Pele angers Brazilians

2004-03-05 10:33

London - Few would argue he was right to choose himself.

But Pele angered his countrymen on Thursday by leaving three famous World Cup team-mates off his list of the best living 125 soccer players.

The three-time World Cup winner had 15 of his countrymen, the most of any nation, in his list which has been compiled as part of Fifa's Centenary celebrations.

But Jairzinho, Tostao and Gerson, three of the stars of Brazil's memorable 1970 World Cup triumph, were missing.

Pele's defence was that there too many Brazilians to choose from.

"I did my best," he told reporters. "I asked if we could have 1 000 players but I was told it should be only 100. I could have picked 100 from Brazil.

"I tried to make as few mistakes as possible."

But Gerson wasn't impressed, appearing on a Brazilian sports television program tearing up a piece of paper as if it were Pele's list.

"I respect his opinion, but I don't agree," Gerson said. "Taking off Zidane, Platini and Fontaine, I'm behind 11 Frenchmen? This is a joke to have to hear this."

Other surprises were the inclusion of Senegalese striker El Hadji Diouf - a virtual unknown before the 2002 World Cup - and Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf. Scottish star Dennis Law, England World Cup hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst and Italian striker Sandro Mazzola were among the omissions.

Slammed by newspapers

Pele was only allowed to choose players who are still living. It was initially to be a list of 100 to celebrate the centenary of Fifa - 50 current players and 50 retired. But Pele asked Fifa if he could increase the retired list to 75, hence the grand total of 125.

Although Pele selected 1970 World Cup winning team-mates Carlos Alberto and Rivelino, he was criticised in Brazilian papers for leaving out Jairzinho, Gerson and Tostao. They were among the stars of probably the best Brazilian lineup put together.

By contrast the list had five of the Brazilian team that won the World Cup in 2002.

While the list includes 15 Brazilians, Italy and France each have 14. There also are 13 Dutch players on the list, 10 Germans, 10 Argentines and seven English.

The only Americans on the list are women - Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm. No other female players were included.

"When I came up with the name Mia Hamm and the midfielder Michelle Akers, everyone was a little surprised," Pele said. "But women's football in the world is very important. We have the World Cup, the United States is world champion twice. This confused the people who were working with me but it was my choice, my idea."

Pele selected current Brazilian stars Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Cafu and Ronaldinho, who won the World Cup in 2002. Former stars Rivelino, Carlos Alberto, Romario, Zico, Falcao, Socrates, Djalma Santos, Nilton Santos and Junior also made his list.

European champion France has current stars Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Lilian Thuram, David Trezeguet, Marcel Desailly and Robert Pires, as well as former players Michel Platini, Eric Cantona, Jean-Pierre Papin, Didier Deschamps, Juste Fontaine, Raymond Kopa, Marius Tresor.

Henry 'shocked'

"I was shocked to be in the 100 list because when I see all the good players who have been in the past or are playing even now it's unbelieveable to be in that list," Henry said at the same news conference. "Even to be sitting here by the side of Pele is a dream to me."

Italy has current players Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero, Alessandro Nesta, Christian Vieri, Francesco Totti, Gianluca Buffon and Paolo Maldini. Former Italian players on the list are Gianni Rivera, Dino Zoff, Franco Baresi, Giacinto Facchetti, Paolo Rossi, Giampiero Boniperti and Giuseppe Bergomi. There was no place for former Inter Milan striker Mazzola.

Pele selected England stars David Beckham, Alan Shearer and Michael Owen alongside former greats Bobby Charlton, Kevin Keegan, Gordon Banks and Gary Lineker.

But there was no place for Hurst, the only player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final. Hurst scored three goals against West Germany in England's only World Cup triumph in 1966.

The only current German players on the list are Michael Ballack and Oliver Kahn. But the list includes former stars Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Mueller, Juergen Klinsmann, Sepp Maier, Lothar Matthaeus, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Uwe Seeler and Paul Breitner.

Argentina has former stars Diego Maradona, Alfredo Di Stefano, Daniel Passarella, Omar Sivori and Mario Kempes, and current stars Gabriel Batistuta, Hernan Crespo, Javier Zanetti, Javier Saviola and Juan Sebastian Veron.

The Dutch are well represented with Johann Cruyff and the AC Milan trio of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard on the list along with Johann Neeskens, Rob Rensenbrink, brothers Willy and Rene van der Kerkhof. Current stars Ruud van Nistelrooy, Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert, Denis Bergkamp, and Seedorf also made the list.