Maradona vs Pele – who was better?

Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pele as he would later be known around the world) was often rated as the best player in the world. Only he and fellow legend Diego Armando Maradona, have received the honours by FIFA with the awards of officially being dubbed the greatest players in the history of the game. An ongoing debate among football fans to this day remains, who was better?

Pele is hailed in Brazil as a national hero and is an instrumental ambassador of the game. After scoring his 1,000th career goal he dedicated it to the poor children in the slums of Brazil. Maradona, despite his controversies, was one of the most skillful players to ever play the game and he won several trophies with Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Napoli. For his country he won 91 caps and scored 34 goals. Most notably one of the best ever was against England in a dazzling solo run (voted as Goal of the Century in an online debate conducted by FIFA in 2002), plus one of the most controversial in the same game now famously named as the “Hand of God”.


Pele on the other hand is the record all-time top scorer for his country (77 goals in 92 caps — amazing!), and is the only player in history to be part of three World Cup winning teams. He began smashing records at an early age though making his debut for Santos Futebol Clube at just 15, then making his debut for Brazil at 16 and winning his first World Cup at 17. Despite all the many offers he was given during his club career to join rich European clubs he remained loyal to Santos, playing for them for two decades. He did finally leave however in 1975 when he joined the all star squad of the New York Cosmos. He made 64 appearances for them and scored 37 times. In case you’re wondering he played 1,345 games for Santos and scored 1,265 goals (again amazing — the guy’s a machine!).

Maradona played in four World Cups for Argentina steering them to success in 1986 where he also collected the Golden Ball award as the tournaments best player. Despite his praises though he has faced some troubles during his life. He was banned from the game for 15 months in 1991 after he failed a drugs test for cocaine abuse in Italy. He was banned again during the 1994 World Cup, where he was sent home, this time for ephedrine. After he retired from the game in 1997 his weight ballooned and he suffered ill health. Again he was back on the cocaine. Since giving up drugs though he has become a television host in Argentina. Both men fathered children with women who have been left to raise them single-handedly, with little support from the leading figures of football.

Maradona did however achieve similar goal-scoring feats to Pele: 28 goals in 40 games (during his first spell at Boca Juniors, his second spell he scored 7 goals in 31 matches); 38 goals in 58 games (Barcelona); 115 goals in 259 games (Napoli). Despite his small size (1.65 m, 5 ft 5 in) Maradona had strength, could run with the ball and could withstand challenges, unlike some of today’s players who can’t even withstand challenges where there’s not even any contact! These main attributes of his are highlighted by his unbelievable goal in the 1986 World Cup. If you haven’t seen it, shame on you, but anyway think Lionel Messi but the original. Not only could he score goals with his unstoppable runs where he could take out a whole defence on his own but he was a team player too. With his strength and control he could often hold up the ball against a defender whilst a team-mate made the run through where he would thread it through to them.

Pele had an incredible eye for goal with deadly strike force and always glowed with confidence, even at such an early age. He was good in the air and was also a good team player, often laying on assists for his team-mates. Pele’s original technique and athleticism were highly praised whilst his dribbling ability and acute passing molded him into an all-round forward and natural goalscorer.

Who do you think was better between the two? Let me know by adding your comments below.

Also See:

Maradona vs. Pele: the Hand of God vs. the Right Hand of God.
My friend who played with Pele.
10 Great Football Player Rivalries.