Mike Gibbons

Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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Time to give Maradona the ultimate accolade

    So Diego Armando Maradona has played his last game of football. The curtain has come down on the career of one of the beautiful games' most talented and controversial stars, and once the dust has settled will follow the inevitable question of where he stands amongst the legends of the game. In my opinion, he stands head and shoulders above them all.

    It is maybe pointless to choose one player from the entire history of world football as the best ever, but if asked I would have to say the boy from the slums of Buenos Aires with the magic in his feet. Basketball has Michael Jordan, boxing has Muhammad Ali, and where football is concerned you are constantly told that Pele was the best ever. It is high time for a revised view.

    Whenever the question of who was the greatest is raised, by and large it always comes down to a straight choice between Pele and Maradona, a debate enriched by the fact that they plainly do not like each other very much. Johann Cruyff is generally regarded as the best player ever to come out of Europe, but he never won a World Cup, and this always counts against him. The same is true for Ferenc Puskas, who also suffers at the hands of western writers for being from unfashionable, eastern European Hungary. Although he won 5 European Cups Alfredo di Stefano is overlooked as he never even played at a World Cup. The same applies to George Best, the finest player ever born in the British Isles but whose haul of medals does not match the talent he once had. You can sift through the rest - Platini, Eusebio, Van Basten, Charlton, Moore etc but deep down I think we all know they are not on the same plateau as Maradona and Pele.

    Often the case in favour of Pele is two fold - he scored more goals, he won more World Cups. Whilst scoring 1,000 plus goals is very impressive, most of those were in friendlies or exhibitions, and he began and finished his career in an era where goals were more frequent than the defensive era Diego played in.

    It is true to say that Pele was on the winning side in more World Cups, but he owes a great deal of this to the players around him. He would never have exploded onto the scene in the manner he did in 1958 were he not surrounded by Didi, Vava, Gylmar, Mario Zagallo and most specifically Garrincha. When Pele limped out of the 1962 tournament in Chile it was Garrincha who picked up the pieces and guided Brazil to a victory many thought was not possible once Pele was gone. I don't think I'm alone in ranking Garrincha at the very least on a par with Pele as a footballer.

    In 1966 Pele took a bit of a battering against Portugal as Brazil meekly went out in the first round. At the time he vowed never to play in another World Cup, but returned in 1970 as part of the greatest attacking set-up of all time. He had a good tournament, but several things were in his favour, especially the weather, so scorching that even in those bygone days of acres of space all over the pitch, the opposition, specifically European teams Czechoslovakia, Romania, England and Italy were less willing to chase and close down. All the time in the world can make all the difference.

    Yet again he was surrounded by players who would go on to become icons of the modern game. He was outscored by Jairzinho and showed no more or less creativity than Rivelino, Tostao or Gerson. Even without Pele I am certain that team would still have won the World Cup.

    Maradona has a far more colourful World Cup history. Not selected in 1978, sent off as Argentina fell apart against Brazil in 1982, his ultimate triumph came in 1986 in Mexico where he lead a team that would have been nowhere without him to victory, which still stands as the greatest individual performance by any player in the World Cup ever. During the tournament he also scored two of the best goals ever seen. This is the cornerstone of the argument in favour of Maradona. He led a team of nine thugs, himself and Caniggia to the final again in 1990, and in 1994 was sent home in disgrace after testing positive for ephedrine, when it looked as if he may inspire them to glory again.

    If we take the debate out of the World Cup arena and on to club careers, the argument favours Maradona even more. Pele spent his entire career in the relative comfort zone of the Sao Paolo state championship and the NASL in America, whereas Maradona went to the toughest league in the world, to unfashionable Napoli, and won two titles, the Italian Cup and the UEFA Cup. Prior to that first title no club from the south of Italy had won the title in 75 years, and since his departure Napoli have returned to their old was of bouncing up and down from Serie A and Serie B. This is without mentioning his early career for Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors, and also his time at Barcelona.

    Pele is the establishment figure, the darling of FIFA, the one you are told to believe is the best player ever, but this just isn't true. Pele was one of many pioneers, but Maradona is the master of the modern game. The game is faster, harder, more defensive now. People often discount any pre- second world war players in the best ever lists - why? Because that game has gone, and so has the one Pele dominated. FIFA cannot stand Maradona because of the drug abuse, the constant controversy, his willingness to point out the many faults in their organisation and the game in general. No one is asking for him to be canonised, merely respected as the best in his field. Certainly the rest of the world seems to think so, voting him the greatest player of the twentieth century in an internet poll organised by FIFA, leading to a farcical situation at last year's FIFA gala of an award being invented for Pele out of thin air.

    I would like to conclude this by saying this article is not designed to be a criticism of Pele- I'd swop my skills for his in an instant. However if we are debating who was the greatest player of all time, it isn't really a contest. Until someone better comes along and blows us away with his skills, Diego Armando Maradona is the greatest football player of all time - print that in stone and don't ever forget it.



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