economic issues, almost every time it's disastrous. It's shocking, but it's the truth."

 For many Brazilians, 'King' Pele is no longer relevant

Pele is hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates after Brazil defeated Italy 4-1 in the 1970 World Cup final in Mexico City. Associated Press / File

(China Daily 06/23/2014 page24)

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