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I've seen at least three videos from the late 70's and early 80's (one from 1981 exactly) where Maradona was being touted as the heir of Pelé and the best player in the world. Two of those were made by Argentines, so you can think it's simply nationalist bias, but the other was from a Chilean journalist.

This doesn't make any sense to me. By the time he was 21, Maradona hadn't won any league titles or senior international tournaments. So how could he be considered the heir of Pelé and the best player in the world already?

My guess is that it's to do with the 1919 FIFA World Youth Championship; since he was the best player there, South American journalists might have been tempted to compare his achievement to Pelé winning the World Cup at 17. But at the same time, it doesn't make any sense. Being essential at 17 years old in the senior World Cup is a much larger achievement than being essential at 19 years old in the under-20s World Cup.

So how can him being touted as Pelé's heir at 20 years old, or as the best player in the world at 20 years old, can be explained?

Why was Maradona, in the late 70's and early 80's, being compared with Pelé and touted as the best player in the world, when he had won neither a league title nor a senior international title?

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    Not worth putting in my answer (and I'm about to edit it out) but "it was the first under 20 years old world cup" isn't true either - the first one was held in 1977.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jun 1 at 20:13

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First of all, this isn't true:

By his 19-21 years old, Maradona neither won any club title

Maradona won the 1981 Argentine Primera División with Boca Juniors at the age of 21 years, two months.

Secondly, you don't judge a player's ability by the size of their trophy cabinet - that's an increasingly common fallacy in modern football. You judge it by their actual ability on the pitch. You can tell if a player is a potential G.O.A.T. by just watching them, irrespective of how many trophies they may have won. So those journalists would have seen Maradona in action and decided, on that basis, that he was comparable to Pelé.

Thirdly, Maradona had already achieved quite a few things by the time he won that first league title in 1981:

  • He made his debut before he'd even turned 16 - and nutmegged a player within minutes of coming on
  • He was the top scorer (or joint top scorer) in the Argentine league for three years straight, averaging almost a goal a game, while still in his teens
  • He, as you said, won the 1979 FIFA World Youth Championship with Argentina and won the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament
  • He was voted Argentine Footballer of the Year three years in a row, South American Footballer of the Year twice in a row, and won the 1979 Olimpia de Oro for the best Argentinian sportsperson of the year
  • He made his international debut at 16 and the only reason he wasn't picked for the 1978 World Cup is that the manager thought he was too young, otherwise he would have emulated Pelé and won the World Cup at 17

You don't do all those things, and accumulate all those individual accolades, unless you're as good as Maradona was.

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    He won a title with Boca Juniors in 1981, by the time of all the interviews I saw, including the 1981 one, he didnt win any senior title yet.
    – Pablo
    Commented Jun 1 at 23:27
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    BTW, saying a player "is the best in the world", before he won a title, it hasnt happened with any player in the history except with Maradona. If you think I'm wrong and know other examples, I'm all open to see them. The "ability in the field" is quite an ambiguous concept if you aren't capable to win trophies. All the abilities are supposed to be such in order to win titles.
    – Pablo
    Commented Jun 1 at 23:29
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    There are other players who have won the gold Olimpia award and three times consecutively the southamerican player of the year award - Carlos Tevez - He wasnt remotely considered the best player in the world .
    – Pablo
    Commented Jun 1 at 23:35
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    But Pelé at 17 years old was one of the 2 key players in the 1958 world cup. The other being Didi. Maradona wasnt taken to the 1978 world cup because the coach considered there were 3 other players in his position better than him, Alonso, Villa and Valencia. So how can he even take credit for something he didnt even do?
    – Pablo
    Commented Jun 1 at 23:38
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    Hey, don't shoot the messenger here. You asked for reasons why journalists thought Maradona was "the next Pele"; I gave them to you. If you disagree with the reasons, or with the idea that Maradona was as good as Pele, that's fine, but that doesn't invalidate anything I have said here.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jun 2 at 0:42

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