Sitting for a half-hour interview Wednesday at the headquarters of The Associated Press, Pele said he resisted the nickname given to him by his schoolmates.
“Very few people know,” he explained, “My father gave me Edson because of Thomas Edison, the engineer - the lights. I was very proud. They start to call me Pele, I fight with everybody. But in my family, when I was young, they called me Dico. Until now, my family, my sister my brother, my mother call me Dico.”
Pele is thinking back to his youth these days.
In a little more than two months, the World Cup will be played in Brazil for the first time since 1950, when 9-year-old Edson’s father listened on the radio as Brazil lost the final round-robin game and the title 2-1 to Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro. As soccer’s showcase returns to the land of “jogo bonito” (the beautiful game), Pele’s views are sought. He even has a new book, “Pele: Why Soccer Matters,” which was released this week by Celebra.
Of course, Pele hopes Brazil will reach the final. And he would like it to be against Uruguay.
“An opportunity for revenge,” he said.
The 73-year-old said he doesn’t expect Brazil will have an easy path to a record sixth title - two more than any other nation.
“I think Germany has a very good team, young team, and then Spain. Spain is a team who plays together eight years, 10 years - same team. Very nice organized team,” he said. “This will be difficult. But we must respect Italy. We must respect Uruguay, because Uruguay is there. Argentina is there.”
Pele was a part of Brazil’s first three World Cup champions, in 1958, 1962 and 1970, and he scored 77 goals in 92 games for the Selecao. He starred for Santos from 1956-74 and then kick-started soccer in the United States with the Cosmos from 1975-77. He still keeps an apartment in Manhattan.
When he first arrived in New York, he could walk into Central Park, play some pickup with kids and watch a few people take Polaroid photographs. Four decades later, when the U.S. has purchased the second-most World Cup tickets behind the host nation, that’s not possible - and not because of the right hip replacement surgery he had in 2012 that has him walking with a slight limp.
“Now people, they follow more, but not only Central Park, every place where I go - Broadway,” he said before quickly adding with a smile: “This is good because people love me.”
When he retired, he was considered to have no equal. Then Diego Maradona led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup with amazing darting runs, and to the 1990 final, where La Albiceleste lost to West Germany. And in this era, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo are scoring at pretty much a goal-a-game rate for their clubs, although they haven’t won the ultimate prize with the national teams.
If Pele were in charge of a club, who would be the first player he’d try to sign?