Pelé and Diego Maradona are the players of the century. The Brazilian was voted number one by the readers of FIFA Magazine and the FIFA Football Committee, whereas the Argentinan topped the poll on the fifa.com website. Both were honoured by FIFA in Rome on 11 December.
Pelé and Maradona - two players who wore the number 10 shirt. But that is where the similarity ends. The Brazilian and the Argentinan were totally different footballers and are totally different people. Here Pelé, the striker whose territory was the penalty box, a player who scored goals for fun and became Minister of Sport, more your quiet type of person. There Maradona, possibly the most complete player ever, playmaker and goalscorer, technically brilliant, unpredictable and impulsive, both on and off the field, a player plagued by a variety of problems for many years.
Pelé and Maradona fascinated the world of football. Both thrilled fans and experts alike. And long before the election to FIFA Player of the Century was held, people were asking the question: who was the better of the two? This question is impossible to answer even now. Because comparing Pelé and Maradona is like comparing apples and pears. The two South Americans played in totally different eras. The rhythm of the game, the tactics on the pitch, the influence of the media and the make-up of the teams in which they demonstrated their fantastic ability were different.
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Yet one thing is certain, they were both brilliant. They made their mark on the world game like no others, two stars from traditional footballing nations that have been rivals from the word go. In their time Pelé and Maradona delighted millions of match-going and armchair fans, giving them many unforgettable hours of pleasure and always upholding the spirit of fair play. Pelé, who spent more than half his footballing life at Santos FC, with whom he won ten Brazilian Championships. Pelé, who won the World Cup three times with Brazil, the first time in 1958 at the age of 17. Pelé, who celebrated his 60th birthday on 23 October 2000, scored a fantastic 1281 goals in 1363 official matches. From 1994 to 1998, the boy from the poor part of town was Brazil's Minister of Sport.
Maradona, who led SSC Napoli out of anonymity to two Italian championships and a UEFA Cup win. Maradona, who won the 1986 World Cup for Argentina virtually single-handed and played in the World Cup Final again in 1990. Maradona, who knew every footballing trick in the book, whose mastery of the ball was virtually unrivalled; a master of the short pass, the long ball, the free-kick and the penalty; an incomparable leader on the pitch, a player who was to be stopped only by foul means and his own capriciousness. Maradona, who was 40 on 30 October 2000, brought his career to a premature end by taking illegal substances. It is to be hoped that he wins this battle, too. FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter has offered Maradona his personal assistance in this matter.