Pele sends football-crazy Kolkata into a tizzy
Arguably the greatest player of all time, Pele took the football-crazy city by storm as thousands lined up outside the airport and along the road to catch a glimpse of him.
The welcome was thunderous even by Kolkata’s standards, which has given a warm welcome to everyone, including Diego Maradona in 2008.
Such was the craze that the reception committee from the state government and Atletico de Kolkata, the city team in the ongoing Indian Super League, also the Brazilian legend’s host, had to make special arrangements to whisk him away after facing a trying time escorting him to a waiting vehicle.
The 74-year-old Brazilian arrived in a connecting flight from Dubai at around 8:10 am after a nearly 24-hour journey all the way from Brazil.
Thousands of football fans, gathered outside the airport’s arrival gate from early in the morning, went into a frenzy at the first sight of Pele, dapper in a black blazer and a grey T-shirt. A hundred cellphone cameras clicked away at the same time amid a deafening roar and chants of his name.
Even outside the hotel in south Kolkata, where he will stay for the next three days during his week-long tour of India, fans gathered to wave Brazilian flags and chant his name. Several fans chased his cavalcade on speeding bikes all the way to the hotel 30 km from the airport, trying to get a better view.
At the hotel, Pele was received with a bouquet of flowers by Indian football icon Chuni Goswami, who played as many as 50 international matches in the Olympics, Asian Games and Asia Cup.
Goswami later told reporters he asked Pele what he thought of Argentine forward Lionel Messi, who also plays for Barcelona.
The legend said Messi is “quite close” in skill to him and Maradona. “I also asked him if he can still play football. He said with a smile he is not that fit anymore,” said Goswami.
Football fans in Kolkata are devotedly divided between Pele and Maradona, who also holds a special place in the pantheon of all-time greats.