Dubai-based Argentine legend reignites row over the greatest footballer ever.
Argentina legend Diego Maradona on Thursday launched an astonishing assault on Brazil great Pele after the latter was belatedly awarded a Ballon d’Or prize in Switzerland last week.
The pair are at the forefront of any discussions about the greatest ever footballer, with Pele winning three World Cups in 1958, 1962 and 1970, and Maradona almost single-handedly taking his country to the top prize in 1986.
The Brazilian wasn’t eligible to win the Ballon d’Or during his playing days as it was then only for European players, so Fifa President Sepp Blatter righted that wrong by giving Pele the first ever Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur on January 13. The 73-year-old then made a flying visit to Dubai as he was unveiled as a global ambassador for Emirates airline.
But Maradona, who has had many run-ins with his South American rival in the past, was unimpressed. “How can you say that Pele received the Ballon d’Or before me? I received the award in Paris [in 1996]. So to make Pele the first one to receive the award before me is a huge mistake,” the Dubai sports ambassador said at a media conference to launch his initiative to boost grassroots football in Dubai.
Pressed further by media, Maradona looked rattled. All the same, he went on to add: “According to me, Pele will always remain second best in football when compared to Maradona. Look at it this way — in his own country, Brazil, Pele is the second best sportsman after Ayrton Senna [the three-time F1 champion].
“Pele will always be second, be it in international football or in Brazilian sports. The sad thing is that he is second best and he will continue to stay in that position.
“While presenting the award to Cristiano Ronaldo, Pele uttered his name as ‘Cristiano Leonardo’. This just shows where he belongs.”
Maradona continued: “I am happy with what I am doing for football and for myself. I am content living in a home in Dubai, but Pele lives in Fifa.”
Asked about possible winners of the Arabian Gulf League, the former Al Wasl coach gave his thoughts on the title race after insisting he was not after a new job. “I will give my opinion because I have been asked,” he said.
“I like the way Al Shabab is playing at the moment. I also favour the way Al Ahli has improved over the past two seasons. They are playing much better than when I was training Al Wasl.
“But there is still a long way to go for the league. It is too early. But on current form I would find it easy to make a forecast that Al Ahli or Al Shabab are in a position to win.”
However, Maradona expressed his wish that there would be more teams competing for the title, rather than it being a two-way battle between Al Ahli and Al Shabab. “I am worried Al Ain and Al Jazira are far from the title. It would be better for the league to see many teams fighting for the title,” he said.
“And please don’t get me wrong. I don’t want the job of Quique Sanchez Flores [Al Ain coach] or Walter Zenga [Al Jazira coach].”