Sat inside a crammed central London sandwich shop, Pele flashes those world-renowned pearly whites. After the week Lionel Messi’s had, football’s greatest ever knew exactly what was coming.
“I never saw myself play, but I think I was the better player,” the 74-year-old said, complete with beaming grin.
As Thierry Henry said of Messi last week, you don’t get to be this good without having a bit of an ego.
Three months after leaving a Brazilian hospital following a urinary tract infection and now with a clean bill of health, Pele has plenty to tell. A lot more than playfully scoring points against the magician who mesmerised Manchester City on Wednesday night.
He explains Steven Gerrard’s decision to jet off to America this summer as one taken to wind down, relax and retire, while he considers Liverpool’s clash against Manchester United today to be matched only by El Clasico in terms of global appeal.
Contrary to hysteria, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with English football, he continues, despite a fortnight which may end up serving as a nadir for the game in England.
And he cites the reason for a lack of success internationally as being largely down to England’s best players finding themselves “too comfortable” in the British bubble and unwilling to move abroad at their peak.
But it is when the names Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are mentioned that Pele truly comes alive. They are the pair who rival him - he of three World Cup-winners’ medals - Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff as the all-time genuine superstars.
Not shy, he is more than happy to settle debates which have raged in pubs and on concourses across Europe for the best part of a decade.
“The two best at the moment are obviously Ronaldo and Messi,” he says. “Which is the best one? Messi has been the best player of the last 10 years.
“That level, the player who played at the same level for 10 years. It’s massive. He never plays badly and is a very quiet guy.
“Ronaldo is that striker who scores goals, but Messi does that and helps with assists.”
So, Messi is top dog; how does the Argentine compare to the original luminary?
The grin emerges.
“I think I was a little better in the air,” he adds. “I used to kick it with both feet.”
There are more serious matters at hand for the Premier League at present. This campaign has been hellish, England’s elite embarrassed and all dumped out of continental competition by Easter.
That matters little to a scorer of 650 league career goals.
“Oh yes, definitely,” he says when asked if the Premier League remained the best division in the world. “It pains me as a Brazilian, but I have to say that. Even after the struggles in Europe this week. Remember, losing is part of the game. But there is no doubt that it’s the top league.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong - it’s something you can’t explain.
“Use this as an example. It isn’t the same, but similar. Brazil have won five World Cups, but the two we played in Brazil we lost. You can’t explain that.
“I was nine years old for my first World Cup watching. We played Uruguay in the final at the Maracana - I was with my father - and we lost. I said ‘what happened?’ My father cried and he said: ‘Brazil have lost it’.
“We’ve won five now - I was lucky enough to win three. But now the World Cup in Brazil... we lost! It’s the same with the football in England. They have good teams, good players.
“One thing I would say about English players is that they don’t have experience of playing abroad. You don’t see them playing in South America or Japan. The English players should be playing outside, but it’s too comfortable to play here.
“To play in South America is more complicated - they need that experience. That’s the only thing you can say about England.” - Daily Mail