LONDON, September 23- Troublesome Chelsea striker Diego Costa would have been considered a petty criminal rather than a master villain in the 1950s and 1960s, according to Brazil great Pele.
Costa, who was born in Brazil but opted to represent Spain at international level, has been banned for three games for twice hitting Laurent Koscielny during Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat of Arsenal last weekend.
It is not the first time the snarling centre-forward has fallen foul of the football authorities, but Pele, famously kicked out of the 1966 World Cup by Portugal’s Joao Morais, said Costa’s crimes were nothing compared to the punishments meted out to him during his extraordinary career.
“Listen, this to me was so common,” a smiling Pele told AFP. “I suffered all my life with good marking. He’s a very good player, everybody knows.
“This was one moment. The striker who bit someone, Luis Suarez, was worse than this.”
Pele, a leading contender for the title of greatest footballer of all-time, was speaking at the launch of an exhibition to mark his 75th birthday, which falls on October 23.
Called ‘Art, Life, Football’, the exhibition at London’s Halcyon Gallery features artworks depicting memorable moments from Pele’s career, including a 1977 portrait by pop art pioneer Andy Warhol.
Unlike today’s stars, there is not a surfeit of footage of Pele in action, but some of his goals were so famous they acquired their own epithets.
There was ‘O Milesimo’, a penalty for Santos — his only Brazilian club — against Vasco da Gama that was thought to be his 1,000th goal.
A pitch-long dribble and shot against Fluminense in 1961 was deemed worthy of a plaque at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana, the ground where it was scored, earning it the nickname ‘Gol de placa’.
Meanwhile, the goal Pele considered his best, in which he reputedly flicked the ball over three defenders and the goalkeeper before heading in during a match against the Brazilian Juventus in 1959, was recreated using CGI in 2014.
– ‘I was shaking’ –
“People are talking about them until now because they were so good,” says Pele — full name Edson Arantes do Nascimento — of the Fluminense and Juventus goals, neither of which was caught on film.
“Of course I had other goals that were important to me, in a World Cup too. But these two goals were the ones people mentioned more.
“They were beautiful goals, but there were other important goals. For example, the 1,000th goal.
“It was a penalty kick. Everybody said, ‘Oh, it’s easy to score a goal with a penalty kick.’
“But to me, in the Maracana, I was shaking, I was so nervous. I said to myself, ‘My god, I cannot miss this moment.’ This 1,000th goal was very important to me too.”
Pele, who underwent spinal surgery in July, considers Lionel Messi to be the world’s best current player and cites England’s 1966 World Cup-winning midfielder Bobby Charlton as his “most difficult opponent”.
Charlton was recently surpassed by Wayne Rooney as England’s record goal-scorer and there is an expectation that Neymar will one day claim Pele’s record for Brazil.
The Barcelona forward, 23, has already scored 46 international goals and has Pele’s mark of 77 in his sights.
But with Neymar having started out, like Pele, at Santos, the three-time World Cup-winner is relaxed about the prospect.
“Coincidentally, Neymar is from Santos. He started there,” said Pele, who also spent two years at New York Cosmos.
“My son, Edinho (sentenced last year to a 33-year jail term for money laundering), who was a goalkeeper, was his coach in the under-20s. If Neymar breaks this record, fantastic. One more for Santos!”
As much as he enjoys watching Neymar and Messi strut their stuff, however, Pele resorts to an old refrain when asked if anyone in the modern game reminds him of himself.
“I used to say: ‘Listen, everybody wants to find a new Pele. It’s impossible,'” he says.
“My mother and my father closed the machine. No more!”