Pele: My five-minute interview with Brazilian great

By David CurrieBBC Scotland
Pele with the World Cup trophy
Pele played in four World Cups, with Brazil winning three of them

Out of the blue, an e-mail arrives. Would you like to interview Edson Arantes do Nascimento - aka Pele, aka the greatest footballer in the history of the game?

Predictably, there are some catches. Firstly, you have do it by telephone. Secondly, you have to ask him why he's coming to Scotland and, thirdly, you only have five minutes.

Frost versus Nixon this won't be and that's fine by me.

What questions to ask the three-time World Cup winner? I thought I'd throw that open to @BBCSportScot followers on Twitter.

After filtering out queries surrounding the efficacy of Viagra, which Pele endorsed in his sixties - he's now 75 by the way - and sundry other questions about the great man's thoughts on Rangers' history or his favourite Radiohead album, I decide to stick to my own lines of inquiry.

I'm informed that I'll get three questions. I scribble down about a dozen just in case.

At the appointed hour, well 17:15 BST on Tuesday, I nervously dial a Los Angeles telephone number. Twenty seconds later, I am speaking with the man voted second greatest sportsman of the 20th century, behind the late Muhammad Ali.

"Good afternoon Pele," I blurt out. Should that have been Mr Pele? Probably. It should definitely have been 'good morning' since he's in California.

Never mind, I don't have time to dwell on formality. By the time he's replied slowly and deliberately: "Good afternoon, thank you," I'm on to my first question. I've only got five minutes after all.

Here goes: "How are you Pele and why are you coming to Scotland?" What a waste of a question, I think to myself.

"I'm looking forward to seeing my friends in Scotland very soon." That won't do. I'll need to tease more out of him.

"You're coming to Scotland in September, what is the purpose of your visit?" Oh no, I sound more like a UK Border Force officer than a reporter, I might just as well have asked him for his passport.

Pele's fine with that, though. "It's been a long time since I was there, I'm coming to speak to the people," he replies on his forthcoming 'A night with Pele in Glasgow' event. "I played there a long time ago."

Pele (front row, second from right) with his Brazil team-mates at Hampden in 1966
Pele (front row, second from right) with his Brazil team-mates at Hampden in 1966

Indeed he did, 50 years ago this month defending world champions Brazil played Scotland in a World Cup warm-up [for them not for us].

Steve Chalmers of Celtic put Scotland ahead early in the match, but Pele and company drew level.

My next gambit: "What do you remember of the match and the players you played against?"

He says: "I always remember the games in which I score."

Now I'm doubting myself because my research had Servilo of Palmerias not Pele of Santos as the scorer but I'm not going to correct him.

He continues: "It was a good game, a tight game. We had an excellent team and the game was very even."

When I ask which Scotland players impressed him, the reply is diplomatic: "At that time I played so many matches with Brazil and Santos. It's difficult to remember."

I can't argue with that. Pele played nearly 800 matches, 91 of them internationals. But it's worth noting that the Scotland team that day did include Billy Bremner and Jim Baxter.

Scotland's woes

Time for my next question, one with a great big kilt on it.

"Scotland haven't qualified for a major tournament since 1998 - does world football miss us at all?" Worth a punt, I tell myself after a quick glance at the clock.

"Not qualifying for tournaments, it's not good for Scotland, but this is part of football," he says.

The great man laughs heartily before continuing: "Maybe the people of Scotland can get support from me when I say that not qualifying for a tournament can't be worse than what happened to Brazil when we lost the World Cup in Brazil two years ago."

Scotland were last at a major finals in 1998, where they met Brazil in the World Cup opener
Scotland were last at a major finals in 1998, where they met Brazil in the World Cup opener

I tell him that these days the people of Scotland can only dream of being thrashed 7-1 by Germany in the finals of a major championship but I'm not sure he gets my meaning.

I've still got a couple of Scots-related questions up my sleeve but I'll save them for later, opting to seek his wisdom about who could win Euro 2016.

He's not offering the Tartan Army any comfort with his answer this time, though.

"It's very difficult, its very even," he explains. "You have Spain, who have a good team. You have England with new players, Germany usually have a good team, too."

Hang on a minute. I splutter: "You're telling a Scotsman that England are among your favourites to win the thing?"

He chuckles: "I must be honest because I love football, I wish good luck for England, why not?"

'I was never invited to play in Scotland'

Next I chuck in a question from a BBC Scotland Twitter follower. "Why did you never play for a European club?"

Pele tells me he had offers to play for Manchester United and AC Milan, but was so happy in Brazil that he didn't want to leave. He then refers to his spell with New York Cosmos as "after I retired".

Now for a question which I'm almost embarrassed to ask, but sometimes it's the stupid question that gets the best answer. Not this time, however.

"Did you ever consider playing in Scotland?'' Pele's answer: "I was never invited."

So it seems that story about Pele being offered £25 per match to play for Dunfermline Athletic in 1975 was just a myth after all.

There is no place on Pele's list for Kenny Dalglish
There is no place on Pele's list for King Kenny

The interview is running into Fergie-time, so I go for another and predictable question along the lines of who is the greatest player of all time.

The first name on his lips is George Best, then come Germans Franz Beckenbauer, Uwe Seeler, two of England's 1996 World Cup-winning side; Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore, and, the man voted Fifa's co-player of the century alongside Pele; Diego Maradona.

No Kenny Dalglish, no Jimmy Johnstone, no Jim Baxter?

"We didn't follow too much the league or tournaments in Scotland, I didn't have any names who I saw too many times to mention," Pele replies.

Fair enough.

Who was the greatest?

But who does Pele think should be called the greatest of all time? Does he think he deserves the accolade?

"I see a lot of players who play different positions to me," he says. "But like me? No more because my mother and father broke the machine after me."

Pele is less circumspect when I ask who is the best player in the world at the moment.

''For me there are two names, Ronaldo and Messi, and then, from Brazil, we have Neymar. For me, over the last 10 years, I stick with Messi. He's the player who makes me happy the most."

Lionel Messi in action for Argentina
Watching Argentina and Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi makes Pele happy

A quick look at the clock in the studio shows that we've been talking for over 10 minutes. Time to wrap up I guess with the lamest question of all: "What's better: Euro 2016 or Copa America?"

Pele likes them both. All that matters to him is that there's beautiful football.

I thank him for his time in an almost grovelling manner. He thanks me too, saying he'll see me in September and to say hello to the people of Scotland. The phone line goes dead with a resounding beep and the interview is over.

Not the greatest interview ever, but hey I've just speaking to Pele. What could top that? Easy. Interviewing him face-to-face. Maybe in September.

When I tell my eight-year-old son about the conversation he falls to the ground in mock amazement before clutching his face.

I stare at him for a few seconds before the penny drops.

"No, not the Real Madrid defender Pepe," I say. "Pele, the greatest player who ever lived."

He asks "Who?" But next morning I find him thumbing through an A-Z of the World Cup.

"P is for Pele," he smiles. "The greatest footballer of all time."

Job done.