SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Pelé still knows how to delight a crowd – even decades after his playing days have ended.
The outspoken former Brazilian superstar striker made headlines this week as he celebrated his 71st birthday in England as part of the launch for his new sportswear collection The Beautiful Revolution.
But Pelé, the three-time World Cup champion, opened an interview with reporters by calling the English Premier League the top league in Europe and bashing Argentine striker and two-time FIFA Player of the Year Lionel Messi.
“I would love to play with Lionel Messi,” Pelé told reporters. “But Messi is an incomplete player because he can’t use his head. I played football for 20 years and Messi has only played for several years.”
The Brazilian star went on to say he would prefer to play with Santos star Neymar more than anyone else. He especially seemed to delight in the barbs he launched at Messi after the elite striker told reporters he had never seen Pelé play.
But then again, Pelé may get his wish to suit up with Neymar.
Santos has invited the former star to train with the team leading up to December’s Club World Cup in Japan. Pelé led Santos to victory in the competition in 1962 and 1963, but any meaningful contributions from the former star would be unprecedented.
“Pelé was positive and promised to train to get fit and participate for a few minutes, if possible,” Santos president Luis Álvaro de Oliveira Ribeiro told reporters. “I have talked to [coach] Muricy [Ramalho]. Now, the only stumbling block is Pelé. He would be registered with the number 10 jersey.”
Pelé also made waves earlier this month when he offered his assessment of the Brazilian national team, calling it a work-in-progress and stressing patience in blending the elite talent level for the 2014 World Cup hosts.
After slumping with a quarterfinal defeat in July’s Copa América, Mano Menezes’ squad rallied to beat Mexico in a recent friendly and has won four of its past five matches.
“Brazil has great players, it just takes time to bring the team together because we can make five world class teams,” Pelé told reporters.
Neymar: Santos can win club World Cup
Neymar has a simple message for FC Barcelona: watch your back.
The standout Santos striker and rising Brazilian star said this week his club team was more than capable of toppling the defending Champions League and La Liga winners at December’s Club World Cup in Japan.
“Santos can beat Barcelona because we are talking about sport and you can take nothing for granted,” Neymar told reporters.
Neymar, 19, has 34 goals in 81 career matches with Santos.
“The worst team can beat the best,” Neymar told reporters. “We need to play the Club World Cup and face it with care to avoid any surprises.”
Neymar leads the Brazilian league with nearly 6.5 average fouls suffered per match. This surprisingly high rate has led to Brazilian legend Ronaldo’s clamoring for officials to protect the budding superstar.
“I also suffered a lot while playing football, but I believe that referees in Brazil should protect these talents more, applying the game’s rules,” Ronaldo told reporters. “They suffer a lot of fouls and many of them are worthy of a card and sending off.”
Even Neymar admitted he can get frustrated by physical play.
“I like to face defenders,” he told reporters. “When they bring me down, I get back up. Sometimes, I get a bit angry, but I count to 10 and I keep going.”
Meantime, Brazilian legend Pelé said Neymar must bulk up his 5-foot-9, 133-pound frame to be able to withstand the physical demands of playing a European team.
“I spoke with Neymar’s father of my concern over the physicality [of the game in Europe],” Pelé told reporters.
Forlán eyeing return
Diego Forlán’s return is getting closer.
The elite Uruguayan striker has one goal in five matches for Italian power Inter Milan this season but has been hampered by a muscle strain he suffered in a 1-1 draw in a World Cup qualifier against Paraguay earlier this month.
Forlán had only recently returned from a myriad of injuries he picked up during Uruguay’s run to the Copa America in July.
“I am recovering and doing lots of physiotherapy so that I can soon return to the pitch as this is my main objective now," Forlán told reporters. “I have not been here very long, but I have adapted well. I am happy in Milan and it was nice to swap it for Madrid. Things are going well, we have some great players at Inter and they have helped me to settle.”
Argentina’s Tevez fined US$1.6 million by Manchester City
Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez’s refusal to take the pitch in a Champions League match last month will cost him US$1.6 million, the team ruled Oct. 25 after a disciplinary hearing.
Tevez was found guilty of five breaches of contract for disobeying coach Roberto Mancini’s order during a 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich in September.
Among the infractions, Tevez did not comply with “an obligation to participate in any matches in which the player is selected to play for the club when directed by a club official,” the team ruled.
The team immediately suspended Tevez for two weeks and Mancini said the Argentine would not play for the club again.
He must pay the fine, equal to one month’s wages. He was also issued a written warning pertaining to future conduct.
Tevez has 14 days to appeal the ruling. He can also appeal through the Premier League. If he does, the process could stretch into December.