Skip to main content

Top 10 Best Football (Soccer) Players of All Time

Thomas Swan has been an avid fan of the English Premier League and European football for more than 25 years.

Many argue that Pelé was the greatest footballer of all time.

Many argue that Pelé was the greatest footballer of all time.

Who Are the World's Best Footballers?

The creativity and zeal that typify "the beautiful game" of football (soccer) would render it an art form if not for the physical context within which the sport is played. What distinguishes football from most other sports is the freedom of expression granted to the players. While baseball players and cricketers are limited to specific movements, footballers may shoot, pass, tackle or dribble the ball in any variety of ways, allowing the most talented players to reach the peak of the game.

Only Retired Players Were Considered for This List

This list does not include currently active stars such as Lionel Messi and Ronaldo. They can be properly judged once their careers are over. The list includes retired players from the entire recorded history of the modern game.

YouTube videos are used to showcase the skills of the players listed. The Zidane and Diego Maradona videos are recommended for newcomers to the sport who wish to see a demonstration of the artistic brilliance of the sport.

10. George Best, Northern Ireland

Full name: George Best

Life: May 22, 1946–November 25, 2005

Height: 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)

Playing positions: Winger, attacking midfielder

George Best's career was plagued by drink problems, but his talent was almost unparalleled. Famed for his dribbling abilities, he won the 1968 European Cup and two league titles during his time with Manchester United. As an attacking midfielder, he scored a remarkable 205 goals in 579 games and won the Ballon d'Or in 1968. As Northern Ireland has never been a force in international football, he never made an impact on that stage. At the age of 28, his alcoholism sent his career into rapid decline, and he never achieved as much as his talent promised.

9. Zinedine Zidane, France

Full name: Zinedine Yazid Zidane

Date of birth: June 23, 1972

Height: 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)

Playing position: Attacking midfielder

Zidane's strengths are his individual skill, ball control, physical strength and passing. His best performances were often in the most decisive games, demonstrating a character not seen in many other sportsmen. As a central midfielder, he scored 159 goals in 789 games. With France, he won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championships. With Juventus and Real Madrid, he won three league titles and one European Cup. After retiring, Zidane brought his intelligence to football management, guiding Real Madrid to three consecutive European Cups.

Scroll to Continue

8. Alfredo Di Stéfano, Argentina

Full name: Alfredo Stéfano Di Stéfano Laulhé

Life: July 4, 1926–July 7, 2014

Height: 1.76 m (5 ft 9.5 in)

Playing position: Forward

The first forward on the list has to be Alfredo Di Stéfano. With 511 goals in 702 games, he was a prolific goalscorer for Real Madrid. He wasn't your conventional striker, though; he appeared all over the pitch, tackling, passing and dictating the play. He was the most complete player ever to grace the game.

With Real Madrid, he won an incredible five European Cups, scoring in all of the finals. He won 13 league titles in his career (1945–1966). His international record is poor due to not featuring in a World Cup, although he did win a Copa America with Argentina.

7. Ferenc Puskás, Hungary

Full name: Ferenc Purczeld (his father changed the family name to Puskás when Ferenc was 10)

Life: April 1, 1927–November 17, 2006

Height: 1.72 m (5 ft 8 in)

Playing position: Forward

Ferenc Puskás was probably the most precise goalscorer ever. Combining his finishing prowess with a general intelligence and ability to invent new skills (such as the drag-back), he scored a sensational 700 goals in 705 appearances during his career (1943–1966). For Real Madrid, he won three European Cups and five league titles. In Hungary, he won a further five league titles. At the international level, he led Hungary to the 1954 World Cup Final.

6. Franz Beckenbauer, Germany

Full name: Franz Anton Beckenbauer

Date of birth: September 11, 1945

Height: 1.81 m (5 ft 11.5 in)

Playing position: Sweeper

Franz Beckenbauer was a sweeper (a ball-playing defender who contributed to attacks) but that didn't stop him scoring 111 goals in 776 appearances for Germany and Bayern Munich. Much like Di Stéfano, he never had a true position on the pitch; he was literally everywhere at once, dictating the game, exerting his influence, and "sweeping up" opposition attacks that broke through the defensive line.

Beckenbauer was the ultimate captain, but combined with his dribbling, passing and all-round technical ability, he was one of the greatest players ever. He won the 1974 World Cup and the 1972 European Championships, as well as three European Cups and eight league titles during his club career.

5. Michel Platini, France

Full name: Michel François Platini

Date of birth: June 21, 1955

Height: 1.79 m (5 ft 10 in)

Playing position: Attacking midfielder

Michel Platini was an attacking midfielder, scoring 353 goals in 652 games. He was an excellent passer and free-kick taker, but he combined this with ruthless goal-scoring ability. Almost single-handedly, he guided France to the 1984 European Championships, scoring nine goals in the process. He lifted the European Cup with Juventus, and he also won three league titles in his club career.

4. Zico, Brazil

Full name: Arthur Antunes Coimbra

Date of birth: March 3, 1953

Height: 1.72 m (5 ft 8 in)

Playing position: Attacking midfielder

Often removed from top 10 lists due to his lack of achievements, Zico's footballing ability was never in question. With 527 goals in 769 games, he was not only a prolific goalscorer but also a remarkable creator of goals with a deft touch and an ability to produce unique shots and skills. As an attacking midfielder, he further combined his talents with heading ability and free-kick mastery to be one of the most complete offensive players ever.

He made the famed Liverpool side of the 1980s look like amateurs in the 1981 Intercontinental Cup. He also won the South American equivalent of the European Cup, the Copa Libertadores, and four league titles.

3. Johann Cruyff, Netherlands

Full name: Hendrik Johannes Cruijff (internationally spelled Cruyff)

Life: April 25, 1947–March 24, 2016

Height: 1.78 m (5 ft 10 in)

Playing positions: Forward, attacking midfielder

Johann Cruyff had the skill, control and strength of Zidane and the dribbling and pace of George Best. He was the total footballer, combining a sublime gracefulness with a clinical ability and calculating intelligence. Cruyff was a prolific goalscorer as well, scoring 401 goals in 710 appearances from attacking midfield. He won three European Cups and 10 league titles, but he wasn't able to gain an international medal.

2. Pelé, Brazil

Full name: Edson Arantes do Nascimento

Date of birth: October 23, 1940

Height: 1.73 m (5 ft 8 in)

Playing positions: Forward, attacking midfielder

Pelé was the ultimate goal-scoring machine in his native Brazil, and he is often ranked the best player ever to grace the sport. He scored an incredible 1,282 goals in 1,366 games. His sheer power, strength, pace and dribbling ability saw him score all varieties of goal for fun.

He brought his goal scoring to the World Cup, which saw Brazil win the tournament in 1958, 1962 and 1970. He also won two Copa Libertadores and five league titles. These victories saw him within teams of highly talented players, including Garrincha and Carlos Alberto. He became a symbol for these teams, and as a result he is often accredited with all of the praise.

1. Diego Maradona, Argentina

Full name: Diego Armando Maradona

Date of birth: October 30, 1960

Height: 1.65 m (5 ft 5 in)

Playing positions: Attacking midfielder, second striker

Diego Maradona's talent was without a doubt the greatest ever seen in football. His dribbling ability was mesmerizing, his goal-scoring was unique and clinical, and his passing and crossing were precise—earning him many assists in his career. From attacking midfield he scored 345 goals in 680 games.

With a much more difficult career than Pelé, he still won the 1986 World Cup with Argentina as well as three league titles and one UEFA Cup with Napoli. Against England, he scored one of the greatest goals of all time.

Honorable Mentions

Many players marginally missed out on making this list. Honorable mentions should certainly go to:

  • Eusébio: Striker, Portugal
  • Marco van Basten: Striker, Netherlands
  • Garrincha: Winger, Brazil
  • Dennis Bergkamp: Striker, Netherlands
  • Rivaldo: Attacking midfielder, forward, Brazil
  • Gerd Müller: Striker, Germany
  • Ronaldo: Striker, Brazil
  • Romário: Striker, Brazil
  • Giuseppe Meazza: Forward, Italy
  • Xavi: Central midfielder, Spain
  • Ronaldinho: Attacking midfielder, Brazil

Possible Future Additions

Current players making a case to join this list in the future would include:

  • Lionel Messi: Forward, Argentina
  • Ronaldo: Forward, Portugal
  • Andrés Iniesta: Central midfielder, Spain
  • Neymar: Forward, Brazil

Final Thoughts

In summary, "the beautiful game" has witnessed many geniuses on the field. Whether you are a football fan or not, these videos should demonstrate the artistic brilliance and unique talent shown by the best players of all time.

While some of the picks may be controversial, remember this is a top 10 list of the best football players, not the greatest. While pure ability and talent often result in trophies, so does being in a team of other talented players. If Messi won a World Cup, it would make him a greater player, but it wouldn't make him a more talented player.

© 2012 Thomas Swan


hearn says on September 16, 2020:

1. Maradona


3. Pele

goat232 on September 16, 2020:

maradona goat

human on September 13, 2020:

Of course Cruyff and Maradona, Maradona carried Argentina Cruyff is legendary, Pelé is a fraud that got carried by Garrincha and the others, Bad defenders and no offside rule...

Rohin on September 07, 2020:

1. Pele


3. Messi