Dubai: Officials from Al Nasr club presented Pele with a framed photo of him playing against the team for his former club Santos in 1973, on the sidelines of a function that saw him announced as a global ambassador for Emirates airline in Dubai on Thursday.
Pele first visited the UAE 41 years ago to participate in the friendly match and has since rekindled an unlikely rapport with the Oud Metha club on a further three visits to Dubai.
“This generation probably doesn’t know who Pele was,” said Al Nasr team manager Mohammad Al Qahoor, who presented Pele with the photo along with fellow club official Mohammad Al Kous.
“But we know him as a good friend of the club from a time when we brought all the big teams out to the UAE, including Liverpool and Aston Villa.
“We are the oldest team in the UAE and we wanted to show people what we have done for football here. This is just a small gift for Pele but it means so many things.”
Emirates’s divisional senior vice-president of commercial operations, Shaikh Majid Al Mualla, said: “There were no real facilities at that time and fans had to sit on the sandy slopes around the pitch. Pele was already a star and everybody wanted to watch him. It was an electric atmosphere and people talked about it for years after. It just shows the power of sport and how it touches people and connects with them emotionally.”
Pele added: “I’m always made to feel very welcome here. The city is bigger than before — no doubt it has grown a lot. I remember it wasn’t an easy game, it was tough, but I have good memories nonetheless.”