New Delhi: Brazilian football legend Pele tonight set foot in the Capital to a warm reception with around 100-odd enthusiastic fans and officials turning up to receive him at the airport in his first visit here.
Thrice World Cup winner Pele, who is considered the greatest ever footballer, landed at the Indira Gandhi International terminal at 8.15 pm in an Air India flight from Kolkata where he had spent three days in his second visit to that city.
The 74-year-old was received at the airport by officers of the Air Force, which is organising the Subroto Cup school tournament, with a few fans also turning up. Pele was greeted by Air Force Sports Control Board secretary Vijay Yadav and director Souvik Bhattacharya.
As soon as Pele stepped out of the terminal, some fans shouted his name and a girl was seen holding a placard that read ‘The Black Pearl Welcome’. One Air Force personnel came with a pencil sketch of his bust. Sporting a blazer and a formal shirt, Pele smiled as soon as he came out through the VIP gate.
The crowd mostly comprised Air Force personnel and sportspersons representing it.
Pele, who turns 75 on October 23, is here on a two-day visit on the invitation of the Subroto Cup International. He will be the chief guest of the Under-17 boys final match of the Subroto Cup at the Ambedkar Stadium on October 16.
Tomorrow, he will hold a press conference at a Gurgaon Hotel where he will be put up. The Air Force will also host a dinner in his honour tomorrow as part of a charity night at the same hotel. Three Indian sportspersons, who have already qualified for Rio Olympics 2016, will be felicitated in Pele’s presence.
This is Pele’s second visit to the country after he came to then Calcutta (now Kolkata) as part New York Cosmos club side for an exhibition match against Mohun Bagan in 1977.
He made a return to Kolkata after 38 years in an emotional three-day visit to that city. After arriving at Kolkata on October 11, he attended a host of programmes, including a felicitation function of the Mohun Bagan players who played against him in that 1977 match.
The function was attended by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly and Oscar and Grammy Award-winning music composer A R Rahman.
Here in the Capital, not many official programmes are in line for Pele, who was part of the FIFA World Cup winning Brazil teams of 1958, 1962 and 1970. He has undergone three surgeries this year and attended a few of the events in Kolkata with his walking stick.
“Pele is coming to Delhi for the first time and we are expecting a big response from the football enthusiasts of the city. Subroto Cup tournament is in its 35th edition and this year, we thought we will do something new. That is why we have brought Pele here,” Wing Commander Vijay Yadav, organising secretary General of Subroto Cup International Football Tournament told PTI.
“The idea was, we wanted to bring a big football star, past or present and we found out that Pele is available.
Nobody is more suitable than Pele to inspire this young school footballers and so brought Pele with the help of a sport management firm,” he added.
The organisers have issued complimentary passes for the Subroto Cup final match on October 16, which will be attended by Pele and they are expecting a full house at the Ambedkar Stadium.
“Since we are a non-profit society, we cannot sell tickets. So we have distributed complimentary passes and we are giving them to whoever wants to get them. There has been lots of request from several quarters, including schools in the city, and we are expecting a full house on October 16 final,” Yadav said.
Officials of the All India Football Federation, Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India will also attend the final match.