Top 10 German footballers of all time
With some of the most decorated history in international football, Germany have produced great footballers over the years that we’ve grown to love. We’ve seen the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Matthias Sammer make the sweeper position their own. At the same time, we get to watch Thomas Muller revitalise football with his ability to find space no-one else can, making that Raumdeuter role his own.
While Bayern Munich may have dominated the Bundesliga, in the past two decades we’ve seen Borussia Dortmund reach the Champions League final in 2013, where they lost to Bayern – we’ve also seen VfL Wolfsburg, VfB Stuttgart, Werder Bremen and 1. FC Kaiserslautern all win the league.
With a tremendous depth of talent, here are the ten best German footballers of all time. At the same time, honourable mentions include Lukas Podolski and Philipp Lahm within modern football, while we’ve also seen players such as Jürgen Kohler, Oliver Kahn, Michael Ballack Thomas Haßler and Rudi Völler – all who are much loved by the natives.
10. Jurgen Klinsmann
Playing in six major tournaments between Euro 1988 and France 1998, Jurgen Klinsmann scored at least one goal during each tournament, scoring three or more goals in four of them, making him one of the efficient forwards in recent history.
At his peak, Klinsmann was playing alongside Inter Milan teammates Lothar Matthaus and Andreas Brehme, helping the Italian side to the 1991 UEFA Cup and Bayern to win that same European competition five years later. Klinsmann also played in the Premier League, becoming a club favourite at Tottenham Hotspur after scoring 29 goals in 56 games.
Playing for Germany between 1990 and 1998, Klinsmann scored 40 goals in 82 games, cementing himself in German football history, while he also came third in the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1995.
9. Matthias Sammer
Born in East Germany, Matthias Sammer made his debut for the unified Germany in 1990 after the West Germany team had won Italia 1990. A member of the European Championship 1992 squad, Sammer’s Germany finished runners-up to Denmark, playing as a defensive midfielder.
A move to Borussia Dortmund in 1993 and a change of position to sweeper is when Sammer excelled. His composure on the ball and ability to read the game as a defender puts him up there with some of the best players around the world. Beating the Czech Republic in the Euro 1996 final, Sammer was named Player of the Tournament.
At club level, Sammer won three Bundesliga titles, one at Stuttgart and two at Borussia Dortmund, while he also won two DFB Supercup’s and a Champions League with Dortmund, cementing himself in the club's decorated history.
8. Bastian Schweinsteiger
Bastian Schweinsteiger cemented himself in German football history after his heroic performance in the 2014 World Cup final against Argentina that saw Germany win their first title since Italia ’90.
Originally a wide player by trade, Schweinsteiger’s best football came as a central midfielder. Coming through the youth team at Bayern Munich, the German played first-team football for the Bavarians for 13 years while being regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world during his spell there.
Able to keep the ball ticking over, Schweinsteiger has a ferocious shot while his vision to pick that killer pass is a trait that only a minority of footballers possess. With eight Bundesliga titles to his name, the German is one of the most decorated footballers in history.
7. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge
Succeeding the likes of Fritz Walter and Uwe Seeler, current Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had a lot of pressure on his shoulders. Although he only ranks six in Germany’s most prolific goal scorers, he’s certainly one of the most prolific.
With an eye for goal, Rummenigge scored nine goals during three World Cup campaigns, including a hat-trick in 1982. Wherever the German ended up, he scored goals.
After his 10-year spell at Bayern, Rummenigge also featured for both Inter Milan and Servette, where his goalscoring exploits continued.
6. Fritz Walter
Regarded as one of Germany’s best players, Fritz Walter now has an award named after him, given to the best German player – previous winners have included the likes of Mario Gotze and Toni Kroos.
Born in Kaiserslautern, his hometown club is the only team that Walter played for. Winning the German championships in 1951 and 1953 before the Bundesliga’s foundation, Walter scored 357 goals in 364 games for Kaiserslautern.
Captaining the West Germany team in 1954, his leadership took the Germans to the World Cup Final, where they beat Hungary 3-2 with a goal six minutes from time by Helmut Rahn.
5. Lothar Matthaus
With 150 caps for Germany, Lothar Matthaus is the current record appearance-maker that has seen him win Euro 1980 and World Cup 1990, also coming runners-up at both World Cup ’82 and ’86.
A dynamic midfielder by trade, Matthaus got one over his nemesis, Diego Maradona, as Germany defeated the Argentine’s at the World Cup in 1990. Scoring four goals during that competition, Matthaus’ leadership is one that can certainly be admired.
Not only did Matthaus have success at the international level, he clinched seven league titles with Bayern Munich during two spells - 1984-1988 and 1992-2000, as well as a Serie A and UEFA Cup title with Inter Milan.
4. Miroslav Klose
Surpassing Gerd Muller as Germany’s record-goalscorer, Miroslav Klose also took Ronaldo’s record from him in 2014, scoring 16 goals in World Cup football, surpassing the Brazilian’s tally of 15.
Although we won just the 2014 World Cup at international level, Klose has won two league titles with Bayern Munich as well as the DFB Pokal, while he also helped Lazio clinch the Coppa Italia title in 2013, leading the line against fierce rivals, AS Roma.
A remarkable record at both domestic and international level, there are not many players better at finding the net inside the 18-yard box.
3. Franz Beckenbauer
Mastering the sweeper position and making it his own, Franz Beckenbauer has gone down in Germany folklore. Finishing second and third at the World Cups in 1966 and 1970, Beckenbauer finally got his hands on the trophy at the third attempt in 1974. ‘The Kaiser’ then won the World Cup for the second time at Italia 1990.
Not your typical defender by trade during that era, Beckenbauer was tactically aware while he had an eye for a pass. When in possession, the German would push into midfield to create an extra man – while his tactical awareness makes him one of the best defenders in football history.
Like most Germans, Beckenbauer played most his career at one club, Bayern Munich, winning the Bundesliga on four occasions, as well as the European Cup on three.
2. Sepp Maier
Germany has notoriously produced goalkeepers on a conveyor belt. Recently, we’ve seen Oliver Kahn, Jens Lehmann and Manuel Neuer wear the No. 1 but at the international level, neither has matched that of Sepp Maier.
‘The Cat’ kept four clean sheets as West Germany went on to lift the World Cup in 1974, while that decade he was undoubtedly the best goalkeeper in the world. Maier was also an integral part to the team that won the European Championship two years prior.
Winning the German Football of the Year three times, Maier played his entire club career at Bayern Munich, making just short of 600 appearances in all competitions during a career that spanned 18 years.
1. Gerd Muller
Hailed as one of the greatest footballers ever to grace the game, Gerd Muller is widely regarded as the best German player of all time.
Other than Germany’s top scorer – the accolade he lost in 2014 – there’s not much that Muller hasn’t achieved. With 68 goals in 62 games at international level, modern-day forwards in Germany will always be likened to ‘The Bomber’.
His 566 goals for Bayern Munich makes him their highest-scoring player, while also boasting the best goals-to-game ratio in the European Cup, scoring 35 in as many games. His scoring exploits has seen him lift the same honours at international level as Sepp Maier while his goals for Bayern Munich saw him clinch four Bundesliga titles and three European Cups.
Although small in comparison to modern-day forwards, Muller’s ability to leap off the ground to meet the ball in the air was something to be admired. His stocky frame made it difficult to get the ball off him while his ability to use both feet and read the game were just some of the traits he possessed to make him one of the world’s best forwards in footballing history, that also saw him win several personal accolades, including the Ballon d’Or in 1974.