FOOTBALL Legend Pele paid tribute to his fellow all-time great Diego Maradona after the Argentinian’s death at the age of 60, saying: “One day, I hope we can play football together in the sky.”
The Brazilian three-time World Cup winner was often Maradona’s closest competitor in polls to decide the greatest footballer of all time.
And the 80-year-old issued fulsome praise for his fellow South American, writing on his official Twitter account: “What sad news. I lost a great friend and the world lost a legend.
“There is still much to be said, but for now, may God give strength to family members. One day, I hope we can play football together in the sky.”
Maradona’s death was confirmed by Argentina’s football association. He had been in hospital in Buenos Aires after surgery to remove a blood clot on the brain earlier this month.
He captained his country to World Cup glory in Mexico in 1986, and later led Napoli to two Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990.
Pele, left, praised tribute to Diego Maradona after his death aged 60 on Wednesday (PA)
Lionel Messi, the greatest Argentinian of the current generation, wrote on Instagram: “A very sad day for all Argentines and for football. He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal.
“I keep all the beautiful moments lived with him and I wanted to take the opportunity to send my condolences to all his family and friends. RIP.”
Argentina eliminated England from the 1986 finals at the quarter-final stage, as Maradona scored twice. The first was a blatant handball – ‘the Hand of God as Maradona described it – and the second a stunning solo effort.
Gary Lineker, who was playing for England that day, tweeted: “By some distance the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time.
“After a blessed but troubled life, hopefully he’ll finally find some comfort in the hands of God. #RipDiego”
Lineker later added on BT Sport: “I played for a Rest of the World side at Wembley, when I was at Barcelona, all the great players like (Michel) Platini on the pitch were all totally in awe of him.
“The first thing he did in the dressing room was sit there in just a pair of shorts, juggling his socks on his left foot for about five minutes.
“Then he went out on the pitch and did something incredible, one of the most unbelievable things I have even seen on a football pitch.
“He juggled the ball all the way out to the centre circle, when he got there, still juggling, he went ‘bang’ and kicked the ball up as high as he could, then waited.
“It came down, he went ‘bang’ and did it again. He did it 13 times and the most he ever did was walk three paces to it.
“All of us were sitting there saying: ‘that is impossible’.”
European football’s governing body UEFA held minute’s silences before all Wednesday night’s Champions League matches in tribute to Maradona.
Asif Kapadia, who directed the 2019 film Maradona, tweeted: “Can’t quite believe DM has gone. Hard to process.
“He always seemed indestructible. I had 10 hours with the man!! I touched his left foot. We did our best to show the world the man, the myth, the fighter he was. The greatest.”
Peter Reid, another member of the England side which suffered at the hand and the left foot of Maradona in 1986, spoke highly of the South American’s incredible footballing gift.
“The second (goal) is a man at the height of his ability and quite simply he is one of the best players to walk the planet,” Reid told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“We opted not to man-mark him, thank God I wasn’t given that job. Belgium tried it in the semi-final with Eric Gerets, who was a great player, and he still tore them apart.
“He was one of those players, whatever way you went about, if he was playing well on the day he was very, very difficult to stop.”
Speaking about the second goal, Reid added: “With his balance and his strength he just went through us. It was just one of those things you can’t stop.
“I get asked ‘why didn’t you bring him down?’ and rest assured if I could have got there….I wake up in a cold sweat still thinking about it, and I still can’t get there.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said on BT Sport: “There was a banner in Argentina some time ago when it said ‘it doesn’t matter what you have done with your life, it matters what you have done with our lives’.
“I think Maradona would have done in our generation. There are a few incredible players in history, and he is one of them.”
Cristiano Ronaldo, who alongside Messi is regarded as one of the game’s greatest current players, also offered his own personal tribute.
The Juventus and Portugal star posted on Twitter: “Today I bid farewell to a friend and the world farewells to an eternal genius.
“One of the best ever, an unmatched magician. Leaves too soon but leaves a boundless legacy and a void that will never be filled. RIP. You will never be forgotten.”