Myths, stories and fairytales are part of everyone’s childhood. Kids grow up reading and hearing stories of knights and warriors, of witches and wizards, of kings and queens and of fairies and demons.
Everyone at some point in their lives has wished to dive into the world of those stories and join their heroes on great adventures.
But, alas, that wish never came true.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment, but at some point in life, all of us begin searching for ‘real heroes’, perhaps to make up for that early life disappointment.
For the majority of the ‘90s’ kids’, two individuals from South America were amongst those ‘real heroes’, mythical figures that lived and breathed among us.
Their names were– Diego Armando Maradona and Edson Arantes do Nascimento, who was fondly known as Pele.
Both of them were footballers by occupation, played for their countries and won countless personal and team accolades in their illustrious careers.
But if one goes through the history of football, there are hundreds of such accomplished players. Sure, Pele and Maradona eclipse all of them in terms of the sheer number of their achievements, but that is not what turned them into real life legends.
In Maradona, people saw the perfect embodiment of football. He was brilliant, blessed from the heavens, unmatched at his best. But at the same time, he was sly, never shying away from dirtying his ‘hand’ to gain an unfair advantage.
His off-field life was even more chaotic. He had a life-long battle against drugs, constantly failed to keep his emotions in check and even got tangled with the Italian mafia through his naivety.
Pele, on the other hand, was the complete opposite of Maradona.
At just 17 years of age, Pele won the football World Cup, fulfilling a promise he had made to his father eight years ago when Brazil lost the 1950 World Cup final.
Pele went on to win two more World Cups, a feat no other player in the history of the game had accomplished before nor has anyone repeated since.
His personal life wasn’t always smooth, but he never let that get out of hand. He conducted himself with dignity, won everything he could’ve won on the football pitch, became the game’s first ever global superstar and he did all that with a smile on his face.
Both Maradona and Pele were real people with flaws. But their life stories were no less eventful, insightful or whimsical than the best fairytales in the world.
And to a large section of the world, both Maradona and Pele were living incarnations of two of the best stories ever told– until 25 November 2020, the day football lost a huge chunk of its magic.
Maradona, at just 60 years of age, breathed his last at Dique Lujan in Argentina.
The football world was stunned and everyone got together to mourn the untimely passing of Maradona.
Millions of tributes poured in. But out of all of them, one stood out in particular.
Pele, who shared a love-hate relationship with Maradona as they both admired each other’s brilliance but at the same time were adamant about their own superiority, first responded to Maradona’s demise with a post on social media which read, “I have lost a dear friend, and the world has lost a legend. There is much more to say, but for now may God give his family strength. One day, I hope, we will play soccer together in the sky.”
On 29 December, 2022, after a lengthy battle against colon cancer which he fought bravely, Pele cut ties with the world of the mortals and ascended to the realm of eternity, the place where he always belonged.
With both Pele and Maradona gone, the football world is now without two of its biggest icons and the people have lost two of their most beloved heroes.
But like every great fairytale, the story of Pele and Maradona will live on, from generation to generation, as long as this round globe keeps rotating at its axis.
And if tonight a shooting star is seen moving to and fro in the night sky of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, no need to worry. It’s just Pele fulfilling his promise to Maradona.