The Pele versus Maradona debate has been on for some time. The intensity of the debate is such that it generates at least 50,000 online search queries per month.
Acting as the backdrop for what in all actuality is an over – hyped debate is the apparent rivalry that has developed between the two legends concerned, who now seem to be aiming at proving their superiority one over the other long after they might still have had a genuine opportunity to do so where it matters most, on the field of play.
The exaggerated profile of Pele vs Maradona stems to a large extent from the unwillingness of soccer opinion leaders (both real and self deluded) to kill the matter naturally by respecting facts that would give each of these two tremendous athletes their due respect without calling for unavoidably subjective comparisons.
In a field comprising only the likes of Di Stefano, George Best, Cruyff, Platini and so on, to be considered one of the best 2 of all time one has effectively become immortal in history of the sport. Indeed, the physical and tactical barriers that today’s, and surely tomorrow’s football puts in the way of attempts at super – exceptional individual football performances means that probably no player will come close to appearing as individually outstanding as Edson Arantes De Nascimento and Diego Armando Maradona were each able to. Today’s football makes it so near impossible for an exceptional individual playing for an ordinary team to overcome an exceptional team made up of ordinary individuals. The experience of Lionel Messi, currently recognized by FIFA as the best footballer in the world, playing against a Jose Mourinho inspired Inter Milan, is the nearest example to note. It appears that for even the very talented footballers to shine in today’s football, they must be playing for above average teams. That neither Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo has so far been able to achieve great success with their national teams is another pointer.
The subject of this article must be served with facts known to those who really know football. The facts that make Pele a more prominent super legend than Maradona must be pointed out, not to fan the flames of controversy, but because they equip soccer with the values that are necessary for it’s continued dominance as the world’s number one sport.
The facts now follow:
1. UNLIKE MARADONA, PELE WAS EXCELLENT BOTH OFFENSIVELY AND DEFENSIVELY!
It is confirmed that Pele was the unofficial second goalkeeper for his Club Santos whenever the first choice keeper was unavailable. In addition, those who know Pele assert that he could have excelled in any football position he chose. Pele was gifted with exceptional tackling skills for an attacking player. Pele’s super fitness, particularly reflected in astounding aerial performances, certainly made him more adaptable to a defensive role than Maradona was.
Of particular note is that Pele excelled in EVERY attacking football department: Shooting (powerful, with both legs), dribbling, heading, passing, feinting.
Diego Maradona, on the other hand, was best known for his super sublime dribbling and passing skills. In is in these departments that he could lay some claim to superiority over Pele, that is, if we ignore the reality that Pele would have done a lot more dribbling if he felt that was what he needed to win matches. Pele was certainly also fantastic at dribbling and passing, but only to the extent of what was necessary to score goals.
That Pele was a two legged player would also naturally give him an edge over Maradona in the dribbling department. Pele’s dribbling style was unique in that he seemed to beat players not just with his legs but with his arms which moved in a unique style by his side whenever he was trying to beat an opponent.
The facts show that Pele was a far more versatile player than Diego Maradona was.
2. PELE’S ASTONISHING GOAL SCORING STATS MARK HIM OUT AS THE GREATEST ATTACKING PLAYER OF ALL TIME.
According to FIFA.Com, Pele scored 1281 goals in 1,363 games. If, as some say, this statistic is overrated due to what they consider the low quality of some teams he played against, it should be pointed out that the amazing stats is not just about the goals scored, but the scoring rate over a high number of games. He scored at least 5 goals on at least 6 occasions, 4 goals on 30 occasions, and hat tricks on 92 occasions. If his goals statistics in the world cup matches he played are anything to go by, it is reasonable to suggest that Pele would be the all time leading world cup goal scorer were it not for the matches he missed due to injuries he sustained during the 1962 and 1966 world cups.
Diego Maradona’s goal scoring stats per match simply don’t match up to Pele’s.
Pele is clearly the greatest goal scorer and attacking player of all time, and the stats only confirm this. An examination of his athleticism, skill, versatility, mental strength and focus could be the only rational explanation for his goal scoring rate. Indeed, a lower scoring record would simply have done him no justice whatsoever.
3. PELE WON 3 WORLD CUPS WITHOUT CONTROVERSY, UNLIKE MARADONA.
A large part of Diego Maradona’s legend derives from his tremendous achievements at the 1986 world cup, where he was without doubt the leading star, both for the right and wrong reasons. Maradona’s dribble run against England in 1986 in Mexico is rightly considered probably the best world cup goal of all time. His goal against Belgium in the following match is considered one of the best 5 goals ever.
All the above noted, however, and soccer being the cruel sport it sometimes is for the unlucky, Maradona came reasonably close to not having a world cup to his name.
For those who watched Argentina’s quarter final match against England at that tournament, they may recall that the English team was of significant quality, possessing Gary Lineker (eventual tournament highest scorer), Peter Shilton, John Barnes, Glen Hoddle, and managed by the legendary Bobby Robson. Indeed, save for Maradona, the Argentine team were at least slightly inferior to the English. After pulling a goal back in the 80th minute through Lineker to make the score 1-2, the English were somewhat on the ascendancy.
Had Maradona’s clear handball goal not been awarded earlier, the scoreline would in all probability have been 1 -1 by the end of regulation time. Afterall, in the previous match, with Maradona playing, Argentina had only been able to score one legitimate goal against Uruguay.
Had this particular England – Argentina match extended to extra time, anything could have happened. Argentina could have been unlucky not to score a second legitimate goal, while England, showing great character, which often decides matches, could have scored an odd decisive second goal or even gone on to win the tie by penalties.
In comparison, Pele’s world cup victories were devoid of controversy. Though he only played two matches in the 1962 tournament, Brazil’s eventual victory could hardly have been hampered by him since he had already scored once before being injured.
4. MARADONA FAILED AT 1 WORLD CUP, UNLIKE PELE.
At the 1982 World Cup, Maradona, already considered the best player in the world at the time, was unable to prove himself a Champion. While it is true that he was harshly marked throughout the tournament, he played in all the 5 games of Argentina, yet Argentina, despite being defending champions, won 2 games and lost 3. This Argentine team contained many of the players who won the previous tournament.
Maradona ended the tournament with a Red Card against Brazil. Pele, on the other hand, was clearly one of the best 3 players in the 2 world cups in which he got to play 3 matches or more.
5. AGE OF MATURITY
Whereas Maradona was not considered mature enough for the Argentine National Team at the age of 17 in 1978, Pele was considered good enough for the Brazilian team at the same age in 1958, and more than justified the chance he was given. Maradona did not actually mature as a top level player until 1986, when he was already 25 years old.
6. PELE WAS A BETTER TACTICAL OPTION
In today’s football, managers prefer players who can fit into varying roles as the need of the team and the manager’s strategy may require. Surely, an offensively brilliant player who can safely be deployed in a defensive role will be extremely valuable when the team needs to avoid conceding, particularly when the team is a man down.
From every indication, Pele was more of a player who could fit into the game plan of a modern tactician.
To conclude, it is obvious that many of today’s younger soccer fans never watched Pele play. This is why Maradona won FIFA’s internet poll for player of the century. The Internet is a medium that cannot prevent double or multiple votes by the same person. Pele, however, won a poll for Athlete of the Century by the IOC, custodian of the mighty Olympics, a competition he never participated in. The difference between the significance of the 2 awards should be quite clear to the unbiased.