Pele still in global demandPosted: Wednesday May 29, 2002 3:54 PM
SEVILLE, Spain (Reuters) -- Over three decades have passed since Pele last graced the pitch at a World Cup but he is still one of football's most recognized faces and certainly its most revered icon.
It is almost inconceivable that any of today's top players will enjoy the same status afforded to the Brazilian football great more than a quarter of a century after they have retired.
Pele's name still sparks instant recognition from even the youngest fans, and mention of it to anyone above the age of 30 is greeted with a misty-eyed respect afforded only to a very select band of modern sporting heroes.
"I went to China and the Far East recently and there were hundreds of little children shouting my name outside my hotel, it was really unbelievable," the Brazilian told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
"I sometimes lie awake at night and wonder why I am still so popular and, to be honest, I don't know. Maybe it is because I was identified with one club and one team, not like so many of today's players.
"There are a lot of good players around now but they go to one club, score a few goals, kiss the club badge and then they're off to another club where they do the same.
"Fans don't like that and so I think it will be hard for a lot of the present-day stars to be remembered for so long," added the Brazilian who played in four World Cups and won three.
Pele's global appeal is precisely the reason why the three-times World Cup winner has been swamped with approaches by multi-national companies in search of product endorsement ever since his retirement in 1977.
Despite the fact that he is a 61-year-old grandfather, it is still easy to see the traces of a player who used to set pulses racing whenever he stepped out on to the pitch.
Bright-eyed, surprisingly lean, possessing a ready smile and diplomatic to a fault, Edson Arantes do Nascimento is an advertiser's dream.
The man named "Athlete of the Century" by the International Olympic Committee in 1999 is in the middle of a promotional tour before departing for South Korea on Saturday.
Pele is reported to have earned $20 million from his promotional activities, far outstripping his earnings during his 20-year career as player.
"Yes, I have a lot of business interests," he said. "But I don't work for just anyone and I choose the companies very carefully.
"I have been offered a lot of money to advertise cigarettes and whisky, but I have turned it down because it would be wrong to give that example to young people."
He said he has never forgotten that his ability to earn substantial sums through advertising is a result of his God-given talents on the football pitch.
"I have been very lucky in life and football has given me everything -- something I will always be thankful for.
"Modern players need to remember that and, although I understand that they need to make the most of what is a short career, they need to remember what they owe to the game too."
Bursting on to the international stage as a precocious 17-year-old, Pele dominated the 1958 World Cup. He scored a hat trick in the semifinals and collected two more goals in the 5-2 win against hosts Sweden in the final.
He only played a bit-part in Brazil's victory in the 1962 tournament after picking up an injury in the opening match against Mexico and was effectively kicked off the pitch by a brutal Portuguese side in England in 1966.
But it was as a 30-year-old that he set the tournament alight once more with his dazzling performances at the Mexico World Cup in 1970, leading his side to a brilliant 4-1 victory in the final against Italy.
Thirty-two years on, he still cannot wait for the tournament to start.
"I am off to Korea on Saturday so that I can see Brazil play and, although I have to leave because of business commitments, I hope I am forced to return to watch them play in the final," he said.
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