It is more than half a century since Pele took part in his only match in this country, a 1-1 draw with Scotland at Hampden Park on 25 June, 1966, which served as a final warm-up ahead of the World Cup finals in England that summer, writes Ewing Grahame.
A crowd of 73,993 turned up to see the reigning world champions and the planet’s most famous footballer but unsung Celtic hero John Clark, making his international debut, barely gave the great man a kick.
“I usually scored when I played but I didn’t score that day,” he said wistfully last night before a gala dinner at Glasgow’s Crowne Plaza Hotel.
However, even that Scotland XI, which included John Greig, Billy Bremner, Jim Baxter and Charlie Cooke, pictured, would have been unlikely to match the brilliant Brazilians who regained the World Cup in Mexico four years later.
Enthusiasts of a certain age (and there were many present last night, paying up to £1,000 to meet Pele), regard the 1970 vintage as the apotheosis of the beautiful game. That team also included Carlos Alberto, Clodoaldo, Gerson, Tostao, Jairzinho and Rivelino and their dismantling of Italy in that year’s final remains as close as possible to perfection as it is possible to attain.
“That group of players was the best I ever saw,” he said. “We were a very good team but we also had four or five excellent individual players.
“Maybe it’s wrong to say that because I am Brazilian but I haven’t seen anything like the style of that side since then.”
Pele had been due to light the flame to open this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro but had to withdraw due to medical reasons.
Now 75, his mobility has been affected by a recent hip operation but he could still pass for 50.
“In my 25 years as a professional player, right to the end with New York Cosmos, the only problem I had was the knee injury I picked up at the World Cup in England. Since I retired, though, I have broken my ribs, my hip and my knee. I am getting old!
“Everything has happened to me since I stopped playing but I am OK. In the modern game, Lionel Messi is, for me, the best player of the last 15 years.”