PELE criticised Diego Maradona yesterday, saying there were no excuses for the positive drug test which put the Argentina captain out of the World Cup.

'If he had been a young player of 17, you could perhaps understand it,' he said. 'But Maradona has played in four World Cups and he knew he couldn't do that. There are no excuses.' Pele, who also played in four World Cups, said Argentinian newspapers were trying to stir up a controversy by implying that Joao Havelange, the sport's world governing body, Fifa, had wanted Maradona out of the tournament.

'This is crazy and disgusting,' he said. 'The laws are there for everybody, not just for Argentina. It would have been the same if anyone had failed the test.' Pele said it was bad and sad for football that Maradona, as the world's best player, had never assumed the responsibilities of setting an example for young people.

'He was never able to use his position,' he said. 'It may be his lack of family or religious background. Everybody follows what the stars do. They should be an example.'

Pele, who played for the New York Cosmos in the 1970s, said he thought many of the best players of the current World Cup would join the US professional league starting up next season.

'There will be some big names, like in Japan,' he said. 'Some mistakes were made last time. But now I feel very happy about it. It would be a dream come true for me.'