Point, Counterpoint: Maradona v. Pele

Eric GomezAnalyst IOctober 31, 2008

This article is part two of a series done in collaboration with fellow Bleacher Report writer Joe Guarr. You can find Joe's argument for Pelé by clicking here.

The Estadio Azteca in Mexico City was the first stadium to hold two World Cup finals.

The list of players who have played on its pitch reads like a who's who of the game's greatest of all-time.

Michel Platini, Lev Yashin, Bobby Charlton, Franz Beckenbauer, Hugo Sánchez, Zico, Emilio Butragueño, Enzo Francescoli, Carlos Alberto, Jorge Valdano, and of course—Pelé.

However, only one great footballer's likeness graces the statue outside of the stadium, commemorating an event that will never be forgotten by football fans.

Diego Maradona, as he rises above English goalkeeper Peter Shilton, strikes a ball partly with his head and partly with his hand—The Hand Of God.

The infamous goal surmises a man who despite his shortcomings as a person, has locked himself in the hearts and minds of millions as the best player who ever kicked a football.

Later in the very same game, a 1986 World Cup quarterfinal match, five minutes later to be exact, Maradona took a seemingly innocuous pass in the middle of the pitch.

Ten seconds later, six Englishmen—including Shilton—stood behind the Argentinian in awe as he had blazed, shimmied, and powered his way beyond them on his way to what was voted the Goal of the Century.

After the game, a Mexican journalist wrote, "En la cancha fueron Maradona y 21 más" ("On the pitch there was Maradona and 21 others") in reference to the otherworldly level that he possessed.

A powerful and complex figure, Maradona's dream tournament ended with Argentina hoisting its second World Cup trophy after defeating West Germany.

In a 21-year career, Maradona's talent took him from the biggest club in South America to one of the biggest clubs in Europe and then to Italy, where he transformed a team that was a mid-table staple into one of the world's powerhouses.

While Pelé spent his entire career in Brazil, racking up goals against mediocre players who many times weren't worthy of kissing his cleats, Maradona faced the world's best and dominated them throughout the prime of his career.

For his national team, Pelé had the help of some of the greatest of all-time in obtaining three World Cup trophies. He often shared the field with a player whom some older Brazilians say is better than him—Garrincha.

For the 1970 World Cup, he had Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto, and Roberto Rivelino and a stable of others.

In the case of Diego's Argentina, it was truly Maradona and 21 others attempting to catch him.

While debate fuels Brazilian conversations over who indeed is their best player, in Argentina there is none.

There is only Diego. There is only Pelusa. There is only El Díez. There is only D10S.

Venerated almost as a god, Maradona's popularity in the country prompted the formation of a church that has attracted thousands, some even marrying while making vows directed at the footballer.

When faced with his mid-30's, an age that usually means a footballer's decline, Pelé joined other washed-up stars in the United States, playing a game that was more curiosity and sideshow for its viewers.

For his troubles, he was paid handsomely by his ringmasters.

Maradona, at 34, played in a World Cup and then returned to Boca Juniors, his favorite club and one of the world's best, and continued to play for a lower salary and as a thank you to the millions of fans who adored him.

When FIFA conducted a vote of the public to decide once and for all who was the best of all-time, the people overwhelmingly selected Maradona.

FIFA, wanting to save face for the Brazilian after a vote they initially thought would be closer, decided to make Diego share the award with Pelé.

Pelé, a great footballer, but one who can't even grant unanimity from his own countrymen, once again forced into the global discussion, forced into Maradona's spotlight.

This time, it couldn't really be done.

The people have spoken.