If Pele was aware of the fact that he is accumulating as many slip-ups as goals he scored, maybe he would not insist so much on his career total of 1,281 goals.

The three-times World Cup winner is the undisputed king of football.

However, off the field, the former striker has built up an extensive history of mistaken predictions and controversial declarations, which have made him the target of harsh criticism from his compatriots — and which have affected his popularity.

Art of being wrong

Pele’s lack of talent for predictions was first revealed 20 years ago, when he identified Colombia as “one of the favourites” at the 1994 World Cup in the United States. Instead, Brazil won their fourth world title — and Colombia didn’t even reach the round of 16.

This is why Colombia launched a campaign before this year’s World Cup requesting that Pele not mention their team as one of the favourites in Brazil.

Pele’s mistakes have not undermined his self-confidence when it comes to making predictions. “An African team will be world champions,” he said shortly before France 1998.

Then, just before Japan/South Korea 2002, he said that Argentina and France would reach the final — they were both eliminated in the first round. He was also pessimistic concerning the chances of his own country in 2002, saying: “Brazil will be in a risky situation at this World Cup” — just before the yellows clinched their fifth world title.

Prophet Pele has some success

From then on Pele has been more cautious in his predictions. In 2010, he finally enjoyed some success, by including Spain as one of his five candidates for the title — though he did overlook the other finalist, the Netherlands.

“Usually the big teams are Brazil, Argentina, England, Italy and Spain. These are the teams we expect to be the favourites, but the Africans can also spring a surprise,” he said in 2010.

2014 prediction has Brazil worried!

As regards Brazil 2014, Pele says he would like to see a repeat of the decisive match of 1950, between Brazil and Uruguay, but this time without a Uruguayan ‘Maracanazo’ and instead with a Brazilian triumph. “I have great confidence in Brazil and I think we will reach the final,” he said, a prediction which — in the light of his many slip-ups as “prophet” — has worried many Brazilians.

However, Pele’s latest predictions also include other favourites: “The two best teams are Spain and Germany.” He also included Italy, Chile, Argentina and — despite their aforementioned campaign — Colombia among his favourites. “Colombia have always had a very beautiful style of play, very elegant and technical. They should also reach the last four.”

Gaffes galore

Pele has also stirred up controversy with his opposition to the popular protests which ravaged Brazil during last year’s Confederations Cup, when he asked his compatriots to leave aside “all this confusion” and get behind their team.

He also raised eyebrows with his remarks concerning the death of eight workmen in the construction of the World Cup stadiums.

“This is normal, these things happen in life. These were just an accident, nothing to get worried about,” he said after the eighth death, at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.

At the same time, he labelled as “banal” an incident which occurred at a Spanish league match in April, when a Villarreal fan threw a banana at Barcelona’s Brazilian right—back Dani Alves when he was about to take a corner.

“There is racism not only in football, it has always existed in all sectors of society. We cannot allow ourselves to be affected by such a banal thing as someone throwing a banana,” said the “O Rei”, who added that he was not worried about racism in European football.

Silence is golden

Statements such as these led Romario, another idol of Brazilian football, to say: “When he is silent, Pele is a poet.” Sometimes Pele is silent. For example, he kept completely silent about the 33-year prison sentence recently handed out to his son Edson Cholby do Nascimento — the former goalkeeper known as Edinho — for money laundering.

“O Rei” also chose not to respond to the provocations of his Argentine “arch-rival” Diego Maradona, who referred mockingly to Pele’s confession in an 1980 interview with Playboy that he had sexual relations with a homosexual as an adolescent.

“Until I was 15 or 16 years old, I had a few homosexual relationships. My debut was with a gay who was put away by the entire team,” said Pele crudely, according to the text of journalist Jose Maria de Aquino.

In his only comment about this subject, in 2011, Pele claimed he had been incorrectly understood, and said he had never had any homosexual experiences. “I wouldn’t have any problem in admitting to it, if it had really happened,” he said.

German press agency dpa asked Pele’s advisers for a comment on the subject but did not receive a reply. Whenever Maradona has the chance, he insists time and again: “Pele made his debut with a boy.”