Pele insists depression rumours are wide of the mark

Pele has dismissed suggestions that his health is failing after suffering complications following hip surgery.

The 79-year-old Brazilian, the only man to hold three World Cup winners medals, may currently be using a walking frame to get around, but insists rumours that he had slipped into depression are wide of the mark.

He told CNN Brasil: “This depression thing, I don’t know if they got it wrong because in the last two years, I had a bruise, a femur operation and then, when I started training or making a commercial, I had to stop.

Pele, pictured alongside former England goalkeeper Gordon Banks (left), has dismissed rumours he has been suffering from depression
Pele, pictured alongside former England goalkeeper Gordon Banks (left), has dismissed rumours he has been suffering from depression (Stefan Rousseau

“They started to worry – and I really appreciate it – but then they invented that I was depressed.

“I got here with a walker, but thank God I only can’t ride a bike. I would rather have arrived here without a walker, doing a little training, playing ball.

“But I’m recovering and, thank God, after everything I’ve done in sports, I’m fine. Thank goodness I’m recovering.”

Pele burst onto the international scene as a 17-year-old at the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden, and it was there that a legend which lives on to this day was born.

However, his career spanned an era when black players were routinely abused and while he believes incidents of racism are now better reported, he is saddened that they still occur.

Pele said: “I don’t think that much has changed today. The only thing that must have changed, I think, is the press.

“When one player spoke nonsense to another (in the past), it was among us. When I went to play in Europe, it happened a lot. Playing here against Argentines, they called us apes, chimpanzees and creoles.

“See if there was any scandal – and they already said these things at that time.”

Pele spent 12 years of his illustrious career at Brazilian club Santos, for whom he scored more than 60 goals, although he admitted he was surprised when he was spotted playing for Bauru AC, nicknamed Baquinho, as a youngster.

He said: “I never thought I was going to be great, I swear to God. I was 13 to 14 years old and I wasn’t even a main player at Baquinho.

“I remember my father taking me to the Bauru bus station to practice in Santos. It seemed like something out of this world that was happening to me.”

Almost 50 years since winning the World Cup for the final time, Pele remains a major figure in a game he believes has become more of a challenge since his heyday, a matter he has discussed with fellow greats Franz Beckenbauer, Diego Maradona and the late Johan Cruyff.

Pele has discussed the modern game with Diego Maradona
Pele has discussed the modern game with Diego Maradona (PA)

He said: “Playing soccer today is much more difficult than in the past, no doubt at all, because in my time, with all due respect to colleagues, I think we had a little more freedom to stop the ball. Now there’s not so much anymore.

“I talked to Beckenbauer, Maradona and Cruyff. I said, ‘In the past, people used to play ball. Now the guys don’t want to play ball, they just want to destroy it, they don’t want to let one play’.

“It gets boring because those who pay to go to the stadium pay to go to see a show. They don’t pay to see fouls every time, so in our time, I think that it was better for the fans because we gave more shows than the current soccer.”