A match on the football pitch is run by these gems. Midfielders are the players who are the engine of the team. The link between defense and attack, they can split an opposition defense with one pass or make a crucial tackle to deny a scoring chance for their opponents.
There have been some truly amazing playmakers and midfield generals to have graced the beautiful game. These era defining footballers made the game look simple and a joy to watch. Without much ado, let us take a look at the 10 greatest midfielders of all time.
#10 Michael Laudrup
Laudrup is one of the most talented players to have ever played. The elegant Dane has the unique achievement of being on the right side of a 5-0 scoreline for both Barcelona and Real Madrid in successive seasons.
A quick, intelligent and a talented playmaker, Laudrup was the gem in Johan Cruyff's famed Barcelona dream team, dictating the team's offensive play and splitting opposition defences with amazing through balls.
After a highly successful spell at Barcelona, the Danish legend made a move to Real Madrid where he proved to be equally effective, inspiring Los Blancos to a League title and overcoming Barcelona in the process.
Probably the greatest player ever to never win the Ballon d'Or, Laudrup's elegance, passing skill, and his ability to always choose the right option made him undoubtedly one of the greatest players of all time.
#9 Michel Platini
In the history of the European Championships, there isn’t a single player that made an impact quite like Platini did in 1984. As captain and the leading light in midfield, he forged an unconquerable partnership that would famously be nicknamed the ‘Magic Square’ alongside Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Luiz Fernandez.
Of the 14 goals that the French scored, Platini contributed an incredible 9, a record that stands to this day, including two perfect hat-tricks featuring goals off either foot and a header. Platini lifted the trophy in Paris, beating Spain in the final, producing a 'number 10' master class in front of his own adoring supporters.
Platini also enjoyed great success with Juventus where he won a European Cup and two Serie A titles in his career. Zidane considered Platini to be his idol, the legendary Frenchman said:
“When I was a kid and played with my friends, I always chose to be Platini. I would let my friends share between them the names of my other idols.”
A man who revolutionised the face of French football almost singlehandedly, Platini despite all his faults as an administrator is undoubtedly one of the game's greatest playmakers.
#8 Lothar Matthaus
The first and only German player to ever win the FIFA World player of the year, Lothar Matthaus is one of the greatest ever midfielders to ever grace the game. Supremely successful at both the club and country level, Matthaus was capable of playing both as a central midfielder and as a sweeper.
The legendary German played in five FIFA World Cups and holds the record for the most World Cup matches played by a single player. Matthaus’ impact on the game and the respect he had from his rivals was best epitomised by Diego Maradona’s comments:
"he is the best rival I've ever had. I guess that's enough to define him", said Maradona in his book Yo soy el Diego (I am the Diego).
Capable of creating chances and breaking opposition’s play with equal ease, Matthaus' perceptive passing, positioning and powerful shooting made him one of the most complete midfielders in the history of the game.
#7 Andres Iniesta
The diminutive Spaniard has been astonishing the footballing world since 2005 and although he is now seeing out his career at Vissel Kobe in Japan, there is no denying the fact that he is one of the greatest players of this generation.
A true gem in the crown of the Barcelona midfield, Iniesta almost has a telepathic understanding of his team mates’ positions. Always setting up goals or scoring crucial ones, Iniesta is truly a big match player, much like other Barcelona youth products such as Guardiola and Xavi.
The Barcelona legend has won numerous individual accolades in his career. Iniesta won the UEFA Best Player in Europe award in 2012, and was also chosen as the Best Player of the 2011-12 Champions League. He was runner-up to Lionel Messi for the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or and achieved third place in 2012.
The Spaniard is only one of three Barcelona players to receive a standing ovation at the Bernabeu showing how appreciated his unique qualities are. A wonderful dribbler and an excellent passer, Iniesta is the only currently active player on this list.
#6 Xavi Hernandez
Considered by many to be the greatest Spanish player ever, Xavi Hernandez is truly one of the best midfielders to ever play the game.
Having won all the major trophies club and international competition has to offer, Xavi has carved a unique place for himself in the pantheon of footballing greats. The Spaniard’s vision, pinpoint accurate passing and world class ball control allowed him to dictate the flow of play while rarely relinquishing possession.
His ability to control some matches has earned him the sobriquet, "The Puppet Master". The Barcelona legend is also known for his amazing positioning and ability to pick out the right pass every time which made him integral to both Barcelona and the Spanish national side.
Pulling the strings in midfield, Xavi was the lynchpin in Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona team and Spain’s World Cup and two-time Euro winning squad. Having made more than 180 assists in his stellar career, Xavi is definitely one of football’s all-time greats.
One of the greatest players of all time, Zico or “white Pele” as he is often known has scored an incredible number of goals from the attacking midfielder or “number 10” position. Zico was an excellent creative player gifted with extraordinary technique and vision. He was also a set-piece specialist and could score from almost any free-kick and any position on the field.
The Brazilian playmaker was often considered to be the brains of the team and he was adept at picking out passes and scoring goals as well. His goalscoring record for his clubs is absolutely sensational.
he legendary Brazilian represented a number of clubs such as Flamengo, Udinese, and he even had a spell in Japan where he famously played for Kashima Antlers and guided them to the J-League title. In his club career, Zico scored an incredible 476 goals in 698 games.
One of the true greats of the game, Zico is arguably the greatest playmaker in Brazil’s history.
The first step towards Barcelona’s dominance of modern football was achieved with the signing of Ronaldinho. One of the most skilled players ever to play the game, Ronaldinho’s signing in 2003 ushered in a new era of dominance for Barcelona.
The legendary Brazilian redefined how football was played and made everyone fall in love with the game. Blessed with immense technical skills, dribbling and creativity, Ronaldinho’s presence on the pitch always provided a bagful of goals, assists and crafty skills.
Quite easily one of the most popular players in the early 2000s, Ronaldinho won the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2004 and 2005 and also won a host of other individual accolades in his stellar career. A true Brazil and Barcelona legend, Ronaldinho made the game a joy to watch.
#3 Johan Cruyff
The man who created a whole new philosophy of ‘total football’, Johan Cruyff is rightly considered by many to be one of the most important people in football's history. Cruyff redefined the way the game was played and won the Ballon d'Or award an incredible 3 times (1971,1973,1974) during his stellar career.
In the summer of 1973, FC Barcelona came calling for the “Flying Dutchman” and signed him for a then world record transfer fee of $2 million. His arrival at Barcelona helped the Catalan giants put behind their arch-rivals Real Madrid as they thrashed them 5-0 at the Bernabeu.
Dutch journalist Hubert Smeets wrote: "Cruyff was the first player who understood that he was an artist, and the first who was able and willing to collectivise the art of sports".
A player who truly made the game beautiful, the late great Johan Cruyff will forever remain immortal in the minds of football supporters.
#2 Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane was a footballer who defined an era. Renowned for his elegance, vision, ball control and technique, Zidane was named the best European footballer of the past 50 years in the UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll in 2004.
Considered by many to be the greatest player of all time, Zidane was one of the most complete players to ever play the game and he always seemed to bring his A-game when it mattered the most.
Zidane was well respected by his peers and many of his contemporaries believed him to be the greatest footballer of his generation. Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic commented:
“Zidane was from another planet. When Zidane stepped onto the pitch, the ten other guys just got suddenly better. It is that simple.”
Ronaldinho himself said:
"Zidane is one of the best footballers of all time, one of my idols. He had such elegance and grace, a wonderful touch and superb vision."
A true legend of the game, the Real Madrid manager is poised to become as great a manager as he was a player.
#1 Diego Maradona
You knew from the beginning Diego Maradona would head this list didn’t you? The Argentine legend mainly operated in the number 10 position and is the first player in football history to set the world record transfer fee twice.
Considered the greatest football player of all time by many people, Maradona cemented his legacy when he almost single-handedly guided Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title. A classic number 10 who was the creative outlet of his team, Maradona was renowned for his dribbling, close control and vision.
His second goal against England is considered to be one of the greatest goals of all time and even fellow footballers were left in awe at what Maradona could do. Lionel Messi himself said:
"Even if I played for a million years, I'd never come close to Maradona. Not that I'd want to anyway. He's the greatest there's ever been."
Maradona is not only the greatest midfielder, he is quite possibly also the greatest player of all time.
Honourable mentions: Didi, Scholes, Gerrard, Keane, Kaka, Lampard, Luis Suarez (1960)