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Ranking the 5 best attacking midfielders of all time

Sourya C
Modified 07 Nov 2020, 10:39 IST

#3 Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane of Juventus
Zinedine Zidane of Juventus

Zinedine Zidane captured the word's imagination with his two headed goals in the 1998 FIFA World Cup final against Brazil that took France to the top of the world. But he had already established his brilliance in the preceding years while plying his trade with Italian giants Juventus.

His legacy as the best midfielder of his generation would only grow in the next few years, along with his uncanny ability to score brilliant goals in key games.

Who can forget his heart-stopping volley in the 2001-02 Champions League final? But Zidane was much more than that. His ethereal ability to find space for himself and find a defence-splitting pass to go with his magical close-control and vision will ensure that he will feature in most all-time great lists of the game.

#2 Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff
Johan Cruyff

A great footballer who played on both sides of that invisible line that separated the forwards and attacking midfielders in Rinus Michels' legendary and ethereally fluid Total Football system, Johan Cruyff was not just a footballer. He was a cultural icon, an ideologue and an iconic figure in the history of the game.


A footballer extraordinaire, Cruyff also valued the aesthetics of the sport and read the game like an expert soothsayer, understanding situations before they developed.

He made Ajax the best team in the world and took Netherlands to the final of the 1974 FIFA World Cup. As a manager, he created the blueprint for the modern Barcelona side.

Cruyff, like all greats of the game, transcended his achievements through his persona and influence. He was named the European Footballer of the Century by IFFHS and was ranked behind Pele in the World Player of the Century category by the same organisation.

#1 Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona

Just days ago when Diego Maradona was in the hospital for a surgery to remove a subdural hematoma, days after his 60th birthday, his fans had gathered outside to pray for their hero. That is the kind of following the Argentine magician still enjoys years after quitting the sport. For many, Maradona is not just the best attacking midfielder in the history of the sport, but the greatest player ever. Period.

We will not delve into the eternal Maradona vs Pele debate here, but we'll focus on why Maradona was simply the best in his position. Like Cruyff, Maradona's legacy transcends numbers.

He might have won two fewer FIFA World Cups than his Brazilian rival. He might have got into controversies galore, but Maradona provided moments of magic that are unlikely to be replicated.

His 'Hand of God' goal and 'Goal of the Century' came in the same controversial FIFA World Cup game against England in 1986. They symbolically represented the two poles of Maradona's footballing persona. While he purposely handled the ball into the net for the first, he dribbled past five English players after receiving the ball in his own half and feinted past the keeper Peter Shilton before slotting it home.

At his best, Maradona was the greatest dribbler, greatest passer and the most creative player the game has ever seen. He scored 34 times in 90 games for La Albiceleste, with most of his strikes being beauties.


Aside from putting in possibly the best individual performance in a FIFA World Cup where he captained Argentina to the trophy (1986), Maradona also turned around the fortunes of a beleaguered Napoli, becoming a hero in Naples and transforming the mood of an entire city.

Diego Maradona also broke the world record transfer fee twice. As long as football lives on, attacking midfielders will aspire to be like el Pibe de Oro, a truly legendary playmaker in the game's rich history.

Honourable mentions:

Zico, Roberto Baggio, Ruud Gullit, Gianni Rivera and Andres Iniesta.

Published 07 Nov 2020, 01:40 IST
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