Did FIFA Change the Rules of a Contest When Diego Maradona Was Voted Player of the Century?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about soccer/football and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the soccer/football urban legends featured so far.

SOCCER/FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: FIFA changed the rules of a contest when Diego Maradona was voted Player of the Century in 2000.

In 2000, FIFA decided to let fans vote on who would be given the title of the “Player of the Century.” The voting was done online, and in overwhelming fashion, the winner was Argentine star Diego Maradona.

Maradona certainly had a case for the honor. Most historians agree he’s at least among the five best players of the 20th Century.

However, he is also not Pelé.

The Brazilian star is perhaps the most famous soccer/football player of the 20th Century, and when the fans voted for Maradona, FIFA panicked and hilarity ensued.

Let’s face it – even if Maradona WAS the correct pick (I’ll leave that up to you), online voting is, of course, going to skew towards more recent players, and as great as Maradona is, nearly 54% of the vote is probably a bit on the high side, with less than 19% for Pelé also a bit on the low side.

So FIFA, after a quick bumbling routine when they first announced that the award would now be split into decades (so Pelé and Maradona could each get a decade), then changed their minds again and said that when they said “Player of the Decade,” they meant Player of the Decades” meaning the whole Century so that they had not actually changed anything. Suuuure, FIFA.

In any event, FIFA put together a separate panel of football experts to vote on the award, and Pelé was the winner (with over 70% of the expert vote).

Maradona was not pleased, and the issue soon became a bit of an Argentina vs. Brazil thing (although I suppose it already was that from the get go). Maradona vowed not to attend the event if Pelé took his spot, or even if they shared it.

Eventually, FIFA’s compromise was that BOTH men would get an award – the fan vote for Maradona and the panel vote for Pelé.

Maradona did end up showing up to accept his award, but left before Pelé got his – these two fellows sure do dislike each other, don’t they?

I suppose FIFA’s compromise was probably the best way to handle it, as I can’t imagine how it would have sorted out if one of the two had been ignored for the Player of the Century, but boy, FIFA, you should try to think these things out BEFORE you announce them next time!

The legend is…


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3 Responses to “Did FIFA Change the Rules of a Contest When Diego Maradona Was Voted Player of the Century?”

  1. Eh, should’ve been Ferenc Puskas anyway.

  2. Well, Americans sure love Pelé since he played in your league at the end of his career, so it’s reasonable he is one of the only football players an average American can name, but everywhere else Maradona is king. Of course, availability of media is also an important factor to take into account, and also the fact that their dominion was established in two very different eras (Pelé was more dominant in a pre-modern football era, while Maradona was king in a more modern approach of football). I don’t want to take merits away from Pelé, but I believe Maradona’s star shone as bright as his.

  3. I made it pretty clear that Maradona wasn’t a “wrong” pick, no? Just that a victory that dominant seemed out of whack. But really, the most amusing thing is just how FIFA reacted, not whether it was a wrong decision at all, just how they freaked out when the result wasn’t what they expected.

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