Indian Football

Looking back at Pele’s second stint in India

Riddhiman SarkarRiddhiman Sarkar

September 13 2023
Pele visit India Kolkata 2015

The Brazilian legend first came to India in 1977.

Edson Arantes De Nascimento, better known by his adored nickname, Pele, was one of football’s greatest ever to grace this planet. The O Rei (“The King”) of Joga Bonito, was as flamboyant as the meaning of the term itself i.e. beautiful football. His parade of never-ending accolades makes him an all-time icon and every country he visited has marvelled at his glory.

His first tryst with India in 1977, however, is special as the three-time and youngest FIFA World Cup winner graced Kolkata with his presence in the twilight of his playing days. After a thrilling 2-2 draw, Pele complimented midfielder Gautam Sarkar and goalkeeper Shibaji Banerjee for their outstanding feats. The former was hailed by the Brazilian lynchpin as “the number 14 who did not allow me to move”.  

But let’s keep that incident aside and look at his second stint in India!

Pele returns to India

38 years later, on October 11th, 2015, the Emperor was back in town for his next stint. 

Hosted at Taj Bengal, the former Selecao star’s 3-day Kolkata itinerary consisted of unveiling and felicitations. The Brazilian football legend attended a conference alongside former Atletico de Kolkata co-owners Sourav Ganguly and Dr. Sanjiv Goenka on October 12.

He even offered a solution to bring Indian football out of its current abyss, saying that the game should be made an integral part of growing up for kids here besides ensuring maximum foreign exposure for promising players. After being presented with an Atletico de Kolkata jersey, Pele made his way to addressing an interactive session at a college campus. Come evening, he was joined by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, former Indian cricket team captain, Sourav Ganguly, and Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman at the Netaji Indoor Stadium.

Pele visit India 2015
Pele and Nita Ambani. (Courtesy: AFP)

The cake-cutting ceremony for his 75th birthday celebration, 10 days in advance, also featured a felicitation program for the Mohun Bagan players who contested against him in 1977. Following this, he was pictured attending the Indian Super League fixture between Atletico de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan alongside Nita Ambani on the 13th. Pele then left for Gurgaon to attend the boys’ U-17 summit clash of the Subroto Cup tournament.

On 15th October, he addressed a press conference and then visited the Ambedkar stadium, the following day for the all-important final. He presented the winners’ trophy to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) team which beat Little Angels Paradise School by 4-1. Chief of the Air Staff Arup Raha proceeded to felicitate Pele with a memento shortly afterward. Paraded in front of a full capacity of 20,000 fans in an open-top Indian Air Force jeep, the Black Pearl was then showered with love and adulation from the fans. Pele then wound up his six-day visit to the country, leaving for Brazil, after giving the fans an experience of a lifetime.

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