In the history of football, there has been some truly amazing players from across the world. They have competed on the greatest national and international stages and the greatest players have carried their sides to glory, whether that’s the Premier League or the Fifa World Cup.
Each generation has had its own idols and I’m sure your fathers and grandfathers will be able to tell you the players that they adored watching from their era. These players have succeeded in putting smiles on the faces of football fans in the darkest of moments, exactly what a true entertainer should do.
10. Franz Beckenbauer
The only man to win the Fifa World Cup as a player and as a manager starts off this list and is the only defender to feature on the list. A man who revolutionised defending and inspired young players to play in defence when everyone wanted to be a striker so they could score all the goals. He captained West Germany to the 1974 World Cup during his time at Bayern Munich where he played 439 games and won four Bundesliga titles as well as 3 European Cups as captain. His nickname ‘Der Kaiser’ means ‘The Emperor’ and comes from his demanding defensive performances whilst leading his club side and international side to glory on many occasions.
9. George Best
The only British player to feature on this list is George Best. A player known for his tricky dribbling and electrifying pace and a legend in the eyes of Manchester United fans that is unfortunately sometimes known for his behaviour off the field. He was a huge figure in Man United’s journey to winning the European Cup in 1968, the year where he was named as the European Footballer of the Year. His international successes were limited as he played for Northern Ireland and only made 36 appearances. Beckenbauer called him “the best footballer who never made it to a major world final”, which is high praise indeed.
Just to clarify, this is the Brazilian Ronaldo, often referred to as the ‘original Ronaldo’. One of the greatest goal scorers of all time and a fantastic showman, the Brazilians aren’t too bad at that! A legend for the clubs he played for and his country, with whom he won two world cup winners medals (1994,2002) and one runners up medal (1998). In 2002, he won the World Cup golden boot and in 1998, he won the tournament’s golden ball as Brazil narrowly missed out. He also won the Fifa World Footballer of the Year in 1996,1997 and 2002 for his performances for club and country. He is also the only player to play for both sides that compete in El Clasico and both Milan sides, and he’s still not hated by anyone!
Real Madrid, where Ronaldo played some of his best football.
7. Zinedine Zidane
One of very few men to win the European Cup as a player and a manager and he did both with Real Madrid, a club very close to his heart. He is definitely better known for his playing career where he won the World Cup and the European Championships with France as well as the Balon d’Or once and Fifa World Footballer of the Year three times. He certainly left his legacy on the game and is continuing to do so as a manager. His winning goal against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League Final has gone down as one of the greatest (maybe the greatest) Champions League goals of all-time and it was hit with his weaker foot!
A master on and off the field.
The king of skills is considered by many people as the greatest player to ever play the game. The way he manipulated the ball can only be described as magical and his trademark moves have been practised on pitches and streets across the world. With Ronaldo, he played a huge part in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup victory and like his fellow countryman, he also won the Balon d’Or. He also got his hands of the Fifa World Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005, the latter being the same year as his Balon d’Or victory. A huge figure for Nike as one of their videos became the first to reach 1 million views on YouTube. His work for countless charities shouldn’t go unnoticed either.
The best years of Ronaldinho’s career where certainly at Barcelona.
5. Johann Cruyff
Possibly the most influential man to ever grace the game, he introduced his own style of play, Total Football, a style of play that has been attempted all over the world since its introduction. In 1999, Cruyff was voted as European Footballer of the 20th Century to go with his three Balon d’Or awards (1971, 1973 and 1974). He is someone else who has won the European Cup as a player and as a manager, he won it at Ajax as a player and as a manager at Barcelona. Whilst he was a magnificent player, the legacy he has left behind on the game has been credited as the philosophy behind Barcelona’s world domination in the last 10 years. He also has a turn named in his recognition, the ‘Cruyff turn’ is a turn he perfected as a player.
Not just a player or manager, a legacy.
4. Lionel Messi
A player considered by many as the greatest player of the modern era and by some, the greatest of all-time. His relationship with Pep Guardiola one of the many reasons why he reached the top at such a young age, where Cruyff’s philosophy of Total Football was perfectly deployed. The only player in football history to win 5 Balon d’Or awards, four of which came consecutively between 2009 and 2012 to sit alongside four UEFA Champions League winners’ medals among a huge amount of other individual and club honours. An Olympic Gold Medal is his only major honour for his national team, Argentina, as two Copa America final heartaches as well as an extra-time defeat to Germany in the 2014 Fifa World Cup final means a national honour continues to elude him.
One of his five Balon d’Ors, surely he won’t miss it if we take it!
3. Cristiano Ronaldo
The current Balon d’Or holder and former most expensive player of all time just beats his rival, Lionel Messi, in this list. Four Balon d’Or awards, one of which won during his time at Manchester United, and the other three won in his seven-year spell at Real Madrid, certainly see him strongly considered as the greatest of all-time. A player who has conquered two of the world’s greatest leagues (Premier League and La Liga) for two world powerhouses of the modern game. With three Champions League winners’ medals to his name as well as an iconic European Championships winners’ medal, he has won major trophies at club and at international level where he captained a Portugal side to glory in 2016. In my opinion, the greatest of his generation and with the privilege of seeing both him and Messi play live, I would always back up that opinion to even the biggest Leo Messi fan.
Portugal’s greatest ever player.
2. Diego Maradona
Another Argentinian player who may be seen as the greatest by millions of football fans. Remembered by most England fans for the ‘Hand of God’ goal he scored against England in the quarter final at the 1986 World Cup Final, but his other goal in that game, a 60-yard dribble from inside his own half was voted as The Goal of the Century on FIFA.com. He came joint first with Pele when fans across the world voted for the FIFA Player of the 20th Century for his performances with club sides and his national team. His greatest major honour would be the World Cup win in 1986 where he also claimed the Golden Ball award for being the best player at the tournament.
He used to be a lot more nimble!
The greatest player to ever grace the footballing world tops the list because of his impact on football across the globe in his playing days and even now decades after his retirement. The man who created the phrase ‘The Beautiful Game’ has received hundreds of honours to acknowledge just how much of a magnificent player he was. It’s fitting that he is the only player in the history of the game to win three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970) and if the Balon d’Or was around in his day, I’m sure he would hold the record for the most titles as well. Widely regarded as the only person to ever score 1000 professional goals, an amount that can only be described as superhuman. His work for charities since his retirement has been amendable and as well as being the greatest footballer ever, he is also an extremely great person. After inspiring billions of people to play “The Beautiful Game”, there is only one person who can come first in this list: Edson Arantes de Nascimento or ‘Pele’.
A smile that has inspired billions, a true sporting legend.
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