Pele leads tributes to Argentina legend Diego Maradona as he mourns the demise of his fellow all-time great, who has passed on from a heart attack aged only 60.
The Brazilian three-time World Cup winner has over the decades been compared as Maradona’s closest competitor in debates and polls to decide the greatest footballer of all time.
Pele, 80, issued heartfelt praise for Maradona, writing on his official Twitter account:
“What sad news. I lost a great friend and the world lost a legend.
“There is still much to be said, but for now, may God give strength to family members. One day, I hope we can play football together in the sky.”
Maradona’s death was confirmed by Argentina’s football association. He had been in hospital in Buenos Aires after surgery to remove a blood clot on the brain earlier this month.
He captained his country to World Cup glory in Mexico in 1986, and later led Napoli to two Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990.
Lionel Messi, the greatest Argentina player of the current generation, took to social media claiming his idol is ‘eternal’:
“A very sad day for all Argentines and for football. He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal. Back in 2010, he was asked about his then national team manager, replying: ”Even if I played for a million years, I’d never come close to Maradona.
“Not that I’d want to anyway. He’s the greatest there’s ever been.”
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp’s emotional tribute to Maradona before Atalanta tie:
“I keep all the beautiful moments lived with him and I wanted to take the opportunity to send my condolences to all his family and friends. RIP.”
Speaking on Monday Night Football earlier this month, Mauricio Pochettino also recalled his fondest experiences of sharing a room with Diego Maradona when the pair were team-mates at Newell’s Old Boys.
Football lovers across the globe will forever remember those immortal moments when Argentina eliminated England from the 1986 finals at the quarter-final stage, as Maradona scored twice. The first was a blatant handball – ‘the Hand of God’ as Maradona himself had then described it – and the second a stunning solo effort.
Peter Reid, a member of the England side which suffered from the miracle left foot – and hand – of Maradona in 1986, spoke highly of the South American’s incredible footballing gift, exhibited so gloriously during the 2-1 quarter-final win. He said:
“The crowd in the stadium exploded in terms of the first goal being given. There were a few of us running after the Tunisian referee but they didn’t see it. It was cute the way he did it, but to us on the pitch, it was obvious.
“My Spanish ain’t great and his Scouse wasn’t great, but I met him in Dubai a few years ago and I did ask him about it. He laughed, and he reiterated to me that it was the ‘Hand of God’. I am going to argue, because he cheated. But as bad as that one was, the second one was a great goal.”
Regarding that second goal, a slaloming solo effort voted the best of the century on an online FIFA poll in 2002, Reid said:
“It’s something that I’ve seen once or twice, if I’m being honest. We were playing against someone who was at the absolute height of his career and as bad as the first goal was, that was outstanding.
“I saw him go past the great Alan Hansen in 1981 for the first time. He had this in his locker. He made people, like the No 16 [Peter Reid], look foolish.”
Gary Lineker, who was playing for England that day, tweeted: “By some distance the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time.
“After a blessed but troubled life, hopefully he’ll finally find some comfort in the hands of God. #RipDiego”
Lineker later added on BT Sport: “I played for a Rest of the World side at Wembley, when I was at Barcelona, all the great players like (Michel) Platini on the pitch were all totally in awe of him.
“The first thing he did in the dressing room was sit there in just a pair of shorts, juggling his socks on his left foot for about five minutes.
“Then he went out on the pitch and did something incredible, one of the most unbelievable things I have even seen on a football pitch.
“He juggled the ball all the way out to the centre circle, when he got there, still juggling, he went ‘bang’ and kicked the ball up as high as he could, then waited.
“It came down, he went ‘bang’ and did it again. He did it 13 times and the most he ever did was walk three paces to it.
South American football expert Tim Vickery says Diego Maradona’s defining moment came in Argentina’s win over England in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup.
“All of us were sitting there saying: ‘That is impossible!'”
Boca Juniors, where Maradona made his name before securing a then world-record transfer to Barcelona in 1982, tweeted:
“Eternal thanks. Eternal Diego.”
Asif Kapadia, who directed the 2019 film Maradona, tweeted:
“Can’t quite believe DM has gone. Hard to process.
“He always seemed indestructible. I had 10 hours with the man!! I touched his left foot. We did our best to show the world the man, the myth, the fighter he was. The greatest.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said:
“There was a banner in Argentina some time ago when it said ‘it doesn’t matter what you have done with your life, it matters what you have done with our lives’.
“I think Maradona would have done in our generation. There are a few incredible players in history, and he is one of them.”
Cristiano Ronaldo, who alongside Messi is regarded as one of the game’s greatest current players, also offered his own personal tribute with the Juventus and Portugal star posting on Twitter:
“Today I bid farewell to a friend and the world bids farewell to an eternal genius.
“One of the best ever, an unmatched magician. Leaves too soon but leaves a boundless legacy and a void that will never be filled. RIP. You will never be forgotten.”
European football’s governing body UEFA held minute’s silences before all Wednesday night’s Champions League matches in tribute to Maradona.