The 10 Best Soccer (Football) Players of All Time

Updated on August 17, 2019
Layne Holmes profile image

Layne is a former California State Cup champion and was a college soccer recruit. She refereed college intramural soccer.

Top 10 Football (Soccer) Players of All Time
Top 10 Football (Soccer) Players of All Time | Source

10 Best Soccer Players From Around the World

Are you a football or soccer fan? Do you eat, sleep, live, and breathe soccer? If you're just as obsessed as the rest, then you are probably wondering which players take the title for best players of all time. Well, you're in luck—from South America to the USA, from English Premiere to Copa América . . . here are the best athletes of all time.

10 Best Football (Soccer) Players of All Time

  1. Pelé (Brazil)
  2. Mia Hamm (USA)
  3. Lionel Messi (Argentina)
  4. Homare Sawa (Japan)
  5. Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Brazil)
  6. Marta Vieira da Silva (Brazil)
  7. Hidetoshi Nakata (Japan)
  8. Julie Foudy (USA)
  9. Diego Maradona (Argentina)
  10. Christine Sinclair (Canada)
  11. Honorable Mention: Megan Rapinoe (USA)

Pelé
Pelé | Source

1. "Pelé" or Edson Arantes do Nascimento

  • Team: Brazil
  • Position: Forward
  • FIFA World Cup Champion: 1958, 1962, 1970
  • Stats: 650 goals in 694 league matches; 1281 goals in 1363 games
  • Net worth: 100 million; the highest paid athlete in the world during his career

Anyone vaguely familiar with football knows the name Pelé. Did he really score over 1,000 goals? Yes. He is considered the most successful goal-scorer in football history (but Arthur Friedenreich had 1,329 goals).

Edson Arantes do Nascimento is considered one of the greatest football players of all time. Born in 1940, Pelé is now retired, but he played for the Brazilian team as forward. He was voted World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) and won FIFA Player of the Century and Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee.

Why do they call him Pelé?

Pelé was originally nicknamed "Dico" but got the name Pelé from mispronouncing his favorite football player's name, Bilé, frequently during his school days.

Mia Hamm
Mia Hamm | Source

2. "Mia Hamm" or Mariel Margaret Hamm-Garciaparra

  • Team: USA
  • Position: Midfielder, Forward
  • FIFA World Cup Champion: 1991, 1999
  • Olympic Gold Medals: 1996, 2004
  • Stats: 275 matches (USA national team),158 goals
  • Net worth: $10 million

Mia Hamm is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and two time FIFA World Cup champion. She played in four FIFA World Cups and competed with the U.S. women's national team for 17 years. Mariel Margaret Hamm-Garciaparra was born in Alabama in 1972. As a US athlete, she had one of the biggest fan bases during her career, inspiring millions of aspiring young female soccer players worldwide.

Mia Hamm received the title for FIFA World Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002. She was one of the youngest athletes to win the World Cup in 1991 at the age of 19. She also won Soccer USA's "Female Athlete of the Year" five times from 1994 to 1998.

Mia Hamm Greatest Moments

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi | Source

3. "Leo" Lionel Messi

  • Team: Argentina national team, Barcelona
  • Position: Forward
  • Stats: 695 goals (club/national team); most goals in La Liga (419), 8 hat-tricks UEFA Champ. League, 169 assists La Liga, and 12 in the Copa América.
  • Net worth: Highest paid athlete in the world Forbes in 2019.

Lionel Messi, or Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini, was born in 1987 in Argentina. He's a forward and the captain for both the Argentina national team and Barcelona. Messi has 5 Ballon d'Or awards, 6 European Golden Shoes, and 34 trophies with Barcelona, setting a club record.

Fans wonder who is better, Ronaldo or Messi? Many argue Ronaldo is an all-around better player, scoring 126 goals (Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus), whereas Messi has 112 (Barcelona). Messi began playing at an early age. He overcame setbacks from a growth hormone deficiency, during which he moved to Barcelona and received healthcare assistance. That's when he joined the FC Barcelona youth league.

Leo Messi Red Card

Messi FAQs

Who has Messi played for?

Messi has played for FC Barcelona and the Argentina national team.

How many red cards as he received in his career?

Messi has received one red card in a game for Argentina. It happened in the first 2 minutes when he was substituted in. He has not been red carded since.

What was Messi's first jersey number?

Messi is famously known for wearing jersey number 10, but he wore 19 for FC Barcelona.

Homare Sawa assists Yuki Ogimi (17) for the goal against Hope Solo 2012.
Homare Sawa assists Yuki Ogimi (17) for the goal against Hope Solo 2012. | Source

4. Homare Sawa

  • Team: Japan, Atlanta Beat (WUSA)
  • Position: Forward
  • FIFA World Cup Champion: 2011
  • Olympic Silver Medal: 2012
  • Stats: 81 international goals—Japanese female-best; a hat trick in the 2011 World Cup (v. Mexico).

Homare Sawa was named FIFA Women's World Player of the Year in 2011. She was the captain of Japan's national team in 2011 which won the World Cup title and the silver medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Sawa was born in Tokyo in 1978 and started playing soccer when she was 6 years old; she trained with her brother's soccer team.

Sawa also played for the Atlanta Beat with the establishment of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) in 2001. She is know for scoring the first goal in the club's history. Sawa played for Nippon TV Beleza until 2008 during which she was named Women's Player of the Year for the Asian Football Confederation in 2004. She was named MVP in 2006 and 2008 for the L. League; Nippon TV Beleza won the league's championship four times.

Best Goal in FIFA Women's World Cup History

Who had the best goal in FIFA Women's World Cup history?

Many argue that in the 2011 World Cup (Germany), Sawa scored the best goal of all time. It was off of a corner kick from Aya Miyama. Sawa volleyed the waist-high ball with a heel flick, scoring against Hope Solo.

Ronaldinho Gaúcho
Ronaldinho Gaúcho | Source

5. Ronaldinho Gaúcho or Ronaldo de Assis Moreira

  • Team: Brazilian national and club, Barcelona, A.C. Milan
  • Position: Midfielder, forward
  • FIFA World Cup Champion: 2002
  • Stats: 97 matches played for Brazil national team, 33 goals

Ronaldo de Assis Moreira was born in 1980 in Brazil. Known as an extremely technical, accurate, and talented ball handler, he received 2 FIFA World Player of the Year awards and a Ballon d'Or. He signed with Barcelona in 2003 which he played for from 2003-2008, A.C. Milan from 2008-2011, and then returned to play for Brazilian club teams, scoring a total of 167 goals in his senior career. He played 97 matches for the Brazil national team, scoring 33 goals. His name was added to the FIFA 100, which is a list compiled by Pelé of the world's greatest football players.

Ronaldinho Gaúcho Best Skills & Goals

6. "Marta" or Marta Vieira da Silva (Brazil)

  • Team: Brazilian national team, Orlando Pride
  • Position: Forward
  • Olympic Silver Medal: 2004, 2008
  • Stats: 112 international goals scored

"Marta" or Marta Vieira da Silva, is Swedish-Brazilian and was born in Brazil in 1986. She holds the record for the most goals scored in FIFA World Cup tournaments. According to Pelé, Marta is one of the best female football players in the world. She is the 6 time recipient of the FIFA World Player of the Year award from 2006 to 2010 and in 2018. In January 2013, she was named 1 of 6 ambassadors of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Brazil, and was 1 of 6 to carry the Olympic flag.

Marta was excluded from playing soccer when she was younger because of her gender but eventually joined a males junior team. She is a huge inspiration for young football players worldwide.

“This is what I ask of the girls. There’s not going to be a Formiga forever. There’s not going to be a Marta forever. There’s not going to be a Cristiane. The women’s game depends on you to survive. So think about that. Value it more.

— Marta

7. Hidetoshi Nakata (Japan)

  • Team: Japan
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Stats: 203 appearances, 25 goals, 29 assists

Hidetoshi Nakata is considered one of the greatest Japanese soccer players of all time. He is the recipient of the Asian Football Confederation Player of the Year award in 1997 and 1998. He played for Japan in the World Cup in 1998, 2002, and 2006 and on the Olympic team in 1996 and 2000.

In 2005 he was made Knight of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity, an extremely prestigious honor. Nakata retired at the age of 29 after playing for 10 years which included Italian club and English Premier. Nakata made Pelé's FIFA 100 list. He is also heavily involved in philanthropic activity, and considered one of the greatest Japanese players of all time.

Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain
Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain | Source

8. Julie Foudy (USA)

  • Team: USA
  • Position: Midfielder
  • FIFA World Champion: Two titles
  • Olympic Medals: Gold 1996 and 2004, Silver 2000

Julie Maurine Foudy was born in 1971 in California, USA. Foudy played for the national USA team from 1987-2004 and was a team captain. She received the FIFA Fair Play Award in 1997 and was the president of the Women's Sport Foundation from 2000-2002. She and Mia Hamm were inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007. Julie Foudy is a big advocate for elevating young football players and supporting the equal pay movement:

"It's not just about equal pay. It's about equal staffing, equal investment, equal marketing. I mean, it's much bigger than just equal salary."

2007 National Soccer Hall of Fame Induction

Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona | Source

9. Diego Maradona

  • Team: Argentina
  • Position: Midfielder
  • FIFA World Cup Champion: 1986
  • Stats: 34 international goals
  • Net Worth: 100,000

Diego Armando Maradona was born in 1960 in Argentina. Nicknamed "El Pibe de Oro" or "The Golden Boy," he received the FIFA Player of the 20th Century award. He is known for his amazing leadership, ball handling skills, and playmaking skills. He won the Golden Ball award, designating him as the best player of the 1986 World Cup, Mexico. He coached Argentina in 2008 and prepared the team for the 2010 World Cup.

Diego Maradona Most Amazing Goals Ever

Christine Sinclair
Christine Sinclair | Source

10. Christine Sinclair

  • Team: Canada, Portland Thorns FC
  • Position: Forward, Midfielder
  • CONCACAF Champion: 2010

Christine Margaret Sinclair, OC (appointed Officer of the Order of Canada), was born in 1983 and is the captain of the Canadian national team. She has won Canada Soccer Player oof the Year Award 14 times and joined the senior national team at just 16 years old. She is the all-time leading scorer for Canada and holds the title for the second leading international goal scorer with 182 goals (Abby Wambach has 184). She's played in 5 FIFA World Cups (2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019) and three Olympics (2008, 2012, 2016).

Christine Sinclair Makes Goal-Scoring History

Megan Rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe | Source

Honorable Mention: Megan Rapinoe

  • Team: USA, Reign FC
  • Position: Midfielder, Wing (Outside Half)
  • Olympic Champion Gold: 2012
  • FIFA World Cup Champion: 2019, 2011 runner-up
  • Net Worth: 3 million

Megan Anna Rapinoe was born in California, USA, in 1985. She is the first player in the history of the Olympic Games to score a goal off of a corner kick. In the 2019 FIFA World Cup, she scored the opening goal off of a penalty kick in the final. She was honored with the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball award as a top scorer in the tournament and was named player of the match. She has a fraternal twin, Rachael Rapinoe, and is hugely involved in advocacy for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Athlete Ally. Rapinoe, along with the USWNT, is a leading activist pushing for the equal pay of women soccer players in the U.S..

Megan Rapinoe's Greatest Goals

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Layne Holmes

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      • Layne Holmes profile imageAUTHOR

        Layne Holmes 

        4 days ago from Bend, Oregon

        Thanks for the read, Liz. The USA women's team was really interesting to follow this year. There's been a big push for equal pay for these athletes since they have outplayed and drawn in more business than the US men's team. It's an interesting, ongoing issue. I've always been interested in the various tournaments and competitions globally, and the popularity of football in the UK.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        9 days ago from UK

        This is an interesting list. In the UK the recent world cup brought the USA team onto our tv screens and gained a lot of publicity.

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