“The World Cup is a box of surprises,” the Brazilian soccer immortal Pelé recently told Fox News Latino’s Bryan Llenas in an interview that ranged from the pressure on the host nation’s team to win the Cup to the protests that have divided the country in the last year.
Many people are unhappy with the amount of resources that the Brazilian government has devoted to building or renovating stadiums for use during the Cup to the tune of close to $4 billion dollars. And people are also nervous about the preparations.
But Pelé said he was optimistic that Brazil would be ready in time.
“Of course we worry a little bit about the construction of the stadiums,” he told Llenas. “But we’re going to be on time, no doubt.”
But in a speech at Anahuac University in Mexico City on Monday, the soccer legend wasn’t as positive about the cash that has been spent.
“Some of this money could have been invested in schools, in hospitals,” Pelé. “Brazil needs it. That's clear.”
The 73-year-old, who helped lead Brazil to three World Cup titles from 1958, when he was only 17, to 1970, also has been critical of the job the government has done in getting things prepared.
"The first match is going to be in the Corinthians stadium in São Paulo," he pointed out in Mexico. "But there's a problem because it's not finished yet. That's what I say is regrettable. That's a problem."
The soccer great was reacting to Brazilians officials admitting a few days ago that a portion of the roof at the São Paulo stadium won’t be finished in time for the Cup’s opening match between Brazil and Croatia on June 12.
But the soccer great isn’t ready to join the protesters on the street anytime soon.
“I lament what protesters are doing,” Pelé said in Mexico, “which is breaking and burning everything. It's money that we will have to spend again."
The international star – who scored 1,282 goals in 1,366 club and national team matches (including unofficial ones), the most in history – always has been more universally admired outside his native country than inside.
Part of the reason for that was that he was perceived to be too non-confrontational toward the country’s brutal military dictatorship that held power from 1964 to 1985. Which makes his current criticism of the government all the more surprising.
About actual soccer, Pelé told Fox News Latino that the player who most reminded him of himself at the 1958 World Cup is Brazil's current superstar, Neymar.
“We talk,” Pelé said of his relationship with the young striker, adding that he gave him advice about playing in the Cup. He said, “Try to be yourself. Don’t worry about the crowd. Because sometimes the game or play doesn’t go the way you want. But you must be calm and be yourself.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.