Pele acknowledged that Neymar is at a disadvantage because he is not as strong as most defenders trying to mark him, but said he is "exaggerating" with his attempts to get referees to award fouls.
"He is a player with a body that can't take a lot of hits," Pele told a news conference. "A lot of times he will fall because he can't do anything else, but he was overdoing it." Neymar is touted as a future star of the Brazilian national team, but many opponents have criticized him for diving.
Pele said the 19-year-old Santos player would often have been better off continuing his run instead of going down in a bid to earn a free kick or penalty. He said he told Neymar to stop putting on a show every time a defender touches him.
"Even when he is fouled, he can't make a spectacle out of it," he said. "I told him that he really needs to avoid that." Pele's comments came as Neymar and Santos prepare to play later Wednesday against Penarol of Uruguay in the final of the Copa Libertadores, the Latin American competition that Santos is trying to win for the first time since back-to-back titles when Pele was a player in 1962 and '63.
The teams drew 0-0 in the first leg, when Neymar was booked for diving. He later complained that the referee was constantly threatening to send him off if he tried it again.
The Brazilian youngster says, however, that he never tries to fool the referee into blowing his whistle, and that he goes down only when he is actually fouled.
Neymar last year rejected an offer from Chelsea, and now Real Madrid is reportedly trying to sign him. But Santos president Luis Alvaro Ribeiro reiterated that the player is happy in Brazil and that Santos will try to keep him in the club for as long as possible.
"We have no interest in getting rid of our greatest players," Ribeiro said in the news conference before the final.
Pele said Santos has a better team than Penarol and has a slight edge heading into the match at the Pacaembu stadium in Sao Paulo. He played when Santos faced the Uruguayan club in the 1962 final, but said now he is having a harder time awaiting for the decisive match as a fan.
"When I played against Penarol 50 years ago, I wasn't as nervous as I am now," Pele said. "It's much worse when you are not on the field." Pele also joked about the recent comments reportedly made by Argentine great Diego Maradona, saying that Pele and Neymar are not polite.
"Maradona loves me, he really likes me," Pele said. "I heard about what he said, it seems that now he is starting to worry about Neymar too. But I've said it before, we've met several times and I will always do whatever possible to help him in any way I can."