RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian football great Pele has expressed his deep sorrow at not being able to say goodbye to Diego Maradona, a week after the Argentinian legend’s death.

The pair had a long-running public feud as they turned a global debate over who was the better player into a bitter personal quarrel.

However, the once icy relationship thawed in recent years and Pele made clear his affection for the man with whom he shared FIFA’s award for the best player of the 20th century.

“Your trajectory was marked by honesty. And in your unique and particular way, you taught us that we have to love and say “I love you” a lot more often,” Pele said on Instagram. “Your quick departure didn’t let me say it to you, so I will just write it: I love you, Diego.”

Maradona, who died of a heart attack aged 60, led Argentina to their second FIFA World Cup title with a series of virtuoso displays at the 1986 edition of football’s showpiece tournament in Mexico. He also guided Napoli, hitherto minnows of Italian football, to two Serie A titles and the UEFA Cup.

Pele, meanwhile, scored a world record 1,282 goals in 1,363 games over his celebrated 21-year career and is the only player to have won the World Cup three times.

But the 80-year-old said it was time to end comparisons between football’s most famous number 10s.

“Many people loved to compare us all our lives. You were a genius that enchanted the world. A magician with the ball at his feet. A true legend. But above all that, for me, you will always be a great friend, with an even bigger heart.

“Today, I know that the world would be much better if we could compare each other less and start admiring each other more. So, I want to say that you are incomparable.”

Pele finished the post by reiterating a wish to one-day be reunited with his friend.

“One day, in heaven, we will play together on the same team. And it will be the first time that I raise my fist in the air in triumph on the pitch without celebrating a goal. It will be because I can finally embrace you again,” he concluded.

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