THERE was no doubting their ability.
Some say Diego Maradona was the best in the world everCredit: AP:Associated Press
Others will say Pele was the greatest player of all timeCredit: AP:Associated Press
Through the years, though, the pair haven’t always seen eye-to-eyeCredit: Reuters
The Brazilian won three World Cups for his country, and claims to have scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 games during an astonishing career with Santos and New York Cosmos.
His South American counterpart, the more controversial of the two figures, single-handedly took a struggling Napoli team to the summit of Serie A and won two championships (their only in history) in Italy.
During the peak of his powers he also won the World Cup for Argentina in 1986 – famously defeating England in the quarter-final, first with the ‘Hand of God’ goal, then with a sublime run from the halfway line past an entire Three Lions defence and Peter Shilton to slide home.
But despite these two legends showing prowess in the beautiful game, they struggled to see eye to eye over the years.
However, it appears they did resolve their differences before Maradona’s tragic passing aged 60 with Pele describing the Argentine as a ‘dear friend’ in an emotional tribute.
In 2000, both Pele and Maradona released their autobiographies in the same month, as their rivalry reached fever pitch.
A year before they went head-to-head in the book charts, Diego had alleged that the Brazil icon had a gay relationship with one of his youth coaches at Santos.
In ‘Pele: His Life and Times’, his friend Celso Grellet revealed that Pele thought about retorting to the ‘ludicrous accusations’ but out of respect for Maradona’s health problems, he kept his opinions to himself.
He said: “Maradona had said that Pele had had a homosexual experience. It was never true, but Pele is a big man and decided that he would not respond.
“Pele is heavily involved in the anti-drugs campaign, particularly the abuse of drugs in sport, and Maradona was clearly an ill man.
“Pele thought it was best not to reply because no one could possibly take Maradona seriously.
Maradona has always been the most controversial of the twoCredit: PA:Press Association
Pele was said to have had a gay relationship with a youth coach by MaradonaCredit: Getty – Contributor
“There is no doubt that Maradona has made ludicrous allegations, the one about Pele’s sexuality being just one of many, as a result of pure envy.”
I AM DIEGO
Maradona’s tell-all ‘I Am Diego’ was somewhat complimentary to Pele, although the Argentine couldn’t help but stick a knife in his rival’s back.
He ranked Pele as his number one in the list of top 100 players of all-time, but claimed he let his former team-mate Garrincha die in poverty.
Maradona said: “As a player he had it all but didn’t make the most of it to raise the status of football.
“I’d have liked to see him put himself forward as president of an association to defend players’ rights like I did.
“I’d like to have seen him look after Garrincha and not let him die in misery. I’d like to see him fight the rich and powerful that are damaging football.”
Maradona reads from his book I Am DiegoCredit: Reuters
Maradona was particularly scathing of Pele’s treatment of GarrinchaCredit: Rex Features
WHEN THE BITTERNESS STARTED
The debate over who the greatest between Pele and Maradona was began in the 80s, when the Argentine exploded on the scene.
In fact, when the pair first met in 1979, with Pele showing Maradona a few chords on the guitar, it appeared that the ex-Boca Junior star could have found his mentor.
But the rivalry intensified as Maradona’s stature in the game grew and comparisons between the two started.
It also didn’t help matters that former Argentine President Carlos Menem made Pele his special guest of honour on a visit to the country.
Grellet, in ‘Pele: His Life and Times’, revealed: “Menem invited him to the country as his special guest because Pele was his favourite player.
“It angered Maradona that the Argentine people might place Pele above him.
“Pele has a lot of respect for Maradona as a player but felt that the media should not give any credence to the comments of an ill man.
“It would have been too easy to have said bad things about Maradona in return, but Pele would not do it. “
Maradona and Pele first met in 1979Credit: Instagram @Maradona
Maradona has always had a lot of respect for PeleCredit: Rex Features
MESSI OR NEYMAR?
The war of words between Maradona and Pele appeared to have been reopened in 2011 over Argentine Lionel Messi and Brazilian Neymar.
Spanish TV station TVE said Maradona was quoted as saying Neymar was ‘ill-mannered, just like Pele’.
They claimed he then went on to gush praise on his compatriot Messi describing him as ‘an exceptional player and I doubt anyone can separate him [from being the best]’.
He later claimed on his son’s life that he didn’t make those comments, but that didn’t stop Pele from getting his own dig in.
“Messi better than Pele? To get there he needs to score more than 1,283 goals,” he said.
“Neymar has great talent. I hope Neymar doesn’t end up like Messi, who plays so well for his club but does nothing for his country.”
In 2016, after years of bickering, Maradona and Pele appeared to have made upCredit: Splash News
The pair put on a united front for The Friendship Match in ParisCredit: Splash News
CAN’T BE COMPARED
Pele, himself, even tried to distance himself from the comparisons that drove a wedge between any friendship saying the pair were different types of players.
Pele told Goal: “I can’t explain why Maradona is so concerned with that.
“Because I always say that he was one of the best in the world, and that’s true.
“Now, we can’t say that Maradona was a great header. He didn’t score goals with headers.
“And we cannot say Maradona shot very well with both feet, because he didn’t shoot with his right, only mainly with his left…
“So from time to time, when people make comparisons, I make jokes about that. For me he was a great player, just that you can’t compare Maradona with Pele.”
Pele tried to distance the comparisons between himself and Maradona
Pele said he thought that Maradona was a different type of player to him and wasn’t comparableCredit: Alamy
Maradona was also said to have dissed Neymar, which he soon deniedCredit: George Herringshaw
Pele retorted by slamming Leo Messi for his lack of international successCredit: Popperfoto
In 2016, after years of bickering, it appeared that the two might’ve made up.
They were seen embracing at the Palais Royal in Paris – just before The Friendship Game, a promotional event featuring a five-a-side game between old pros.
Maradona said, months after Pele had undergone hip surgery: “It is really nice to see him like this, healthy, and being able to join us.
“I’m happy that he’s fine. We should hang together always. And enough of the fighting, enough of the barbs between us.
“I want to thank Pele, we know who he is and who he will always be. We need icons like him.”
Pele was equally as gushing towards his frenemy.
He said: “This is moment of peace.
“What we’re doing is something for peace and unity. I want to thank my friend Maradona for this opportunity.”
‘LOST A DEAR FRIEND’
Maradona passed away in November 2020 following a heart attack at his home in Buenos Aires.
And Pele showed his class by being among the first to pay tribute to the Argentine hero.
The Brazil legend shared a heartfelt message alongside a picture of Maradona to his Instagram page.
He wrote: “Sad news today. I have lost a dear friend, and the world has lost a legend.
“There is much more to say, but for now may God give his family strength.
“One day I hope we will play soccer together in the sky.”
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