Pele: What an honour!
© AFP

The Brazilian legend was deservedly honoured with the Presidential Award at the FIFA World Player Gala in Zurich on 17 December 2007. FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter presented Pele with the award in recognition of his immense contribution to football's growth in popularity and as a spectacle.

In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, O Rei (The King) talked about the significance of the award and some of the highlights of his long career, before sharing his thoughts on the fellow Brazilians nominated for this year's awards.

FIFA.com: What does it mean to you to receive the FIFA Presidential Award in recognition of your career?
Pele: First and foremost, it's a great honour as everyone knows about my career in football, or jogo bonito (the beautiful game), as I like to call it. I have to share this award with all my friends because, in this life, you can achieve nothing on your own. I'd also like to share it with my wife and family, and with God.

At times like these, I think back to when I started out in football. I feel I deserve to receive a distinction like this as I believe I opened many doors. When I started out, football wasn't as commercial as it was today. Now, when people talk about how much the sport has changed, I like to think I had a part in that.

Going back to when I started, I remember, for example, wondering why there were no coloured players in the other international teams [at the World Cup] in 1958. Brazil had them, but not Sweden, nor France, nor England...

I feel proud about opening up football in this respect. Nowadays, I believe racism is more of a socio-economic problem, and it's nothing to do with football. Today, every club has black players in its squad.

On a different point, a lot of people complain that football is not as much fun as it used to be because there are less goal-scoring opportunities. I disagree with that and feel the game generates the same emotions now as it did before. If you have good players, then you will continue to have good spectacles. OK, so there may not be as many goals, but you will always get thrills. The major difference is with the commercialisation of football, but out on the pitch, things are the same as ever.

You made your international debut in 1957. Can you still remember that game?
Of course! How could I forget it? There was a tournament in Rio de Janeiro, and five or six of us were called up from Santos, with the rest coming from Vasco da Gama. I was part of the team and I went to the Maracana for the first time and scored a couple of goals. Later I was called into the senior team for the match against Argentina at the same ground. I was still only 15.

I imagine you also recall your final game withSantosin 1977. Seven could have been your lucky number...
Yes I remember the game well, but my lucky number is ten (laughs). I was very fortunate in my career because I chose the right moment to step down. Some players wait too long to retire. When I left Santos in 74, they were Paulista champions and I was the league's top scorer. Then I stepped down from international duty having won two [world] titles. And when I retired from [the New York] Cosmos in the USA, we had just won the championship. I was fortunate to retire at the top of my game, and that's why people still remember me today.

The FIFA World Cup™ will return toBrazilin 2014. What are your expectations for this great event?
I hope Brazil enjoys the best of luck on this occasion, primarily in organising a good competition. Then there are all those memories... everyone knows what happened in 1950 when we lost the decider to Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro. That was the first time I saw my father cry. I was very young at the time, only 10 years old, and we listened to it on the radio at a party organised at my father's football club. Everyone was convinced we'd win, but we lost of course. That is why whenever people talk to me about Brazil hosting the competition, I ask them not to keep saying we'll win the competition. Deep down, however, I hope that we win it this time.

Three of the six nominees in this year's Gala - Kaka, Marta and Cristiane - are Brazilian. What is your opinion on your compatriots?
I believe women's football has come of age, no question. When I lived in the USA, I worked with many youngsters and attended many schools' clinics. I remember there were a lot of young girls playing football then, something that wasn't happening in Brazil at the time. At home, we've had many problems organising tournaments, but even so, the national team has continued to progress. And here we have Marta, who is fantastic.

Kaka is a great player but, even more than that, he's a good man off the pitch. I'm a big fan of Kaka's. I believe he's improved no end in the last five years and that he is without question the best around today. Obviously, there are many other top quality players about, but, at present, I think Kaka deserves to win.