Pelé in Greece: Looking back at the time the Brazilian legend visited Xanthi (PHOTOS)

Pele Xanthi Brazil

May 12, 2005 might have been cloudy, but for the residents of Xanthi in northeast Greece, it will be forever immortalised as Brazilian football legend Pelé visited the city and set it alight.

The reason for his visit?

Skoda Xanthi had built their new stadium and he had arrived to cut the red ribbon. The one who welcomed him was Christos Panopoulos, the emblematic president of the team during its heyday, who took him to the location on his motorbike.

Pele Xanthi

Pelé's journey to Greece had started the day before when he arrived in Piraeus to attend a special event that had been set up for him with the presence of the team's football staff and veterans from when he had faced them in a legendary friendly 59 years ago.

There he was lucky enough to meet two old acquaintances. Rivaldo and Giovanni, whom he knew personally. Before leaving, the president of Olympiacos, Sokratis Kokkalis, managed to give him some miniatures of the team's last trophies and a red and white jersey with his name on it.

The impressive welcome from the residents of Xanthi:

Pele Xanthi

In Xanthi, however, the atmosphere was much more festive. Arriving, Pelé passed through a crowd of small children wearing Seleção jerseys and locals begging for his autograph. It is no small thing for such a football player to come to their city.

Observing the stadium facilities, he was amazed.

"They are amazing. Football players today have such facilities to train in and they still complain. When I was a player we didn't have such football facilities," he said. "This sports centre is a model and I will suggest to the Brazilian National Team to use it to prepare for the 2006 World Cup."

For the cutting of the red ribbon, the executives of the Deputy Ministry of Sports were gathered by his side.

Pelé rewarded the team's footballers for their successful run in the Greek league that gave them the ticket to next season's UEFA qualifiers and presented a trophy to the team's infrastructure departments, which played an exhibition match for the opening.

The sparklers and fireworks did not stop, during the event, lighting up the sky of the city.

Pelé's conversation with Mantzourakis

Pele Xanthi

After the match was over, the interview took place in a room full of Greek journalists, as well as TV crews from CNN, Al Jazeera and the French News Agency who had arrived in Xanthi to cover this unique event.

All the team's football and coaching staff were there, with Giannis Mantzourakis talking to him for a long time and confiding in him that he would have played against him if he had received Romanian citizenship in the 1970 World Cup, during his years playing for Rapid Bucharest.

"Pelé is better than Maradona. Firstly, because he had ingenuity and thought far ahead of his time, while at the same time he was a role model outside of football," he noted a little later.

Pelé was photographed wearing another jersey with his name on the back and received his club membership card.

It seems that these memorabilia did not move him much as three years ago as he decided to put them up for auction, with the football jersey being sold for 200 euros and the special plaque for 80 euros.

He stayed in Xanthi for one more day, accepting the invitation of Christos Panopoulos. Photos from the second day have unfortunately not been made public. After 48 hours he took his helicopter and flew to Cannes.

A journey so insignificant to him but at the same time so important to the inhabitants of this city had just come to an end.

Alas, past glories...

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