Dubai: Journalists in Dubai tend to be blase about top sport stars visiting the emirate given the frequency with which they come here for either major events or holidays.
But the revelation that “The King of Football”, Pele, was to be in town on Thursday for an Emirates airline announcement — only the third time he has visited the city — created an unprecedented buzz among the Dubai sports journalism fraternity.
Even the most cynical of hacks were transformed into quivering, star-struck schoolboys clutching iPads and cameras as they gathered expectantly at The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi in the hope that they could get their photo taken with the great man.
That vain hope may have been swiftly, and not unexpectedly, dashed when Pele was hastily ushered out of the hotel’s ballroom after the press conference and photo call were held.
But otherwise, Pele did not disappoint the assembled, adoring crowd, radiating his trademark humility and warmth as he patiently answered a succession of questions about his own career and modern football.
Aptly dressed for the occasion in a black Fly Emirates T-Shirt, the 73-year-old cut a slightly frail and overwhelmed figure as he entered the ballroom clutching the shoulder of an Emirates’ official.
As he sat in front of his spellbound inquisitors, arguably the most venerated footballer of all time’s expression was touchingly one of a man moved and bewildered by the hero worship he inspires.
“I am an emotional man,” he said, when asked by one journalist what made him cry when he received the first Fifa Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur on Monday.
His English may not be perfect, but Pele still managed to serve up several nuggets of journalistic gold — all proffered with a sincerity and honesty not witnessed in the terse and trite replies trotted out by many sportsmen and women in the current era.
He covered topics ranging from the obvious (his opinion on the greatest footballer in the world) to the enlightening (his vow not to cry, like his father did in 1950, in front of his teenage son if Brazil fail to win the World Cup on home soil this year).
Emirates deserves great credit for providing those present with 30 minutes or so in which to quiz Pele; rather than, as sometimes happens at such events, raining on journalists’ parade by limiting questions to a token two or three.
The airline’s bosses clearly knew, like us, that they were in the presence of true greatness.