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Sunday, 10 December, 2000, 20:12 GMT
The 20th Century boys
Diego Maradona surrounded by West German players
Maradona playing for Argentina against West Germany
The row over football's Player of the Century award has been defused by governing body Fifa announcing two men will be honoured.

Argentina's Diego Maradona had emerged as favourite to pick up the award, ahead of Brazilian legend Pele.

Reports from South America, quoting top Argentine FA officials, said latest figures had Maradona with 78,000 votes and Pele on 26,000.

But Fifa president Sepp Blatter said two players of the century would now be chosen at Monday's gala awards ceremony.

That opens the way for both Maradona and Pele to get an award.


I am already content with the prizes and rewards I have received in the past
  Pele

Blatter said votes registered on Fifa's website would allow "younger members" to choose their player of the century.

Votes from readers of Fifa's magazine and an international jury would choose a second player of the century.

Until Sunday it had been Fifa's intention to pool all Internet and magazine votes to choose only one player.

The sudden decision to present two awards will raise suspicions Fifa did not want to see Brazilian legend Pele left out in the cold.

Blatter confirmed Maradona would be coming to Rome, and Pele arrived in the Italian capital apparently unflustered by the furore.

Pele
Pele could be honoured with Maradona

"Each era has their best. I am already content with the prizes and rewards I have received in the past," Pele said when asked about the vote.

"People called me the king in 1958 when we won the World Cup. That is good enough for me."

The controversy threatened to overshadow Fifa's annual guessing game to discover the World Player of the Year.

Portugal's Luis Figo, the world's most expensive footballer, French midfield wizard Zinedine Zidane and Barcelona's Rivaldo, who pipped David Beckham to the title last year, are the candidates.

But their battle took a back-seat in the build-up to the evening amid raging speculation over just who should be declared the footballer of the 20th century.

In theory Pele, should have won hands down.

The 'Black Pearl' enjoyed far greater success at international level than Maradona, being a member of three World Cup-winning squads and scorer of more than 1,000 goals in a glittering career that spanned three decades.

Headlines

Pele is also widely held to have conducted himself flawlessly on and off the pitch, fabled for his sportsmanship and becoming a worldwide ambassador for the sport in his retirement.

Maradona - with only one World Cup victory in 1986 to his name - is a different proposition altogether.

While his individual footballing genius cannot be questioned, the portly playmaker has frequently found himself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

He has earned the dubious distinction of exiting two World Cups in shame.

In 1982 he was sent off as Argentina were dumped out by Brazil, and in USA 1994 he was booted out of the tournament in disgrace after failing a dope test.

Even the high-point of his career, when he inspired Argentina to glory at Mexico '86, will be remembered as much for his 'Hand of God' goal against England in the quarter-finals as for the stupendous individual effort which came later in the same match.

Addiction

The list of Maradona's crimes and misdemeanours is lengthy, from taking pot-shots at journalists with an air rifle to facing a probe by Italian authorities over links with the Neapolitan Mafia during his spell at Napoli.

However, it is Maradona's drug problems that have been at the root of most of his woes.

Banned by Fifa for 15 months for testing positive for cocaine, he was hospitalised in Uruguay in January this year for overdosing on the drug.

But while Fifa's world player of the year is decided upon by a poll of more than 1,000 top coaches and players, the player of the century has been left for fans to decide.

Which meant that thanks to an Internet cyber-blitz from Maradona fans, Pele had been in danger of missing out.

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