Pelé, king of the game with the magic nickname, will set foot on Indian soil and visit the so-called Mecca of Indian football, Kolkata, for the first time in nearly four decades. World football’s most famous ambassador will be a guest at Atletico de Kolkata’s first home game in ISL2 on October 13 and will also attend the Subroto Cup final in Delhi. The last time Pelé was in India, he still played club football, Kolkata was still Calcutta, and it had been only seven years since his final show of brilliance at the World Cup, winning Brazil the Jules Rimet trophy for keeps.
Despite the Sepp Blatter-run Fifa’s largesse for investment in infrastructure and academies — which tend to mysteriously disappear or shut down — the AIFF has little to show for itself. Blatter himself had remarked on a visit in 2007 that India’s club infrastructure belonged to a bygone century. The national team ranks a dismal joint 155 with Kyrgyzstan currently, and enjoys no decent training facility. Foreign coaches come and go. Those who insist on changing Indian players’ fundamental approach to the game are rebuffed by AIFF officials. Hopefully, Pelé, who still recalls that distant Calcutta September of 1977 and the exhilaration of fans, will not notice how much has changed for the worse.
From Bobby Moore and Gerd Müller to Oliver Kahn and Lionel Messi, Kolkata has hosted several football giants. Seeing these legends in the flesh ignites a spark that can sometimes change lives, as Maradona kicking a ball back at suburban kids in Kolkata may have done in 2008. Pelé is too old to entertain or dazzle, but for aspiring players and fans in a country with no footballing success in the foreseeable future, this is as good as it gets.