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The Rediff Special/Football's Greatest
March 25, 2004
Who is the world's greatest footballer?
Early this month FIFA issued its list of the 100 greatest living footballers, nominated by football legend Pele. The list, which actually contained 125 names, was compiled to mark the 100th anniversary of the foundation of football's governing body. It gave rise to controversy as many prominent footballers failed to find mention in it.
rediff.com selects its 20 greatest footballers ever and gives you dear reader the opportunity to select your favourite.
1. Diego Maradona (Argentina)
World Cups: 1982, 1986 (winner), 1990 (2nd), 1994
A flawed genius, Maradona is, without doubt, Argentina's greatest footballer and a close competitor to Pele in the all-time stakes. He had it all: pace, persistence, talent, skill and vision. The little genius could create goals from out of the blue. But he courted controversy with the same enthusiasm he reserved for scoring spectacular goals.
He single-handedly won the 1986 World Cup for Argentina. Against England in the quarterfinal, he scored the notorious 'Hand of God' goal, punching the ball past goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Two minutes later he dribbled his way across the field to score arguably the greatest individual goal ever.
In 1991, he tested positive for cocaine and was banned for 15 months. His playing career never recovered after that.
Maradona's manic celebrations after scoring against Greece in Argentina's opening game of the 1994 final was his World Cup epitaph. After failing another dope test, this time for ephedrine, he was humiliatingly kicked out of the tournament.
2. Gordon Banks (England)
World Cups: 1966 (Winner), 1970
Widely considered the greatest goalkeeper ever, Banks conceded only one goal -- a Eusebio penalty in the semi-final -- before the 1966 World Cup final, which England won. He will be forever remembered for a mind-blowing save off a header from Pele in the 1970 World Cup.
'That save from Pele's header was the best I ever made. I didn't have any idea how famous it would become. To start with, I didn't even realise I'd made it at all. I heard Pele shout 'goal' as he headed it, which was followed by a massive, almost deafening, roar. Even though I'd got a hand to it, I thought he must have scored,' Banks later said.
3. Ronaldo (Brazil)
World Cups: 1994 (winner), 1998 (2nd), 2002 (winner)
With eight goals from the 2002 World Cup, Ronaldo is the first man since Paolo Rossi in 1982 to win both the Golden Boot and a champion's medal at the tournament.
A gifted striker, with immense speed and power, Ronaldo is almost impossible to stop in front of goal. He can hit the target from virtually any angle. His precision makes him a feared man. His 12 World Cup goals places him level with Pele and just behind Gerd Muller, 14 goals, and Just Fontaine, 13, in the all-time goals tally.
At the age of 16, he scored 58 goals in 60 matches on his national debut in the Brazilian first division, a feat that won him a place in Brazil's squad for the 1994 World Cup.
4. Pele (Brazil)
World Cups: 1958 (winner), 1962 (winner), 1966, 1970 (winner)
Pele first appeared on the world stage as a 17 year old and since then has become football's greatest icon. He played in four World Cups and was a winner thrice, a unique achievement in an extraordinary playing career.
For Pele football was always a 'beautiful game.' He scored 1,283 goals in his career but always played in the right spirit. He reserved a rare passion for the game; maybe that's why 25 years later after hanging his boots, he is still revered by generations who never saw him play.
He scored five goals in a game six times, four goals 30 times and three goals 90 times. These are numbers the modern player can never dream of matching.
Indeed, Pele was and remains a hero to anyone who has ever played football.
5. Peter Schmeichel (Denmark)
Euro '92 winner
His status as an outstanding goalkeeper is undeniable. His standing in Denmark is even greater, having led the country to a surprise Euro 92 triumph.
He is a commanding presence in the box, and an excellent shot-stopper, with the ability to appear larger than the goal in a one-on-one situation. The giant Dane is a leader who tirelessly, often aggressively, barks instructions to defenders.
He made his name with the Red Devils of Manchester United. With him under the bar, Man U won five Premiership titles.