Pele calls David Beckham’s MLS hopes for Miami ‘fantastic, important’

Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe (left) looks on as former Brazilian star Pelé paints a specially designed box in the shape of a soccer ball. The "Hublot Loves Football" event took place Monday at artist Romero Britto's (right) Wynwood studio in Miami.

Christina De Nicola

MIAMI — When Brazilian star Pele came to the United States to play for the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League in the mid 1970s, people didn’t recognize him.

Over time, the reception evolved — much like the soccer scene in America.

"Now everybody knows (the) soccer ball," Pele said. "The ball was my life and made my life."

Pele brought the "Hublot Loves Football" campaign to Romero Britto’s Wynwood studio on Monday afternoon for its only American stop leading up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Once known as the "King of Football," Pele remains the only player to win three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970). The Guinness World Records lists him with 1,281 goals in 1,363 games, the most in history.

To open a formal Q&A, the sport’s best worldwide ambassador was asked whether former English star David Beckham would succeed by bringing a Major League Soccer club back to South Florida.

"I think it’s very important. Everybody knows," Pele said. "I came to cross-promote soccer here and to have a player like Beckham, this is very important and fantastic. Not only Miami but the whole United States.

"The people don’t remember, but when I arrived here soccer was good between the children. But today soccer is at the same level as Europe. The last two World Cups, the national team almost qualified for the semifinal."

Essential expansion

It’s hard not to notice the growing popularity of the sport. MLS, which was founded in 1993, currently has 19 teams between the U.S. and Canada. By 2017, there could be 23 teams if Miami’s club is ready by then.

Pele also said American soccer has an advantage, calling it more organized than Brazil and "maybe whole South America." He also hoped people wouldn’t forget Brazilian star Romario, who scored 19 goals in 25 games for Miami FC — now called the Fort Lauderdale Strikers — in 2006, when the club reached its first USL-1 playoffs.

Romario was one of the most prolific strikers of all time. In 1994, he captured the World Cup and FIFA World Player of the Year.

"Beckham could help a lot, but we have to remember Romario was the center for Brazil, he was here seven years ago," Pele said. "He was very good. No doubt. Everybody that can help is fantastic and very good for Miami."

Anything to further develop support for the world’s most popular sport.

As a member of the Cosmos, Pele did his part by participating in a soccer camp and the "girls became the best in the world." The U.S. women’s national team has won the World Cup twice (1991, 1999) in six appearances as well as six CONCACAF Gold Cups in seven chances.

"Today, the biggest family in the world is soccer," Pele said. "My time, we didn’t have the communication we have now. Even then, Santos — my team in Brazil — we played all over the world. Our team stopped a war in Africa. Now, you have a big family all over the world. Every place you see soccer."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at