The British Isles is where the beautiful game began. Football is now the world’s most popular sport and is watched and played the world over. However, despite their rich history and one of the most competitive sets of leagues in the world, only one British nation, England, has won the World Cup (and that was back in 1966).
This doesn’t mean that they don’t have a wealth of talent that turns out on the pitch each week, though. These 20 players may not all have a world cup under their belt, but they have plenty of other major silverware to boast about instead.
20 JIMMY JOHNSTONE
Scottish football legend Jimmy Johnstone, often known as “jinks” by Celtic fans was a legend at his club and has been voted their best ever player. He was also a Scottish international and received 23 caps for his country. His attacking play style was well-loved by all followers of the game.
19 DUNCAN EDWARDS
It’s quite possible that had he not perished in the Munich Air disaster along with 7 of his Manchester United teammates, that Duncan Edwards would have been at the top of this list. He scored 5 goals in 18 matches for England before his 21st birthday and was clearly a brilliant talent.
18 PAT JENNINGS
Northern Ireland’s greatest footballer was almost certainly Pat Jennings. He was a goalkeeping genius and his ability to keep a clean sheet propelled him to FA Cup glory with both Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. He even scored a goal in the 1967 Charity Shield! He represented Northern Ireland a record 119 times in international competitions.
17 JOHN BARNES
John Barnes lost a little after a serious injury to a tendon. Before that, however, he was a marvel. His play for Liverpool was exciting, thrilling and daring and all the while he proved he could control the ball perfectly whilst upping the pace constantly. Sadly, he was also the victim of constant racist abuse throughout his career.
16 KEVIN KEEGAN
Kevin Keegan picked up the title of European Footballer of the Year on two separate occasions. He was without peer on the pitch, and his courage was something to behold. His skills were near matchless, and he’s regularly considered to be the best English player of his generation, too.
15 STEVEN GERRARD
What would Steven Gerrard have achieved if he’d moved to a wealthier club? Sadly, he never won the Premiership with Liverpool, but did win the European Championship and the UEFA cup among other silverware. He wasn’t quite consistent enough for England when it counted, though he had his moments of absolute brilliance.
14 GARY LINECKER
Gary Lineker came within sight of Sir Bobby Robson’s old record of the greatest number of England goals. He is the only Englishman to have won the Golden Boot at a World Cup, and did so in 1986 with an impressive tally of 6 goals in the competition. He is now a professional football pundit.
13 GRAEME SOUNESS
An indomitable midfield player with an insane work ethic combined with flawless ball control and near perfect technique, Graeme Souness was a master of the game. He wasn’t a very nice person sometimes, but Liverpool probably forgave him for that as he helped them secure 3 European cups and 5 League Division One wins.
12 GORDON BANKS
The 2nd best goalkeeper in the world in the 20th century was Gordon Banks. He was FIFA’s Goalkeeper of the Year an incredible six times. His performances often held the entire England team together in major championships. Of course, he has no goals to his credit, but most goalkeepers don’t.
11 GARETH BALE
Gareth Bale’s performances at Tottenham Hotspur brought him the attention of the game’s elite. The Welshman broke the world transfer record when he arrived in Real Madrid, and has picked up plenty of silverware since his move. He’s also been influential in reviving Wales as an international presence after years of poor performance.
10 JIMMY GREAVES
Jimmy Greaves is Tottenham Hotspur’s greatest ever goal scorer in an era when Spurs were the top of the British game. He was the number one scorer in the league for 6 seasons while he was at Spurs. An unfortunate injury, however, prevented him from playing in the 1966 World Cup final.
9 DENIS LAW
The first Manchester United player to pick up the Ballon D’or was Denis Law. Law was absolutely feared by defenses, as his ability to slice through the midfield and put the ball in the back of the net was peerless. He was one of the game’s most aggressive but successful players.
8 RYAN GIGGS
The finest left-footed player of all time who spent 24 years at the top of the game representing Manchester United and won 24 trophies in domestic and European competitions while doing so. His move into management hasn’t gone so well, but it’s possible he’ll be doing more great things for football in the future.
7 SIR TOM FINNEY
Tom Finney was England’s leading goalscorer in his day, and won 76 caps and fired 30 balls into the net during those games.
Bill Shankly said of him, “Tom Finney would have been great in any team, in any match and in any age, even if he had been wearing an overcoat.”
6 KENNY DALGLISH
Kenny Dalglish was the most feared striker of his day. He helped Liverpool pick up six first division trophies and three European cups. He didn’t perform poorly at Celtic, either. There, he won the Scottish league four times. He was capped more than 100 times for Scotland, as well.
5 SIR STANLEY MATTHEWS
It wasn’t the hat-trick that he scored in the 1953 FA Cup Final that makes Stanley Matthews one of the all-time greats, it’s that he put that hat-trick in the net during the final 3rd of a game in which his club, Blackpool, were losing 3-1. They won 4-3. He went on to win the first ever Ballon d’Or in 1956.
4 JOHN CHARLES
Possibly the greatest all-rounder that the British game has seen, John Charles played for Leeds and Juventus during his career. He holds a remarkable record of never being sent off or even cautioned throughout all his time on the pitch and was nicknamed “the gentle giant”. He played brilliantly both in attack and defense.
3 BOBBY MOORE
Bobby Moore’s biggest contribution to football was leading the England 1966 World Cup team to glory. He wasn’t especially brilliant in any particular part of the game, but somehow when he brought everything together, he was a fearsome defender well-respected throughout football. He is fondly remembered by fans everywhere.
2 SIR BOBBY CHARLTON
Sir Bobby Charlton led something of a charmed life. He scored nearly 50 goals in an England shirt, and just shy of 250 in a Manchester United strip. He was also one of the few, fortunate survivors of the Munich Air Disaster in which many of the “Busby Babes” of Manchester United perished.
1 GEORGE BEST
The footballer that brought the most entertainment to the world is probably George Best. He was a genius, though how he would have fared in the modern game is up for debate. Sadly, despite his success on the pitch, he retired at 28 and quickly descended into alcoholism and his life became a tragedy from there on in.