Gurgaon: Overwhelmed by emotions after returning to India after a gap of 38 years, football legend Pele on Thursday tipped fellow Brazilian Zico as the next president of the game's world governing body FIFA.
The FIFA was plunged into a crisis earlier this year due to allegations of widespread corruption, when the US Department of Justice indicted several top executives of the world football governing body. As a result, FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA chief Michel Platini were suspended by the FIFA's ethics committee.
Pele, who was visiting the capital for the first time, is saddened by the corruption scandals which have hit the game in recent times and feels that Zico being a former player who loves and understands the game is the best candidate to clean up the current mess.
"I want someone honest, who respects the game to be the FIFA president. I know of Zico's wish to run for president. He has the courage, I think he is one of the best candidates to be the president of FIFA," the 74-year-old told the media here.
"I told him 'you are strong, you have the courage. You will be a good president.' I think he will be a wonderful president because he has strived to develop football in several countries. He has worked for a long time in Japan and helped transform it to one of the strongest countries in Asia," Pele added. "Zico is one of the best candidates, no doubt."
The three-time World Cup winner admitted that the top echelons of FIFA have lost much of their credibility following the corruption scandal, but he was quick to point out that they have done a lot to spread the game around the world. The 'King of Football' also asserted that the controversy has not tarnished the image of the game.
"It is easy to criticise. FIFA may be corrupt, but they did a lot to develop football around the world. Unfortunately, the FIFA officials are human and they made a mistake," Pele said.
"You should not forget that because of the FIFA, if you see football today, it is the most popular sport in the world. More and more people are playing football and the game is developing worldwide, be it in Asia, Africa, South America or anywhere. If you see in history, football has united people," he added. "Corruption is a worldwide problem. You see corruption in football in Brazil, US, Africa, here. FIFA is not an exception."
"We have to make a difference between the FIFA officials and football. This (corruption) is not football. It is being done by people who are running the game. Football belongs to the people. This (corruption scandal) has not affected football in any way."
Talking about Indian football, the former Santos star felt that the country needs to go the Brazilian way in order to improve the standard of the domestic leagues. He held out the example of the Major League Soccer (MLS) of the US, who imported a host of World Cup stars in the 1970s in order to boost the standard of their domestic football.
"India should have more Brazilian footballers. Not only players who are at the end of their careers, but players who can perform at a high level and make a difference for their teams in the long term," Pele said.
"Same happened when we started to promote football in the US. The US federation brought over great players like myself, Beckenbaur and others, and gradually the league became strong," he added.
"The first year when we started to play for Cosmos, we started to lose because a lot of the footballers were college players. The first year was difficult. But in the second year, big players like Beckenbaur came over and the league started to improve."
Pele, who witnessed the Indian Super League (ISL) match between defending champions Atletico de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters during his visit to Kolkata, insisted that the ISL should be held over a longer duration in order to make a meaningful contribution towards the betterment of the game in the country.
"Two months are not enough. You need to have a longer tournament if the ISL is to have a substantial effect. But it is important to begin. The beginning has been very nice," Pele stated.
"I think you need to give more time to the players to gel with and learn from their foreign counterparts."
The legend also pointed out that Indians should draw lessons form small nations around the world who have made big strides in the game.
"You look at football in Japan, at Costa Rica, Venezuela or Ecuador," he said. "Ecuador beat Argentina in their last match."
"Of course, in this context, it is important to mention that I do not see too many Indian players in the European leagues or in South America. I think this is important. It is important to go outside your borders, to gain experience. The young Indian players need to be exposed to a higher quality of football."
"Not only is football in India in a bad shape. The game is facing problems in Brazil and Argentina as well. This is normal. It is important ot be aware of the problems and try to improve."