The golden game, known as soccer to Americans and Australians but to the world at large as FOOTBALL, is the globe’s most popular sport.
That means there’s serious competition to be in the 10 greatest footballers of all time. When compiling our list, we decided to take a combined approach focusing on the perfect blend of talent and success.
Talent is what gives a footballer the possibility to be great. Success is what happens when that talent gets put to good use on the pitch. To be truly great, a player needs to have both of these things.
The blokes on this list have both in spades. Click through to read more and fight it out over your favorite in the comments!
#10 FERENC PUSKAS
Ferenc Puskas was playing football a long time before the other players on our list. He won the final of the 1954 World Cup as part of the Hungarian national team.
He also picked up 10 national championship titles (5 in his native Hungary, 5 in Spain) and was the record goal scorer in his league 8 out of those 10 times.
He scored in nearly every single game that he took to the pitch for; 84 goals in 85 matches for Hungary, and 514 goals in 529 matches in league sides. There’s no doubt about it – Ferenc Puskas is one of the game’s all-time greats.
#9 MICHEL PLATINI
His modest nickname, Le Roi (The King), tells you all about Michel Platini’s playstyle. He wasn’t just a great footballer – he was also the man to lead his national side.
He won the Ballon d’Or 3 times during his career and has been named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour for his services to the game.
He’s won Serie A, the European Championship, starred in two World Cup semi-finals and for a long time was France’s record goal scorer despite his role as a playmaker rather than a striker. He’s still holding the record for the most goals scored in European Championship football, even though he only appeared in one European Cup tournament.
Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima is known to all fans of the game as simply “Ronaldo.” He was nicknamed “The Phenomenon” during his playing career.
He won the World Cup at 17 and received the Golden Ball in the 1998 tournament for giving Brazil a boost to the final before collapsing hours before the game from a convulsive fit. Still, it didn’t stop him from winning his second World Cup in 2002 where he was also the tournament’s number one goal scorer.
He’s won the FIFA World Player of the Year three times and the Ballon d’Or twice. His speed on the pitch and clinical finishing put him in a league of his own.
#7 CRISTIANO RONALDO
If there is one player on this list that looks set to rise up it, it’s Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese player matured at Manchester United where he won the FA Cup, 3 Premiership titles and the Champions League.
He moved on for a world record $132 million to Real Madrid in Spain where he’s taken one La Liga title, two Copas del Rey and the Champions League twice again.
He is the only player in European history to have won four European Golden Shoe awards and is considered, along with Messi, to be the world’s best player in the modern game.
#6 ZINEDINE ZIDANE
This Frenchman will always be remembered for his head butt on an opponent in a World Cup final, but should be remembered for his incredible skills on the ball instead.
Zinedine Zidane was named the best European footballer of the last 50 years in the UEFA Golden Jubilee poll. He won La Liga and the Champions League with Real Madrid and grabbed two Serie A wins with Juventus, where he also broke the world transfer record fee with a cool 75 million Euro spent on him.
He won the Word Cup with France in 1998 and then went on to grab the UEFA Euro 2000 trophy with France, as well.
#5 FRANZ BECKENBAUER
“Der Kaiser” (The Emperor) was Franz Beckenbauer’s nickname on the pitch, and while nobody remembers who gave it to him, it certainly reflects his incredible ability to boss the field as both a midfielder and central defender.
He won the European Footballer of the Year, the World Cup with Germany (and would later return to win the World Cup again, this time as the manager of the German side), he won the European Cup and European Championship and was the first team captain to do so ever.
He also won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup three times as captain for Bayern Munich, the only captain ever to achieve this feat.
#4 JOHAN CRUYFF
The Netherlands is a tiny country consisting of even smaller states in Western Europe. So it came as a total surprise when the Dutch reached the finals of the 1974 World Cup on the back of a new strategy they called “total football.”
Johan Cruyff was the total footballer who was instrumental in this. He picked up the golden ball as player of the tournament and his cheeky feint on the pitch was given his name: “the Cruyff Turn.”
He didn’t do badly at club level either, helping his team Ajax take 8 national titles, 3 European cups and the Intercontinental cup. He also shone at Barcelona where they won La Liga in his first season and he was named European Footballer of the Year.
#3 LIONEL MESSI
What Pele was to the 20th Century, Lionel Messi is to the 21st Century. While Messi hasn’t won a world cup, he has dominated in one of the most competitive leagues in the world – the Spanish La Liga.
He holds the world record for the most goals scored in a football season (82) and in a single La Liga season (50). He’s won the Ballon d’Or no less than 5 times, also a world record. He was the first ever European player to pick up three European Golden Shoes, too.
And let’s not forget Barcelona’s success with Messi in the side which includes 8 La Liga wins and 4 Champions League titles.
#2 DIEGO MARADONA
There’s always a sharp intake of breath when Maradona’s name comes up in England thanks to his “Hand of God” goal against the English that knocked them out of the world cup. There is no doubt that Maradona was one of the most gifted footballers ever to grace the pitch.
Renowned for his ability to dribble the ball, Maradona near single-handedly dragged Argentina to a World Cup win in 1986.
His club career in Europe started badly at Barcelona, but he achieved great things for Italy’s Napoli including two Serie A wins and a group of other trophies.
Sadly, he’ll probably be more remembered for his eventual drug use and weight gain than for his football.
There may be disagreements about some of the players on our list, but there will be no argument that Pele is considered to be the greatest player of the 20th century and quite possibly of all time.
While Pele’s club career was nothing to write home about, mainly because he played for Santos and for a stint in the American league, neither of which are considered to be at the pinnacle of the beautiful game, he was an international superstar.
Playing for Brazil, Pele’s team brought home the world cup in 1958, 1962 and 1970. No other player in history has come close to this level of success on the international stage.