Pele, Maradona split player of 20th century award

FIFA's decision to split its soccer player of the century award in two has left few satisfied.

Fans of Diego Maradona will continue to argue that their man was the people's choice in what was originally meant to be a people's poll.

And reducing his honour to the "Internet" player of the century is a backhanded slap from FIFA.

Pele, who was crowned the 20th century's best by FIFA's "football family," was also forced to share honours at Monday night's ceremony that most historians of the game would say he deserves all to himself.

"I had the vote of the people, Pele won by forfeit," Maradona said Tuesday, continuing a two-week feud over the award.

Even FIFA president Joseph Blatter admitted that a new polling method must be found to settle the question once and for all by 2004, when the world soccer governing body will celebrate its centennial.

But what is clear from a closer look at the results -- which were announced at the same Rome ceremony that crowned France's Zinedine Zidane the 2000 FIFA player of the year -- is that the soccer world is sharply divided on the question of the 20th century's greatest.

Pele proved to be the unrivalled favourite of the soccer establishment, those with arguably a longer view of the game's development.

The 60-year-old Brazilian was the runaway choice of FIFA's inner circle, tallying 72.8 per cent of the world soccer governing body's "football family" award.

Argentina's Alfredo Di Stefano finished second with 9.8 per cent, followed by his younger countryman, Maradona, with 6.0 per cent.

This "family" vote consisted of two components, ballots sent in from subscribers of the organization's quarterly magazine and those cast by a special international FIFA jury.

Each was given equal weight.

Pele received 58 per cent of the magazine ballots and 87.5 per cent of the jury votes, while Di Stefano garnered seven per cent from the magazine and 12.5 per cent from the jury.

Maradona, the favourite of 12 per cent of those voting by magazine, did not get a single jury vote.

Meanwhile, the 40-year-old Argentine was the clear favourite of the masses -- at least the masses with a modem.

The Argentine garnered 53.6 per cent of the vote on FIFA's official Internet site, compared with Pele's 18.5 per cent. Portugal's Eusebio and Italy's Roberto Baggio followed with 6.2 per cent and 5.4 per cent respectively.

Some have complained that voting by Internet is not an accurate gauge of public opinion, particularly in soccer, whose fans cut across socio-economic lines.

But Maradona himself Monday, in accepting the award, countered suggestions that "only kids voted for me."

"There's always a father who buys the computer, and maybe influences the vote," the Argentine said.

It shouldn't be surprising that Maradona is the people's choice, having played in the high-profile Spanish and Italian leagues in the era of mega-television exposure.

Similarly, Pele's unrivalled record of three World Cup titles and most career goals are likely given greater weight by those closely associated with the international game and its history.

As for the two men themselves, who traded barbs through South American media outlets last week, the decision to give each an award has apparently not ended the bitterness.

After he accepted his trophy, Maradona left the Rome auditorium just in time to miss Pele's presentation.

By Jeff Israely