In our regular Sunday feature, FIFA.com presents you with some of the biggest names from Planet Football who will be celebrating their birthdays over the coming week.
Diego Maradona (51) is blowing out his birthday candles in the United Arab Emirates this year, the enduring icon of the game having taken over the coaching reins at Al Wasl in the summer. It is the latest chapter in a thrilling career that began with Maradona announcing his arrival by leading Argentina to FIFA U-20 World Cup success in Japan in 1979. From that tournament onwards, he carried the hopes of an entire nation on his shoulders, and although he was unable to prevent La Albiceleste exiting the 1982 FIFA World Cup™ after a second-round loss to Brazil – in which he was sent off – it was a much different story four years later. At the height of his extraordinary powers, Maradona played a true captain’s role by driving the team on to a triumph capped by their win against West Germany at the Estadio Azteca, and he came close to repeating the feat at Italy 1990, only for the Germans to exact revenge in the Final. Few who saw the game will ever forget Maradona’s tears after the whistle, but El Pibe de Oro (Golden child) achieved so much to be proud of during his playing career, appearing in his final FIFA World Cup in 1994. At club level, he experienced success almost everywhere he went, claiming the Argentinian title with Boca Juniors before helping Barcelona win a Liga, Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup treble in 1983. From there, he joined Napoli and helped transform the southern Italian side into a European power, guiding them to league and cup success in 1987 before adding the Italian Super Cup, UEFA Cup and a second Serie A crown. Maradona left Napoli for Sevilla following a lengthy suspension, and he then returned to Argentina to sign with Newell’s Old Boys, eventually calling time on his playing days after one last stint with Boca. Retirement brought a shift of focus to coaching, but Maradona had to wait for his big break, spending a long time out of the game after brief tenures at Deportivo Mandiyu and Racing Club until being offered the Argentina job in 2008. Charged with guiding La Albiceleste to victory at South Africa 2010, he sealed qualification and looked capable of taking the team far until they were stopped in their tracks by old foes Germany in the quarter-finals. Maradona took a well-deserved sabbatical after the tournament before returning to the dugout with Al Wasl at the start of this season.
Shaun Bartlett (39) is one of the biggest names South Africa has produced in recent years, having helped Bafana Bafana claim the CAF Africa Cup of Nations on home soil in 1996 and playing his part as they booked their place at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. South Africa left France after the group stage, but Bartlett was able to weigh in with a pair of goals in their meeting with Saudi Arabia, and he also graced two more Africa Cup of Nations final tournaments. In the club game, he wooed crowds in the United States before taking his abilities to Europe and lifting the Swiss Cup with Zurich, before a spell with Charlton Athletic in England. Bartlett made his way back to South Africa in 2006 and ended his career with Kaizer Chiefs.
Alfio Basile (68) owes his reputation to his feats as a coach, though his playing days were hardly uneventful as he won the Argentinian championship, Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup while at Racing Club. He also represented Argentina, but never got to turn out for his country at a major international tournament. If he retired with a sense of unfinished business, though, he quickly set about putting that right, coaching clubs in Argentina, Mexico and Spain and stocking up on silverware – including two South-American Super Cups with Racing Club, plus two more with Boca Juniors and a pair of Argentinian titles. At the Argentina helm, he won the Copa America twice in succession and tasted victory in the inaugural edition of the FIFA Confederations Cup in Saudi Arabia in 1992. He also oversaw the side’s 1994 FIFA World Cup bid and took them to the Copa America final in 2007, where they were undone by Brazil. Reappointed for a second spell in 2006, he was replaced by Maradona after some mixed results on the road to South Africa 2010.
Dario Silva (39) is unlikely to be forgotten by Uruguayan football fans thanks to his tireless efforts up front during the 2002 FIFA World Cup. He likewise served the cause during Uruguay’s run to the 1997 FIFA Confederations Cup semi-finals and helped them grab third place at the 2004 Copa America. In the professional realm, Silva spent time in several of Europe’s leading leagues, moving from Cagliari to Espanyol and enjoying spells with Malaga and Sevilla before ending his career with Portsmouth in 2006. Shortly afterwards, he was involved in a serious car accident which cost him a leg and came close to claiming his life.
Gerd Muller (66) played a frontline role as Germany rose to the summit of the global game at the 1974 FIFA World Cup, his memorable goal against the Netherlands in the Munich showpiece sealing the hosts’ second title. The prolific striker was also the competition’s all-time leading scorer with 14 strikes (ten at Mexico 1970, four on home soil) before Ronaldo, who contested three final tournaments to Muller’s two, set a new benchmark of 15. Der Bomber can similarly pride himself on his part in securing Germany’s first continental crown at the 1972 UEFA European Championship, while at club level he amassed a vast array of medals with Bayern Munich, including three consecutive European Cups, a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, an Intercontinental Cup, four Bundesliga titles and four German Cups. He picked up various personal plaudits too, claiming the Ballon d’Or in 1970 and twice being voted player of the year in Germany. Meanwhile, his prowess in front of goal brought him the top-scorer honours at both Mexico 1970 and the 1972 European Championship, and he finished leading marksman on four occasions in the European Cup and seven in Germany’s top flight. In short, Muller fully merited his spot in the FIFA 100 list of world football’s greatest living players.
Luis Figo (39) deserves pride of place in the annals of Portuguese football after representing his country with distinction throughout his brilliant career, both for the national team and a number of Europe’s most prestigious outfits. Figo began acquainting himself with success from a young age, winning the UEFA European U-17 Championship in 1989 and the FIFA U-20 World Cup two years later. With the senior side, he reached the semi-finals of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany, eventually finishing fourth, after an early exit at Korea/Japan 2002. While those tournaments ended in disappointment, perhaps nothing could compare with the heartbreak of UEFA EURO 2004, when Figo and Co succumbed to surprise winners Greece on home soil in the decider. The wide midfielder was no stranger to titles in the club sphere, however, and is one of a select band of players to have turned out for both Barcelona and Real Madrid. He joined the Catalan giants from Sporting and won the league and Copa del Rey twice, in addition to a Spanish Super Cup, the Cup Winners' Cup and UEFA Super Cup. Then, to general surprise, he opted for a move to Barça’s arch-rivals in the capital, with whom he continued the trophy haul by claiming the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup, all in 2002. Figo subsequently added four Serie A titles, a Coppa Italia and three Italian Super Cups at Inter Milan, and he now serves I Nerazzurri in an ambassadorial capacity.
Abedi Pele (47) is undoubtedly one of the finest talents in African football history. An attacking midfielder, he helped Ghana win their first Africa Cup of Nations title in 1982, having only just broken into the team, and he represented the Black Stars at four more continental finals before winning his final cap in 1998. Pele was voted African Footballer of the Year three years in a row and hit the heights during his time at Marseille, where he clinched the European Cup and a trio of French titles. Before that, he lifted the Prince of Qatar Cup with Al Sadd, and he later ended his career with Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, securing the President’s Cup before hanging up his boots. Like Muller, he was named in the FIFA 100 list of world football’s greatest living players.