Wednesday 29 March 2017

It's their party and they'll jeer if they want to

It was Pele's birthday yesterday, and it's Maradona's next Saturday, but regardless of how they celebrate one thing is for certain, they won't be inviting each other

GILES RICHARDS and David hills

P ele said he would celebrate "the same way I did the 69 previous birthdays . . . with my family".

Requests for his time are met with a stock reply: "My dear brothers: I thank you for the invitation, but the best present at my 70 years of age is to be healthy, and to have the recognition and the love of all those who supported and motivated me all these years all around the world."

A low-key response from a player who often refers to himself in the third person and who has not been backward in asserting he is the greatest.

But by and large his wishes have been respected. His former club Santos are fielding a player wearing No 70 in their game against Gremio Prudente today, the recently reformed (as a youth academy) New York Cosmos held a fan party yesterday and the council in his home town of Tres Coracoes have said they will rebuild a replica of his first home.

Diego Maradona, in contrast, wanted to celebrate at the Sao Paolo in Napoli to mark the occasion of his birthday next weekend: "My only desire is that of returning to Napoli so I can once again embrace the city and the people who I have never forgotten."

Sadly, the authorities showed slightly less respect for his wishes. Having already invited the whole city, saying: "I want for nothing, and certainly not money," the plans were quietly shelved after tax agency Equitalia announced it would pursue him for the €37m he owes.

Indeed, since losing his job as Argentina coach, he has been uncharacteristically quiet, some suggesting he is sulking, his only comment: "I feel like they've cut off my arms."

Sportswear partner Puma offered some comfort, announcing a new range of Diego boots and gear.

It seems then, that both are playing down their big day. But regardless of how and where they choose to blow out the candles, one thing is for certain, they won't be inviting each other, as these highlights of their 10-year battle to claim the title of "greatest ever" show:

2000

Fifa hold an online vote to name their official Player of the Century -- but are unhappy when Maradona wins it. So they redraw the rules, giving the main award to clean-living Pele and naming drug-mired Diego 'Internet Player of the Century'. At the ceremony, Maradona storms out before Pele's speech.

Pele: "I would have liked to have Maradona up on stage here with me, but it looks like he has already gone home . . ."

He says his award is deserved. "It's like with music. There are many different styles, many great musicians. But there is only one Beethoven. Only one who is above everybody else."

Maradona: "Pele won by forfeit. I won the people's vote."

Later, Maradona says Pele had a gay affair with a coach at Santos. Pele says he won't respond because of Maradona's "cocaine issues"; a friend says: "Maradona has made this ludicrous accusation as a result of pure envy."

2005

Pele says Argentinian Carlos Tevez only won the Player of the Year award in Brazil "because Robinho now plays in Spain".

Maradona: "Pele's so sad. He has an opinion about everything. Maybe it's his time of the month again. He's having his period. But then Pele is like that: always with an opinion, always wrong."

2006

Maradona refuses to go to the World Cup opening ceremony: "I'm not here to look at bloody Pele walking around."

2007

Maradona says he is anti-establishment. "I won't network and lick my way through FIFA. I won't do that, that would make me a total son of a bitch. Like Pele."

2008

Pele says Maradona should be stripped of all his honours. "Why is it Olympic athletes lose their medals when caught taking drugs, but not him?"

2009

Pele says Maradona "could not kick with his right foot and did not score goals with his head. The only time he scored an important goal was with his head, and even then he used his hand."

Maradona: "What can I say? Pele lost his virginity to a man."

2010

Maradona accuses Pele of bad-mouthing South Africa. "A certain coloured gentleman who played No 10 didn't believe that the World Cup could be played here. But South Africa answers him 'yes it can'."

Pele: "'I don't know why he speaks about me so much, he must be in love with me." Later adding: "He only took the Argentina job for money. Under him, they really struggle. But it isn't Maradona's fault. It is the fault of whoever put him in charge."

Maradona: "Pele should go back to the museum. And stay there."

Last Friday

Pele strikes first in the birthday dedications: "He is not a good example for the youth . . . If he doesn't change, he won't have any more work. He was a great player, but is a negative example."

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