Brazilian footballers face furious backlash after failing to show up to Pelé's funeral

Kaká, Neymar and Ronaldo were among those singled out for criticism

Some of Brazil’s best-known footballers have faced a furious backlash as fans and pundits questioned why they had failed to attend ceremonies bidding farewell to Pelé.

Hundreds of thousands of people waited for hours under a burning sun on Monday to file past the recently deceased football legend’s coffin at Santos’ Vila Belmiro ground.

But only a handful of Brazil’s World Cup winners made the trip 50 miles down the coast from São Paulo to pay homage, with Ricardo Kaká, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior and Ronaldo Nazario among those singled out for criticism.

“Pelé is a citizen of the world, at the same level as Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi, but Brazilians don’t know how to recognise that,” said José Ferreira Neto, once a former Brazil midfielder and now one of Brazil’s most outspoken TV presenters.


“If they were World Cup winners and didn’t come to see Pelé, what can I say to them? At the very least it shows a lack of respect.”

Neto, who played for Santos’ arch-rivals Corinthians, appeared early on Tuesday morning at the 24-hour wake and was preceded by a host of dignitaries, including Fifa president Gianni Infantino; Alejandro Domínguez, head of the South American Football Confederation; and São Paulo governor Tarcísio de Freitas.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva also flew in from Brasília less than 48 hours after being inaugurated for a third term as president.

Many of Pelé's team-mates in the all-conquering Santos teams of the 1960s have died and others are well into their 80s and in poor health.

However, several of those who played alongside him were there, including Clodoaldo Tavares de Santana, who was the only one of the legendary 1970 Brazil team to appear. Tostão (Eduardo Gonçalves de Andrade), Jairzinho (Jair Ventura Filho), Roberto Rivellino, Gérson de Oliveira Nunes and Wilson Piazza were all conspicuous by their absence.

None of those who played in the Brazil team that won their fifth and most recent World Cup title in 2002 were present and only one of the victorious 1994 side turned up, Mauro Silva, who is now vice-president of the São Paulo football federation.

One of the most controversial absences was Kaká. The Fifa World Player of the Year in 2007 said in December that Brazilians did not show enough respect for their national heroes, citing regular criticism of Neymar and Ronaldo.

Kaká did not appear in Santos and his absence was noted.

“Where is Kaká, who said Brazilians don’t recognise their heroes?” wrote Walter Casagrande Júnior, an outspoken Brazilian columnist. “Well, Kaká, after what we saw at Pelé's wake, it’s clear that it is you who don’t recognise major heroes.”

Neymar, who came through the ranks at Santos before leaving for Barcelona and becoming the world’s most expensive footballer in 2017, was another who did not appear, with his father saying his son had asked him to represent him.

Casagrande hinted that Kaká and other millionaire footballers were used to getting paid for public appearances and he also suggested that Brazil’s World Cup winners did not go because Pelé, who sometimes worked as a TV analyst, had criticised some of their past performances.

Whatever the reason, the lack of star power jarred. One observer noted that David Beckham queued for hours to see the queen while Brazilian players did not avail themselves of special access through Santos’ historic marble salon to see the man known universally as the King.

The contrast was especially dissonant given the massive outpouring of popular support shown to the local star.

Pelé's coffin was driven through Santos on Tuesday morning, from the stadium to the mausoleum where he was buried, and huge crowds turned out to accompany the procession.

“None of us are ever going to forget this,” Neto said in a message directed to the absent stars.

“Anyone can put a photo of Pelé on their Instagram,” he said about one easy tribute. “Would it cost you to have given up two days of your holidays?” – Guardian