Indian fans celebrate as Pele visits for the first time in four decades

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Pele unveils his own statue in Kolkata, India
Legendary Brazilian soccer player Pele speaks after unveiling his own statue during an interactive session with the students at the NSHM Knowledge Campus in Kolkata, India, October 12, 2015. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Brazilian legend Pele visited India for the first time in four decades, sending fans in football-mad Kolkata into celebratory mode. He is in the city to give a lecture in one of the city colleges, and will also meet former cricketer Sourav Ganguly and the Mohun Bagan players he played against back in 1977 as part of New York City Cosmos.

Pele will meet Atletico de Kolkata officials on Monday morning and will also be attending their match versus Kerala Blasters match in the on-going Indian Premier League on Tuesday, which also features several former Brazilian players like Elano, Lucio and Roberto Carlos.

The 74-year-old will also be involved in a chat session with Ganguly on Monday in which Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal will also be involved via video link. Pele will also then attend a charity dinner for the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund before flying out of the country.

"Thank you, Kolkata! I'm happy to be here again," Pele told fans who had gathered at the airport. Indian football legends Chunni Goswami and Dipendu Biswas both received Pele at the hotel, where the latter had a minor scare when he stumbled while getting out of his car as fans and media persons rushed to catch a glimpse of the world’s greatest football player, with Biswas quickly helping him regain his balance.

"I asked him whether he was game for a round of football. Pele politely declined, saying `Not really. I'm not very fit now'," Biswas said.

"I asked him where he would place Messi in world football. His answer was short and simple: `He's close to Pele and Maradona'," Goswami added.

Pele had last visited India in 1977, when the New York Cosmos played a friendly game against Mohun Bagan in front of 75,000 fans. The two teams played out a 2-2 draw. Pele featured in the game while team-mate Franz Beckenbauer missed the game after picking up an injury the previous week during a game in China.

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