His wrong predictions have made him the target of harsh criticism from his compatriots

If Pele was aware of the fact that he is accumulating as many slip-ups as goals he scored, maybe he would not insist so much on his career total of 1,281 goals.

The three-time World Cup winner is the undisputed king of football.

However, off the field, the legendary player has built up an extensive history of mistaken predictions and controversial declarations, which have made him the target of harsh criticism from his compatriots — and which have affected his popularity.

Pele’s lack of talent for predictions was first revealed 20 years ago, when he identified Colombia as “one of the favourites” at the 1994 World Cup in the United States. Instead, Brazil won its fourth world title — and Colombia didn’t even reach the round of 16.

Colombia’s campaign

This is why Colombia launched a campaign before this year’s World Cup requesting that Pele not mention its team as one of the favourites in Brazil.

Pele’s mistakes have not undermined his self-confidence when it comes to making predictions.

“An African team will be world champions,” he said shortly before France 1998.

Then, just before Japan-South Korea 2002 World Cup, he said that Argentina and France would reach the final — they were both eliminated in the first round. He was also pessimistic concerning the chances of his own country in 2002, saying: “Brazil will be in a risky situation at this World Cup” — just before the ‘Selecao’ clinched their fifth world title. From then on Pele has been more cautious in his predictions. In 2010 he finally enjoyed some success, by including Spain as one of his five candidates for the title — though he did overlook the other finalist, the Netherlands.

“Usually the big teams are Brazil, Argentina, England, Italy and Spain. These are the teams we expect to be the favourites, but the Africans can also spring a surprise,” he said in 2010.

With regard to Brazil 2014, Pele says he would like to see a repeat of the decisive match of 1950, between Brazil and Uruguay, but this time without a Uruguayan ‘Maracanazo’ and instead with a Brazilian triumph.

“I have great confidence in Brazil and I think we will reach the final,” he said, a prediction which — in the light of his many slip-ups as “prophet” — has worried many Brazilians. However, Pele’s latest predictions also include other favourites: “The two best teams are Spain and Germany.”

He also included Italy, Chile, Argentina and — despite its aforementioned campaign — Colombia among his favourites. “Colombia have always had a very beautiful style of play, very elegant and technical. They should also reach the last four.”

Protests controversy

Pele has also stirred up controversy with his opposition to the popular protests which ravaged Brazil during last year’s Confederations Cup, when he asked his compatriots to leave aside “all this confusion” and get behind their team.

He also raised many eyebrows with his remarks concerning the death of eight workmen in the construction of the World Cup stadiums.

“This is normal, these things happen in life. These were just an accident, nothing to get worried about,” he said after the eighth death, at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.

At the same time, he labelled as “banal” an incident which occurred at a Spanish league match in April, when a Villarreal fan threw a banana at Barcelona’s Brazilian right-back Dani Alves when he was about to take a corner.

“There is racism not only in football, it has always existed in all sectors of society. We cannot allow ourselves to be affected by such a banal thing as someone throwing a banana,” said the “O Rei”, who added that he was not worried about racism in European football.

Statements such as these led Romario, another idol of Brazilian football, to say: “When he is silent, Pele is a poet.”

Sometimes Pele is silent. For example, he kept completely silent about the 33-year prison sentence recently handed out to his son Edson Cholby do Nascimento — the former goalkeeper known as Edinho — for money laundering.

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