10 greatest football players of all time

In picture: Cristiano Ronaldo (left) | Lionel Messi (middle) | Diego Maradona (right)
In picture: Cristiano Ronaldo (left) | Lionel Messi (middle) | Diego Maradona (right)

Since its inception, the most popular sport in the world, football, has seen its fair share of protagonists. We have seen sensational goalscorers, players who have stepped up to the plate when their teams have needed them the most. We have had midfielders who have commanded the pitch like no one could. We have also had stunning goalkeepers and defenders who have put their bodies on the line, time and time again, to stop the ball from crossing the goal line.

Picking the best out of thousands of brilliant footballers is no easy task, but there are a few names who stand out thanks to their performances and overall impact. Today, we will take a look at 10 such players who have enriched the game beyond belief.

Here are the 10 greatest players football has ever seen:


#10 Michel Platini

Cerezo of Roma AS and Michel Platini of Juventus
Cerezo of Roma AS and Michel Platini of Juventus

French legend Michel Platini was a work of art on the football pitch. He saw passes that no one could see and scored goals that no one would even dare to fathom. Platini, who scored nine goals to fire France to the European Championship in 1984, won three consecutive Ballons d’Or (1983, 1984, 1985).

The gifted attacking midfielder played his best football in Juventus' colors. Making 223 appearances for the club between 1982 and 1987, Platini scored 104 goals and claimed 31 assists in 223 appearances. His exploits took the Bianconeri to two Serie A titles, one European Cup, one European Super Cup, one Cup Winners Cup, and one Intercontinental Cup.


#9 Garrincha

Garrincha zipping past players in 1962 | Courtesy: @FIFAWorldCup
Garrincha zipping past players in 1962 | Courtesy: @FIFAWorldCup

Brazil legend Garrincha was one of the very few players in football history who did not play to win but to enjoy it. The bow-legged right-winger was an eccentric magician, one capable of bringing the best to their knees. Garrincha was supposedly so addicted to beating defenders that he would often wait for them to catch up to him so that he could beat them all over again.

Before his career derailed due to disciplinary issues and a heavy drinking problem, Garrincha helped Brazil to two FIFA World Cups in 1958 and 1962. His performances at the 1962 World Cup firmly established him as one of the best, as he did not have the support of his legendary teammate Pele (injured after the first match). Garrincha scored six goals en route to glory and was awarded the World Footballer of the Year award for his impressive showings.


#8 Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid and Michael Ballack of Bayer Leverkusen
Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid and Michael Ballack of Bayer Leverkusen

The centerpiece of the France team that won the 1998 FIFA World Cup and 2000 European Championship, Zinedine Zidane is widely hailed as the greatest French footballer of all time. The Real Madrid legend was beyond explanation. He moved past defenders like they were not there, created chances at will, and scored some truly unbelievable goals.

In the 1998 World Cup final against Brazil, Zidane scored two excellent headers to take Les Bleus to a 3-0 victory. For Real Madrid, he scored an unbelievable volley in the 2001-02 Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen, sealing a 2-1 victory.

The 1998 Ballon d’Or winner nearly fired France to their second World Cup title in 2006 but a foul on Italy’s Marco Materazzi saw him sent off in the final. France eventually lost to the Azzurri in the shootout.


#7 Alfredo Di Stefano

Legendary footballer Alfredo Di Stefano with five European Cups | Courtesy: Managing Madrid
Legendary footballer Alfredo Di Stefano with five European Cups | Courtesy: Managing Madrid

Nicknamed “The Blonde Arrow”, Alfredo Di is arguably the most important player in Real Madrid’s history. The Argentine was the focal point of Los Blancos’ attack when they won the first five iterations of the European Cup between the 1955-56 and 1959-60 seasons. Their five consecutive wins put Madrid on the map as the most dominant club in Europe. Di Stefano scored in all five finals, including a hat-trick in the 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in 1960.

Di Stefano was at Real Madrid for 11 seasons. He scored 218 goals in 282 matches and bagged eight La Liga titles, amongst others. He was awarded the Ballon d’Or twice (1957 and 1959) during his legendary Real Madrid run.


#6 Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff for Netherlands | Courtesy: FIFA
Johan Cruyff for Netherlands | Courtesy: FIFA

Johan Cruyff was not only a world-class footballer, but he was a visionary of the sport. Not only did he play to win, but he also made it a point to make the game as eye-catching as possible.

Ajax, the Netherlands national team, and Barcelona were touched by the his genius and were all immensely improved.

The three-time Ballon d’Or winner guided Ajax to three consecutive Champions League titles between 1970 and 1973. He fired Barcelona to their first La Liga title in 14 years, perfectly executing Total Football, showing the club the power of tiki-taka.

Cruyff was also a member of the Dutch team that lost to West Germany in the 1974 World Cup final. With him leading the line, Holland played a scintillating brand of football, but sadly it was not enough to beat the well-drilled German machine, who picked up a 2-1 win.


#5 Ronaldo Nazario

Ronaldo of Brazil celebrates his goal with team-mate Denilson
Ronaldo of Brazil celebrates his goal with team-mate Denilson

As lethal as a bullet when in motion, Ronaldo Nazario was a force to be reckoned with in his playing days. He did not work as hard as many of his peers, but he comfortably outshone them when he stepped onto the pitch. Ronaldo could dribble with unimaginable pace, knew how to score from odd angles, and had a knack for popping up in the right place at the right time.

Ronaldo, who won the 1994 and 2002 FIFA World Cups with Brazil, scored 15 World Cup goals in 19 appearances. He is currently the second-leading goalscorer in World Cup history.

Ronaldo played for several super clubs in his career, including Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona, scoring a total of 295 goals in 452 appearances. Two-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo won two La Liga titles and a UEFA Cup, amongst other honors.


#4 Cristiano Ronaldo

Morocco v Portugal: Quarter Final - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
Morocco v Portugal: Quarter Final - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

With 819 competitive goals scored across four clubs and his country, Cristiano Ronaldo is the official all-time top scorer in men’s football. The Portugal superstar is widely hailed as one of the greatest goalscorers in the history of the game, and deservedly so. In his prime, he could dribble past the sharpest defenders, could score from unimaginable angles, and made it a point to lead by example.

Five-time Ballon d’Or winner has won every desirable accolade in the world except for the FIFA World Cup. He has bagged five Champions League trophies, seven league titles across three leagues, and the 2016 European Championship with Portugal. The superstar is currently firmly on the wrong side of 30 (37), but he still has the passion of a 20-year-old. It will be interesting to see if he can use his perseverance to fashion another grand return to the biggest tournaments in football.


#3 Diego Maradona

Maradona was Argentina's World Cup hero in 1986
Maradona was Argentina's World Cup hero in 1986

The undisputed hero of Argentina’s FIFA World Cup campaign in 1986, Diego Maradona was a magician with the football at his feet. En route to FIFA World Cup glory in 1986, Maradona scored the the “Hand of God” and the “Goal of the Century,” both coming in a 2-1 win over England in the quarter-finals. While the first was cheekily scored with the help of his hand, the second saw him dribble past the entire English backline, including goalkeeper Peter Shilton, before slotting it home.

Maradona is also Napoli’s greatest-ever player, with him scoring 115 goals for them in 257 appearances to almost single-handedly drag them to two Serie A titles. Needless to say, the Serie A defenders were not too happy with his dribbles, quick change of direction, and deft touches, but even the best of the best couldn’t stop him in his tracks. In full flight, the former Barcelona man was a terrorizing presence.


#2 Lionel Messi

Argentina v France: Final - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
Argentina v France: Final - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

Lionel Messi completed his trophy collection by winning the 2022 FIFA World Cup at France’s expense on Sunday, 18 December. He scored seven goals and claimed three assists over the course of the tournament, claiming his second FIFA Golden Ball (Best Player of the Tournament) for his exploits. He is the only player in history to win the FIFA Golden Ball twice.

Messi, who is Argentina’s all-time top scorer with 98 goals in 172 appearances, has enjoyed an unmatched career in club football. He has scored a whopping 695 goals and claimed 332 assists across Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, winning 11 league titles and four Champions League trophies amongst other honors. His brilliance has already taken him to seven Ballons d’Or, and he is not even close to being done yet.


#1 Pele

Pele is arguably the greatest footballer of all time
Pele is arguably the greatest footballer of all time

The only player in history to win three FIFA World Cups, Pele is widely hailed as the best player in the history of football. The legendary Brazilian goalscorer, who won the FIFA World Cup in 1958, 1962, and 1970, scored a whopping 1,281 goals in 1,363 senior games for clubs and country.

Pele primarily played as an inside forward and was blessed with enviable pace, a lethal right foot, and the ability to dribble past even the most gifted defenders. Pele spent most of his career at the Brazilian club Santos. Pele, who remains Brazil’s joint top-scorer (alongside Neymar) with 77 goals in 92 games, spent nearly two decades there, winning 10 Paulista Championships, two Copa Libertadores, and two Intercontinental Cups.

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