When talking about footballing greats, few others come close to being mentioned in the same breath as Pelé and Diego Maradona.
But that leads us to the much-debated question: Who is the better of the two? Who is the greatest of them all?
Personally, I would say it is Maradona. The highlight of his career came in the summer of 1986, when the squat little man from Buenos Aires temporarily suspended physics and gravity. In ten seconds of pure magic, he danced past six English defenders, sidestepped the keeper, and slotted home what is widely regarded as "the goal of the century."
And this came minutes after scoring the most controversial goal in history.
Pelé scored a record 1283 goals and won the World Cup thrice. But he also played with one of the best ever football line-ups—the 1960s Brazilian squad. Their victorious campaign of 1962, in which Pelé was mostly absent due to injury, proves that they were certainly capable even without him.
Moreover, Pelé was an out-and-out striker. His purpose was simply to finish and score goals, and for this reason he was a monotonous.
Maradona lifted the World Cup only once, but he did it single-handedly. He led a team of not-so-gifted players to victory, and it is said that Mardona could have brought the Cup to any of the eight teams in the ’86 quarterfinals. Such was his presence and contribution.
He followed up his England match with two dazzling goals against Belgium and an assist that decided the final. At club level, he led Napoli to their only two Serie A titles and their sole UEFA Cup win.
Maradona was a more complete player than Pelé. Starting his runs deep in the midfield, he would weave past defenders and deliver dangerously precise passes or finish himself. His freekicks were also lethal and he rarely touched the ball with his right foot, except for balance. A magical left foot was all that took him to work his wizardry.
He courted controversy with the same enthusiasm that he reserved for his spectacular goals. His notorious "Hand of God" goal and the bans owing to substance abuse bear testimony to that fact.
His creativity and flair, coupled with technical brilliance and outstanding vision, led to many wondrous goals. In moments of inspiration, he achieved on a football field what might be difficult to achieve on canvas. Penning poetry with his feet, he executed moments of motion—outrageously brilliant and impossible in their beauty.