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Maradona or Pele?

Feud leads FIFA to name two players of the century

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Posted: Sunday December 10, 2000 5:34 PM

  Pele and Maradona Pele and Maradona are not pleased at the thought of sharing the player of the century award. Allsport UK, David Cannon/Allsport

ROME (AP) -- Hoping to quell the simmering Maradona-Pele feud, FIFA has decided to name not one but two players of the century at its year-end gala Monday.

FIFA president Joseph Blatter said Sunday the world soccer governing board will hand out two trophies for the 20th Century's top player -- one for the man chosen by Internet voting, the other picked by FIFA officials and through votes cast in its magazine.

Blatter, speaking at a FIFA press conference in Rome, said he has been assured that Maradona will be present Monday alongside the century's great players, after the Argentine had threatened not to come to the Rome ceremony.

Maradona -- who reportedly won the Internet balloting -- had complained in recent days that FIFA was trying to lessen his status by changing the terms of the award, which was originally meant to be decided solely via the Internet and the quarterly magazine.

World Players of the Year
Selected by governing body FIFA
Player  Country  Year 
Rivaldo  Brazil  1999 
Zinedine Zidane  France  1998 
Ronaldo  Brazil  1997 
Ronaldo  Brazil  1996  
George Weah  Liberia  1995 
Romario  Brazil  1994 
Roberto Baggio  Italy  1993 
Marco Van Basten  Holland  1992 
Lothar Matthäus  Germany  1991 

"The people voted for me," the former great said on Argentine television late Thursday night, after reports that the award would be broken into three time periods. "Now they want me to share the prize with Pele. I'm not going to share the prize with anybody."

Pele -- the presumed favorite among FIFA officials -- will also be present alongside other top players of the past, including Germany's Franz Beckenbauer, France's Michel Platini and Portugal's Eusebio.

The award ceremonies will also include the annual FIFA world player of the year. The three candidates for the 2000 award are Portugal's Luis Figo, Brazil's Rivaldo and France's Zinedine Zidane.

Earlier in the week, Pele told Brazil's Globo TV network that Maradona took a back seat to a handful of Brazilian greats.

"Socrates, Rivelino, Romario, Tostao..." the 60-year-old legend said. "I think that if Maradona wants to speak with Pele, he has to speak to them first."

The FIFA survey gave voters a choice of 27 candidates, including seven Brazilians and two Argentines -- Maradona and Alfredo Di Stefano.

Platini, another nominee and now a special adviser to Blatter, played against Maradona in the tough Italian league, and saw Pele toward the end of his career. He said both players deserve recognition.

"But if you ask who was the best player of the century, it is the man who has done so much for soccer, who won three World Cups. It's Pele," Platini said Sunday, following a three-day FIFA executive committee meeting in Rome.

Sentiments were different in Argentina.

"Diego is already celebrating and choosing the clothes he will use on December 11," Argentine sports daily Ole gloated. "Pele and all of Brazil are crying because Maradona won the election."

Maradona said he considered Pele overrated.

"They are judging me for the 12 years I played in Europe, something Pele did not do," he said. "Let's be serious: don't compare me with him any more."

In Brazil the idea of a Maradona victory was greeted with outrage and branded "ridiculous."

Brazilians blamed a possible Pele defeat on the contest being Web-based and therefore dominated by younger voters who saw Maradona in action but not Pele.

They said the Argentine Football Association had organized a campaign to back Maradona, something its Brazilian counterpart had failed to do for Pele.

Apparently anxious to avoid the controversy of a Maradona victory, FIFA's Web site announced last week that the award would be for a "player of the decade."

However, in another farcical development on Sunday, a FIFA spokesman claimed the change was simply due to a typing error.

"It should have read decades rather than decade," he said, implying the terms of the vote had never changed.

Pele arrived in Rome earlier and played down the furore.

"Every generation produces its greatest player. I'm happy with the recognition I was given in the past," he told reporters at Rome airport.

"As early as 1958 I was awarded a title -- 'O Rey' [The King] and that's enough for me."

The Argentine, who played in four World Cups including one losing final and one winning one, is expected to win the web-based award.

Pele, who also played in four, including two finals, both of which he won, is red hot favorite to take the award decided by the FIFA jury.

Related information
Stories's Marcotti: Debating the century's best
Reactions: Who's the Player of the Century?
FIFA to name best players, debate World Cup sites
Maradona not close to the best, Pele says
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Reuters contributed to this report.

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