London, September 25

The behaviour of Chelsea's Diego Costa against Arsenal last weekend was bad for football's image and sent the wrong message to children, Pele has said on the eve of an art exhibition in London to celebrate his 75th birthday.

Widely regarded as the greatest footballer ever to have played the game, the Brazilian was scathing about his fellow countryman, who received a three-match ban from a disciplinary commission this week after the referee failed to spot him catching Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny in the face. "It is not a good message for children," Pele told the Daily Telegraph. "He didn't get a red card but was charged. It was dirty. It is not good for football. But it was one mistake."

Pele said that, like Costa, who now plays for Spain, he would have come to Europe instead of staying with Santos in Sao Paulo for most of his career because "these days it is not the player, it is the agent who decides". He added that he would have been happy to play for Barcelona or Arsenal. He turns 75 on October 23 but the exhibition, featuring work by world-famous artists like Andy Warhol, opens at London's Halcyon Gallery on Saturday.