Legendary soccer icon Pele understands and “respects” the political environment currently facing Brazil as it sits just three days away from hosting the 2014 World Cup. He's well aware of the widespread strikes and demonstrations, but thinks that the tournament itself will eventually overshadow the unrest.
“I think no, [it's not hard to celebrate the World Cup], we have experience with football, that put everything together,” he told CBSSports.com by phone. “We did the Confederations Cup, the beginning was a little complicated but the end, Brazil played the final against Spain, and everything was OK. Brazil won the Confederations Cup and everything was settled. Of course it could be different in the World Cup, but when we get there in the final, everything will be OK. No problem.”
Pele is working with his daughter, Kely Nascimento, on a World Cup project titled TheRealPele.com, whose goal is to show fans a private side of Pele through daily updates and interactions as Brazil hosts its first World Cup since 1950 -- a World Cup that has so far tallied an $11 billion price tag. Despite the difficulties (there's a presidential election in October), Pele insisted that Brazilians not mix sports and politics.
“One more point, the people, they know we respect the demonstrations but the football always gives the good emotions for Brazil. We cannot mix between the political situation and the problems they have in the politics and corruption because football always was the big, big promoter. I think that is the difference.”
The irony is that the two are already intertwined, given the on-going public transportation strikes which could jeopardize travel in Sao Paolo, the host city for Thursday's opening match. According to Nascimento, if Brazil wins the World Cup, Brazilians will be "incredibly, overwhelmingly joyful, but I don't think it's going to solve any of our problems."
The last time Brazil hosted the World Cup was in 1950, when they suffered a devastating 2-1 loss to Uruguay in the final -- a match that Pele not-so-fondly remembers.
"I have one experience because in 1950, Brazil lost the World Cup to Uruguay. I saw my father cry," said Pele, who famously promised his father he'd win him one World Cup (he won three, in fact). "I hope so now [Brazil wins]. I don't want to see my kids cry because Brazil lost the World Cup."
Pressed for a prediction, Pele offered this: "I want to see Brazil in the final. The prediction, if I have the right to say something, is that I thank God for Brazil to win one more time."
With intimate, video-style updates and interactions throughout the World Cup, Nascimento plans to bridge generations by showing a new side of Pele. "Most [kids'] knowledge of Pele is through their coaches, their parents, they get you know teary-eyed when they talk about watching the game. I started thinking about how he was from a completely different generation of fame and notoriety -- my kids, we all follow Neymar on Instagram, all of us. To my father, that's so foreign. I thought, how cool would it be during this World Cup in Brazil to bring my father to the generation between mine and my kids, in their medium. Obviously that's not something he wants to do, exactly like that, but I thought it would be really cool to just engage [social media]. He's very funny. He's very much a family man."
So why did Pele agree? "Because I have to give something back to my daughter," he said. "She's fantastic."
What else can Brazil fans hope to see from the legend? "I am a really good cook," he added. "I am a good musician, too. I play good guitar. I fish very well."
The all-inclusive look may even give fans a chance to see how Pele watches his nation's team. "From under a table," his daughter quipped.
Brazil, a favorite to win the tournament out of Group A (Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon), has immense pressure not to falter at Maracana Stadium should it advance through the knockout stages to the final. But despite the comparisons, Brazil's all-time leading goal scorer sees it as a different experience, especially with the other events Brazil is set to host.
“I think it's a completely different opportunity, different moment, but of course, it's a great opportunity the country has, because we had the Confederations Cup, now we have the World Cup, and then the Olympics. I think it's a great moment for the country. All the problems everybody's going to have, Brazil, Europe, they have problems all over, but this is the moment for our country, our sport.”