When picking the best football players of all time, some of us are smitten by players who have recently done well but have no past record to compete with the best. Others choose popularity over raw statistics. You would agree when we say that selecting 10 best soccer players is quite a dodgy proposition. Nevertheless, out of our love for the world’s favorite sport we would like to curate a list of the most celebrated and influential footballing figures ever.
Many names here would match with yours; however, the ones that don’t sink down well will be the ones that are the most hotly debated world over. So, here’s our run down of all-time footballing greats:
10. David Beckham
David Beckham, who started his senior club career as a teenager with the Red Devils in 1992, went on to become the first of all English football players to have won league titles in four different countries (England, Spain, United States, France). Indicted into the English Hall of Fame in 2008, the former United free-kick specialist and Real midfielder came close to winning the Ballon d’Or (1999) and FIFA World Player of the Year (1999, 2001).
Nevertheless, Beckham won the England Player of the Year (2003) and the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year (1998-99), among many other honors from footballing and non-sporting bodies. Remember his spectacular arching shot from his own half into the goal against Wimbledon in 1996? We do and forever will!
The Black Pearl, as his fans nicknamed him, scored nearly 800 goals for club and country combined. The African-born player, who went on become Benfica’s and Portugal national team’s most celebrated player, has won several honors in his 22-year long prolific career. Notable ones include Ballon d’Or (1965), FIFA World Cup Golden Boot (1966), and European Golden Boot (1968, 1973).
Amongst the best football players of all time, Eusebio invested 15 years at Benfica and stands at number 8 in the highest goalscorer list in the history of the European Cup (now called the UEFA Champions League). Who can forget his speed, dexterity and shot power as he helped Portugal reach third place at the 1966 World Cup!
It is hard to not think of this uncanny Brazilian when we talk of footballers with a silky touch, a certain finesse and a bunch of creative ball tricks up their sleeves. This attacking midfielder-cum-forward, who started his senior career in 1998, scored more than one-fourth number of goals (146) with Barcelona for which he won the Ballon d’Or in 2005.
He won the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005 coupled with the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year in 2005-06, among other honors. Ronaldinho was at the heart of the 2002 FIFA World Cup-winning Brazilian team in Korea and Japan. Can you ever find a better exponent of Elastico than Ronaldinho? We doubt.
7. Franz Beckenbauer
Labelled ‘The Emperor’ by his fans, this outstanding German is only one of the two to have clinched the World Cup as a player (in 1974) and as a manager (in 1990) for of the same team (West Germany). He spent a bulk of his professional club career with Bayern (439 appearances of out 572 total ones) and scored 64 goals there along with winning 103 caps for West Germany.
But he was quite more than goals, he was a dynamic leader on the field known for his elegant style. His notable awards include Ballon d’Or (1972, 1976); FIFA Order of Merit (1984); and FIFA Centennial Player and Football Personality Award (2004). An influential footballing figure par excellence!
6. Zinedine Zidane
Watch any of Zizou’s video clips and you know why he is regarded amongst the best soccer players in the world. Glue-like ball control, superior vision, and superb playmaking ability helped him win the FIFA World Player of the Year thrice (1998, 2000 and 2003) and Ballon d’Or (1998).
While he spent his best years at Juventus and Real Madrid, he also led France to clinch the 1998 FIFA World Cup and the 2000 Euros. The Real legend had a wide range of skills at his disposal from the pirouette to the magnificent step over; no wonder why in 2002, he found a place in the FIFA World Cup Dream Team. We still are in awe of his duel in the 1998 World Cup final. Are you too?
5. Johann Cruyff
This Dutch forward-cum-playmaker kicked off his career at Ajax in 1964 and in his first 9 years at this club scored nearly 200 goals from 240 appearances before he moved to Barcelona to net in almost 50 from around 140 matches. On the international stage, Cruyff led the Orange Army to the 1974 FIFA World Cup final and won the Golden Ball prize. His most notable achievements, among others, is wining the Ballon d’Or thrice (1971, 1973, and 1974).
This Dutch masterclass is known to be the most avid exponent of the ‘Total Football’ philosophy. The former Ajax man also figured in the FIFA World Cup Dream Team of 2002. Did you miss the widely-celebrated ‘Cruyff turn’ that he pulled off in the 1974 World Cup final? If you did, go watch it now!
4. Diego Maradona
This Golden Boy from Argentina, who started his professional career in 1976, has much-coveted accolades to his name. Most notable ones include the FIFA Player of the 20th Century (2000), that he shares with Brazil’s Pele, and the Golden Ball for the 1986 FIFA World Cup that Argentina won. In his club life, this number 10’s extraordinary ball control, dribbling, vision, speed, and passing helped him make Napoli one of the strongest forces in Italian football.
The former striker also won the South American Footballer of the Year twice (1979, 1980) and figured in the FIFA World Cup Dream Team of 2002. Watching this footballing genius dribble past five England players and scoring during the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals was something special. It was awarded “The Goal of the Century” by FIFA in 2002.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo
The Portuguese footballing superstar has been hailed as the best football player in the world by critics and legends alike. Other argue. Nevertheless, his achievements alone would be worth a whole book. Ronaldo started grabbing massive eyeballs during his time at Manchester United (2003 – 2009) where he marshalled the English club to 3 successive Premier League titles, a UEFA Champions League title, and a FIFA Club World Cup.
He upped the ante even more after moving to Real in 2009: he stands as Los Galacticos’ all-time leading goalscorer and UEFA Champions League’s all-time leading goal scorer. The former Sporting Lisbon star also helped Madrid to 2 UEFA Champion’s League titles and 2 FIFA Club World Cup titles. Ronaldo has 4 Ballon d’Or awards to his name, the most for a European player, and one FIFA World Player of the Year title. Take a bow for your stellar work, Mr. Ronaldo!
The name itself is synonymous with footballing greatness packed inside an athletic body and a beautiful soul. During his time at Santos (1956 – 1974), he scored 619 goals from 638 appearances, a feat no one has been able to replicate for the club. Pelé also stands as an all-time leading goalscorer for Brazil netting 77 goals from 91 games, which led to him winning a record 3 FIFA World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970).
His eccentric playmaking ability coupled with an eye for remarkable goals got him the FIFA Player of the Century title that he shares with Maradona. He also received the FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur in 2013 for his stellar footballing career and achievements. Now you know why he’s called ‘The King of Football’!
1. Lionel Messi
At the very top of our ‘best football players of all time’ list stands the Messiah, as his FCB fans call him. The Argentine wonder boy may be shy and timid but his records speak load and clear: 5 FIFA Ballon d’Or awards; 3 European Golden Shoes; most goals scored (332) and assists in La Liga. His international statistics show similar greatness if not more:
Argentinian national team’s all-time leading scorer (57 goals) and the Golden Ball for 2014 FIFA World Cup. Barcelona’s goal-scoring machine has also been named the UEFA Best Player in Europe twice (2011, 2015) and has featured in the FIFA World Cup Dream Team of 2014. So, a big round of applause and even bigger amount of respect to admire Leo’s prolific feats!