Football is perhaps the only sport that offers its audience a chance to witness instances of beauty. No other game can present the level of beauty, of sheer genius so alien to a human being’s sensibilities that it seems almost plucked from thin air.
Of course, a Michael Jordan dunk or a Roger Federer forehand come close.
The very sight of a player, meandering his way past three-four hapless defenders, is enough to fall in love with this beautiful game. And, only a few in world football have been able to master the art of dribbling.
Here, we list 10 of the greatest footballers the world has ever seen (in no particular order).
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s and not those of the site.
10. Roberto Baggio
The name Roberto Baggio is mostly associated with the quintessential picture of “the divine ponytail” standing with his head hung as Brazil celebrated their first World Cup in more than 20 years. However, his legacy was that of a showman – one which should have met a better climax.
He is considered to be one of the greatest Italian players and one of the best of his generation. With one Ballon d’Or award and one FIFA World Player of the Year award to show for his achievements, Baggio is remembered for his charisma on the ball.
Whereas Italian football is usually perceived as defensive football, Baggio was a different entity. He was an entertainer, dazzling the audience now and then with exquisite control and deft touches. His ability to beat opponents with his flair, agility, body feints or sudden changes in acceleration made him one of the greatest dribblers of the game.
Although he is considered as one of the greatest players of all time, one of his skills has always been much underrated. The very name of Pele paints the quintessential picture of an immaculate goal-machine. However, not many are aware of his capabilities of cutting through a defence.
We have revelled in his legacy, witnessed his immense goal-scoring capabilities. But seldom have we talked about his dribbling skills. That there are only a handful of videos of the Brazilian great is one of the biggest tragedies in football. However, even the limited videos are proof that Pele’s dribbling abilities were second to none.
The ball always looked like it was stuck to his feet. Pele had incredible ball control and would even manage to wriggle his way out from tight corners. He would hold on to the ball with defenders surrounding him in the 18-yard box, and still find a way out and score.
Roberto Rivellino, the moustachioed Brazilian trickster, was the star of three World Cups for his country. He was famous for his bending free kicks, vision, accurate long passing, long-range shooting, and of course, for his dribbling skills. He is also described as one of the most graceful football players ever.
However, Rivellino’s legacy lies in the fact that he was the inventor of the “flip-flap” or the “elastico”, a move famously copied by Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo amongst others. Although he is lauded as its fair-filled inventor, the Brazilian conceded that he had merely perfected the move after seeing a former teammate do it.
In any case, Rivellino was a player who loved and lived to tease and torment the opposition. His close control with his left foot was remarkable, and even Diego Maradona named the former Corinthians star as one of his inspirations while growing up.
7. George Best
Manchester United legend George Best is hailed by many as one the greatest players of all time. He was a genius on the football pitch. At United, he scored 179 goals from 470 appearances and was the club’s leading goal-scorer in four consecutive seasons.
Not only was he a goal scorer, but also a great dribbler. Some even consider him as one of the greatest dribblers of all time. Featuring primarily at right-wing, Best’s playing style combined pace, balance, skill, feints, two-footedness, and the unprecedented ability to beat the defender with ease.
Although he mainly used his right foot to cut away from the opposition’s defenders, he was equally adept with his left foot. Best used both the inside and outside of the foot to allow himself to quickly change direction or dodge tackles and create space to shoot or pass.
There is a saying in Belfast that goes like, Pele good, Maradona better, George best. And, quite simply, he was the best.
6. Johan Cruyff
Johan Cruyff was one of the mainstays of the Holland national team that gave us total football in the early 70s. Although primarily a centre-forward, his national side’s new line of football demanded more from every player and Cruyff always delivered on all fronts.
Many even regarded him to be a natural successor to Pele. Cruyff had the uncanny ability to identify the weak spots in the opposition’s defence. He would see the gap and suddenly accelerate and make his way into the penalty area. A great dribbler, he even got his signature move, the “Cruyff turn”, named after him.
His tendency of dropping deep or drifting wide was unheard of for a central forward in those days, and that is what set him apart from the rest. Incredible poise, immaculate balance, excellent ball control, an astounding burst of speed made him the complete package.
5. Ronaldo Nazario
Ronaldo Nazario or El Fenomeno, as people called him, is widely considered as the greatest ever central forward to have graced the game. Much like Pele, he too was known for his goal-scoring prowess and clinical finishing, but the Brazilian hitman was a rare breed.
He was the complete package – he could score, create and outfox his opponent at his own will. He was often seen making breathtaking solo runs and finally placing the ball past the keeper with considerable ease. Ronaldo used his trademark step-overs to significant effect.
Maybe if it weren’t for the injuries, he would have been the greatest ever player. Perhaps, he would have carved an even bigger legacy than he already has. During his prime, there was nothing that could stop him and three FIFA World Player of the Year awards stand as a testament to his greatness.
4. Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona’s career was one which was built on brilliance, blurred boundaries and, of course, spectacular over-indulgence. There have not been many who have used a World Cup as a platform to enthral the world, and Maradona was one such man.
In 1986, he sealed his legacy by delivering the most virtuoso performance ever seen at a World Cup, single-handedly leading an otherwise unexceptional Argentine team to glory. Controversial? No doubt. But yet he was adored and loved for his mercurial talent.
The Argentine was part urchin, part prince. Squat, impudent, omnipotent – he would use his low centre of gravity to great effect which made him one of the greatest dribblers in football. His immaculate control made it impossible to knock off the ball of Maradona.
He has scored one of the greatest individual goals of all time – which was later voted to be The Goal of the Century – dribbling past four English outfield players and the goalkeeper to slot the ball in the net.
With a series of awe-inspiring performances with the Brazilian national team, Ronaldinho burst onto the scene as he helped his national side to the 2002 World Cup. And then, in 2003, Barcelona managed to outbid Manchester United for his signature and the rest, as they say, is history.
Thus began the ‘age of Ronaldinho’. For the next four years, he ruled world football like no other. Everything about him seemed so majestic. From his sly feints to his sudden change in acceleration, everything he did was accompanied with a smile on his face.
Considered by many as one of the most skilful players in football, he was lauded for his technical ability and creativity. Only if his prime had lasted longer, he might just have been coveted as the best player of all time. But if anything, it was always a joy to watch him on the football pitch.
2. Lionel Messi
As the proponents of modern football turn to tactical excellence more and more to nullify the ‘threats’, there is always someone who will make all those efforts seem wasteful. And in this generation, no one stands out in that category as gracefully as Lionel Messi.
The left-footed magician arrived on the scene back in 2004 and quickly established himself as one of the bests of the current generation. Messi has a low centre of gravity due to his short stature, much like his predecessor Diego Maradona, which gives him greater agility.
He is known for his ability to change direction swiftly and evading tackles while running at a blistering pace through the opposition defence. Widely considered to be the best dribbler in the world, Messi’s capabilities are second to none.
I could go on, but I will let the five Ballon d’Or awards stand testament to the greatness of one Lionel Messi.
His peers called him “The King of Dribble”.
While most football legends are remembered by the goals they have scored, this man is remembered for his sublime dribbling. He goes by the name Garrincha and is widely regarded as the greatest ever dribbler in the world of football.
His connection with the football was unimaginable. He could do things no one ever has or will do on a football pitch. He had an air of confidence about himself when he was on the ball. Some said that Garrincha made the ball talk at his feet.
He would not only beat his opposition all ends up but also humiliate them and shatter all their confidence. Sudden acceleration, numerous body feints would see him outfox his opposition time and again. Such was his ability y to entertain in making fools of opposing players that he was referred to as Alegria do Povo (people’s joy).
Micheal Laudrup, Sir Stanley Mathews, Eusebio, Magico Gonzalez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Tom Finney, Mathias Sindelar, Ariel Ortega, Laszlo Kubala, Nicolae Dobrin, Zinedine Zidane