This week Pelé made clear his view that Diego Maradona is not the right man to be leading Argentina to the World Cup in South Africa.
Speaking in Mexico, Pelé said that long serving AFA president Julio Grondona should never have given the role of head coach to Maradona.
“Maradona, as everyone says has no experience but it is not his fault, blame Mr. Grondona and the others who gave him the job.”
The Brazilian appeared to be shining the spotlight on an error by Grondona but he stopped short of giving Maradona’s coaching abilities any sort of endorsement.
“I think the whole controversy of Argentina’s classification was not the fault of Maradona. It is the first time he has worked as coach.”
Incidentally Pelé is not alone in thinking Maradona is not the man for the job as a survey last year showed 70% of the Argentine public would also rather see another coach take them to the World Cup.
It seems that Pelé and Maradona never miss the chance to put the boot into the other and these comments join the long list of existing jibes in the ongoing feud between the two.
Last year Pelé took another swipe as he claimed Maradona is not even the best player to come out of Argentina let alone the best player in the world.
While Pelé admitted the that Maradona was a great player it is Alfredo Di Stéfano who the Brazilian rates as the greatest Argentine footballer of all time.
“Maradona could not kick with his right foot and did not score with his head. The only time he scored an important goal with his head, he used his hand.”
On that occasion Pelé found few in Argentina agreeing with him, despite Di Stéfano’s record of 418 goals in 510 games for Real Madrid.
Pelé’s launched this attack in response to Maradona’s claims the same week that the Brazilian was less of a player for never testing himself in Europe’s top leagues.
“He won more World Cups but playing in Europe is another thing.”
While in Europe the Argentine guided Napoli to two Scudetto titles, the only Serie A wins in the club’s history. Pelé meanwhile never played for a European club, he did however come to prominence with his performances in Sweden during the 1958 World Cup.
When Pelé did eventually leave his homeland to play for New York Cosmos of the North American League he best days were already behind him. Maradona on the other hand still had plenty to give when he returned home from Italy to play for Boca Juniors.
The recent bickering between the two has put the bed the good feeling that was fostered between the two when Pele appeared on Maradona’s chatshow, La Noche del Diez, back in 2005.
On the show Pelé thanked Maradona for sympathising with his son who was in jail at the time for drug offences.
“You are an example for him because you are a conqueror. Your program is going out to the world, and I think together we can do many things in the world to help a lot of people.”
The love-in continued as the two greats of the game swapped national shirts, had a game of head tennis and even got the guitars out for an impromptu jam session.
After the show Maradona was cagy on the subject of which one of them really was the greatest player of all time.
“My mother says it was me and Pelé’s mother says it was him.”
Pelé’s appearance on the show was a surprise to the football community. A few years before both men had published autobiographies which contained disparaging remarks about the other.
In Maradona’s book, I Am Diego, he made the allegation that Pelé has lost his virginity during a homosexual relationship he had as a teenager.
This time Pelé chose not to respond, a move made out of respect to Maradona’s poor health at the time according the Brazilian’s close friend Celso Grellet.
“Maradona said that Pelé had a homosexual experience. It is not true, but Pelé is a big man and decided that he would not respond.”
“Pelé is heavily involved in the anti-drugs campaign, particularly the abuse of drugs in sport, and Maradona is clearly an ill man. Pelé thought it was best not to reply because no one could possibly take Maradona seriously.”
In his book Maradona put Pelé at number one in his list of his favourite footballers of all time. Although he honoured him as a great player Maradona felt Pelé let football down.
“As a player he had it all but didn't make the most of it to raise the status of football.”
Maradona highlighted Pelé’s lack of action on protecting the welfare of footballers.
“I'd have liked to see him put himself forward as president of an association to defend players’ rights like I did. I'd like to have seen him look after Garrincha and not let him die in misery. I'd like to see him fight the rich and powerful that are damaging football.”
Celso Grellet was quick to nonsense these claims as well and put the whole thing down to jealousy on Maradona’s part.
“There is no doubt that Maradona has made ludicrous allegations, the one about Pelé 's sexuality being just one of many, as a result of pure envy.”
One event which angered Maradona was when Argentine president Carlos Menem invited Pelé to his country. Grellet explains how Maradona’s nose was put out of joint by the Brazilian and the then serving president.
“Menem invited him to the country as his special guest because Pelé was his favourite player. It angered Maradona that the Argentine people might place Pelé above him.”
The decade of disagreement between the two also kicked off at the gala ceremony to award the duo the joint honour of FIFA’s Player of the Century. It was decided that both men would receive the award but Maradona had other ideas about how the night should go.
After picking up his award Maradona did not hang around on stage to welcome Pelé, instead the Argentine bolted for the exit.
“I didn't like the fact that I had to go on before Pelé. I just didn't like it. I grabbed my prize and left.”
With FIFA keen to acknowledge Pelé they came up with the idea of splitting the award after Maradona won the online poll by a distance. Maradona was at his controversial best as he accepted his award and then snubbed Pelé by fleeing.
“I dedicate this award to the Argentine people, Fidel Castro, my wife Claudia and all the players in the world that I love and respect. The people voted for me. I feel good in my head, serene. I'm happy and proud.”
By the time Pelé got to the platform Maradona was on his way to the airport, clearly in no mood to share his stage with anyone.
“I would have liked Maradona to be there to join me on the platform, but he had already left.”
So did FIFA make the right choice to award the Player of the Century to both men or should have Di Stéfano walked away with the honour?
Everybody has their own opinion on who comes out on top in the debate between Pelé and Maradona. If you happen to see either of them on the street both men will be happy to put forward their own case to anyone willing to listen.
© Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com