JEFF POWELL: The ultimate footballer verdict must come down to rational reflection, not the immediate heat of passion… why Diego Maradona fails (just) to knock Pele off the No 1 spot
- There are only two contenders as the all-time great – Diego Maradona and Pele
- There is powerful emotional support for Maradona following his death aged 60
- But the Argentina hero (just) fails to knock Brazil legend Pele off the No 1 spot
- Pele is the most complete footballer who ever lived and scored a thousand goals
Mirror, mirror, on the dressing-room wall, who is the greatest of them all?
Diego Armando RIP, or Edson Arantes do Nascimento?
Football has been blessed with a panoply of brilliance down the ages but when it comes to the all-time supremacy there are only two true contenders: Maradona and Pele.
When it comes to the all-time supremacy there are only two true contenders: Diego Maradona (right) and Pele (left)
Yet so deep is the genius pool below the dazzling surface of the gods that even identifying the top 10 is a task fraught with hazard and heart-wrenching omissions.
At this moment of powerful emotion, overwhelming grief and profound loss there is a natural surge of support for Maradona to ascend the throne of Pele.
The morning after a delirious Argentina won their first World Cup in 1978, with their teenage prodigy-in-waiting a reluctant onlooker, the chief of police gave this wonderful briefing: ‘There were 12 million people on the streets of Buenos Aires last night. And not a glass was broken.’
Many millions more are cramming city centres and village squares across the length and breadth of the land now. And all their hearts are broken. As they cried for Eva Peron, so they weep now for their beloved Diego.
Maradona was an inspirational figure in Argentina, helping them win the 1986 World Cup
Maradona just fails to knock Brazil legend Pele off the No 1 spot of the all-time greats
Similar scenes are unfolding in Naples, where Maradona won their club’s only two Serie A championships almost single-handedly, to be hailed as a god in that city of godfathers.
But the ultimate footballer verdict must come down to rational reflection, not the immediate heat of passion. Just as patriotic preferences and personal experiences have to be set aside in the judgment of the 10 commanders.
How can I bring myself to leave out England’s two World Cup-winning Bobbies — Charlton and Moore — both magnificent players who have graced me with their friendship — a privilege shared mutually with the Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer?
Whither Zidane, Ronaldinho, Romario, the other Ronaldo, Platini, Dalglish, Rossi, Finney, Gento, Jairzinho?
Modern day rivals Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi both make the top 10 but neither have managed to win the World Cup for their respective countries
The answers are to be found among names such as Di Stefano and Cruyff, whose magic totally transformed the football of their lives and times. With Garrincha, whose mastery of the ball had more to do with Brazil’s World Cup triumphs than Pele, and who is more widely cherished by many of his countrymen.
With John Charles, who was a colossus at centre forward as well as centre half with Wales and Juventus. With Puskas, who scored almost a goal a game in all those majestic appearances for Real Madrid and Hungary.
With the duelling duo of Messi and Ronaldo, whose rivalry bedazzles our lives today but whose claims to immortality remain unstamped by World Cup glory. With Best, the urchin epitome of the mercurial maverick before we’d so much as heard of Maradona, and whose company I cherished.
Which brings us back to the No 1 question. To the choice between the Little Bull of the pampas and the Black Pearl of the beaches. Between the bewitching wizardry of the most breathtaking natural talent of all time and the most complete footballer who ever lived, that man of a thousand goals.
The heart pulls one way, the head the other. Here is how that top-ten tug of war is resolved in my mind…
JEFF POWELL’S TOP 10
2. Diego Maradona
3 Alfredo Di Stefano
5 Johan Cruyff
6 John Charles
7 Ferenc Puskas
8 George Best
9 Cristiano Ronaldo
10 Lionel Messi
Maradona won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986 while Pele won it three times