In 2017, the two brightest stars in football history came together in Moscow in the draw for the following year’s World Cup in Russia.
Ignoring Vladimir Putin’s attempt to photograph the moment, Diego Maradona leaned down to kiss a smiling Pele who was holding a phone as he took a selfie of the occasion.
The two men may have occasionally criticized each other in the debate over which was the greatest of all time, but it was a happy moment that provided a reminder of the shared glory that former winners brought to the World Cup and that the Cup of the World granted. in them.
With Pelé in a wheelchair, it also provided a reminder of the mortality of even the sport’s seemingly most immortal stars.
Pelé was the affable ambassador for a sponsor at a series of World Cups after his retirement.
Maradona, not always a diplomat, epitomized the passion of fans at his last World Cup in 2018, dancing with an opposing fan and waving the middle finger as Argentina scored a winner against Nigeria in St. Petersburg.
For the first time since Pelé won the first of three World Cups in 1958, the 22nd edition in Qatar will take place without any of the greats coming close.
Maradona died in 2020 and the increasingly frail Pelé has been absent in the build-up to Qatar. However, fans watching World Cup coverage will surely see them, and not just because a luxury watchmaker that has Pelé as a brand ambassador promises to preserve him in its online ‘Metaverse Stadium’.
Images of their finest moments are among the brightest threads in the tapestry of World Cup history.
As fans tune in, dreaming of seeing their team succeed, they will be able to enjoy replays of those highlights from the World Cup color television era.
These include Pelé’s third victory as part of the brilliant Brazil team that won in sunny Mexico in 1970.
Then there are Maradona’s two goals, the Hand of God and the Goal of the Century, when Argentina beat England en route to victory, again in Mexico, in 1986.
Maradona isn’t the only recently deceased star still alive, leading his countries to victory in stunning archive footage.
– Football redemption –
Paolo Rossi, who scored six goals, including a hat-trick against Brazil and the opening goal as Italy beat West Germany 3-1 in the final to seal a completely unexpected title in Spain in 1982, died in December 2020, two weeks after Maradona.
Gerd Mueller, who scored the last of his 68 international goals to give West Germany a 2-1 victory over the Netherlands in the 1974 final in Munich, died the following August.
The sparkling feet of Maradona and Rossi were sometimes made of clay. As the World Cup kicks off in one of the traditional pearling capitals, they offer reminders that oysters need sand to produce their treasure.
Maradona’s handball goal in 1986 remains a more celebrated moment than the dazzling midfield dribble a few minutes later. The Argentine did not regret it. He competed to win. The fans will demand no less of the teams from him.
The conclusion of their World Cup story provides yet another reminder that even the best players have flaws. After scoring once and assisting two more as Argentina won their first two games at the 1994 World Cup, the seemingly rejuvenated Maradona was sent home after testing positive for ephedrine.
Rossi returned from suspension for his part in the Totonero match-fixing scandal just in time to be controversially recalled for the 1982 World Cup, where he proved that even players with dirty hands can pull off the golden boot.
Rossi’s story at the World Cup is one of footballing redemption, a theme that will appeal to all the Qatari stars who have been banned, booed, questioned or suffered injuries that dashed the hopes of a nation, like Karim Benzema, Bukayo Saka, Lionel Messi or Neymar. .
They can look forward to rewriting their histories as they hunt down Maradona, Mueller and Rossi and the other glorious ghosts of past World Cups.