The players are the game—especially when it comes to the World Cup. Once the stands have emptied, it’s the players’ jaw-dropping feats or mortal mistakes that will remain in the minds of soccer fans, much like scenes from a classic film. South Africa 2010 promises to add to that reel. When Latino players dribble down the field this June, they will both chase glory and follow in the footsteps of the game’s legends. Here are seven of soccer’s most revered players and a glimpse into what they’ve been doing since they hung up their uniforms.
Antonio Carbajal: Nicknamed “Tota” and “El Cinco Copas,” Carbajal played in five World Cups from 1950 to 1966—a record equaled by Germany’s Lothar Matthäus in 1998. Carbajal, now 80, had just turned 21 when he played in 1950 as the youngest goalkeeper of the tournament. In 11 World Cup matches for Mexico, he conceded only 25 goals. He became a coach with Mexican clubs Léon, Unión de Curtidores, and Morelia.
Teófilo Cubillas: The player nicknamed “Nene,” and considered Peru’s greatest ever, led his national team to the quarterfinals of the 1970 and 1978 Cups, scoring 10 goals, the most by a midfielder. He played professionally in Europe and for teams in Florida, but his favorite team was his hometown Alianza Lima. He came out of retirement in 1987, at age 38, returning to Alianza after the entire squad died in a plane crash. For the past 30 years, Cubillas, 61, has lived in Florida, where he runs a soccer academy with his two sons. He’s also a traveling instructor for FIFA and the Special Olympics.
Alcides Ghiggia: He scored the winning goal when Uruguay upset host Brazil 2–1 in front of nearly 200,000 spectators inside Rio’s Maracana Stadium to win the 1950 World Cup. “Only three people in history have managed to silence the Maracana with a single gesture: the Pope, Frank Sinatra, and I,” said Ghiggia, 83, years later. The match, called the “Maracanazo,” is still remembered as the most disappointing in Brazilian history. Ghiggia went on to play in Italy and coach in Uruguay. He sang in a cult hit entitled “Maracana Macarena.” On his 80th birthday he was honored with a postage stamp. Last year, Ghiggia returned to Maracana Stadium to become the 100th player (and only the sixth non-Brazilian) to add impressions of his feet to the Walk of Fame.
Mario Kempes: “El Matador,” the striker with the long legs and long hair, scored six goals in Argentina’s final three games to lead the Albiceleste to the 1978 Cup. Kempes scored the clincher in extra time to beat the Netherlands 3–1 in the championship game. He went on to a great career in Valencia, Spain, then began what he called his “gypsy” period as a mostly unsuccessful coach in Indonesia, Albania, Venzezuela, Bolivia, and the lower divisions of Italy and Spain. Now 55, Kempes is a commentator for ESPN Deportes.
Diego Maradona: He has played on four World Cup teams and led Argentina to the title in 1986, when he scored two of soccer’s most memorable goals against England. The first was the controversial goal that he attributed to the “Hand of God.” He admitted, 20 years later, that the ball was actually punched into the net by the hand of Maradona. The second was the “Goal of the Century” in which he dribbled 60 meters down the field, weaving past half a dozen English players. Maradona’s life continues to keep fans gasping: He became an obese cocaine addict, received treatment in Cuba, underwent stomach-stapling surgery, and hosted a talk show with Pelé and Fidel Castro as guests. In 2008, he became coach of Argentina’s national team, which barely qualified for South Africa this year. Maradona, 49, was suspended for a profane outburst at a press conference but is back on the sideline coaching a talented squad that includes a player often compared to him, Lionel Messi. Divorced, Maradona has three adult children; his son plays soccer in Italy.
Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento): Regarded as one of the greatest in soccer history, Pelé is a national hero in his native Brazil. A prolific scorer, he embodied the joga bonito (Portuguese for “beautiful game”) style. He was on three World Cup–winning teams, starting at age 17—in 1958, 1962, and 1970. Since retiring from fútbol, Pelé, 69, has acted in movies, promoted Viagra, created an athletic apparel brand, and opened a chain of coffee houses. Add to that collaborating on video games, writing several autobiographies, and working as a goodwill ambassador for FIFA, UNESCO, and the Brazilian government. In 1997, he was knighted by the British. Pelé has five children, including boy/girl twins with his second wife, a psychologist and gospel singer.
Gilberto Yearwood: The Honduran defensive midfielder was a compass on the field for Los Catrachos in their only Cup appearance in 1982, when they impressed the world by drawing with host Spain and Northern Ireland, before losing to Yugoslavia, 1–0. Nicknamed El Vikingo (the Viking), he played three seasons for Spain’s Real Valladolid. Yearwood, 54, coached Motagua to its first Honduran national title and coached Honduras in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He’s currently coaching Xinabjul in Guatemala.