Do you ever feel like there’s nothing new to discover in the world of football? Well, I’m here to challenge that thought. Throughout the years, some of the greatest football players of all time have graced the field and inspired us with their unbelievable performances.
In this article, I’ll take you on a trip down memory lane and highlight 10 of the greatest footballers of all time. From their incredible achievements on the pitch to their outstanding personalities off it, these players have left an indelible mark on football history.
So let’s get started! Join me as we explore 10 of the greatest footballers who have ever lived and learn why they will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Pele spent 18 years of his professional career at Brazilian club Santos before a three-year swansong with New York Cosmos. His greatness is measured on the international stage: he’s the top scorer of the Brazil national team with 77 goals in 92 official appearances, and won three World Cups. Aged 17, he netted a hat-trick in a World Cup semi-final and twice in the final as Brazil lifted their first world title in 1958.
Often associated with the phrase “The Beautiful Game”, Pele was a complete player. He was a relentless goalscorer and a superb team player with an enviable work ethic and an ability to play across multiple attacking positions.
What Diego Maradona achieved in football cannot be viewed solely through personal records and individual achievements. He is revered to near God-like status in Argentina, who he dragged to the 1986 World Cup, and in Napoili, whom he carried to two Serie A titles.
His is a rags-to-riches story about a man who never lost his connection to the fans, and embodied all that is pure about football – good and bad. There was Diego the human, who was greatly loved, and Maradona the superstar, who reached the highest of highs on the pitch.
Lionel Messi has scored a club-record 640 goals in 742 official first-team appearances for Barcelona, which not only is more goals than any other player in Barcelona’s history, but more than the tallies of the second, third and fourth highest on that list combined.
Messi is an on-field genius whose technical ability and intelligence has seen him dominate countless games.
Cristiano Ronaldo is known for his relentless work ethic and intensity, but the talent that has seen him break multiple records across his career shouldn’t be underestimated. The Portuguese superstar has won trophies everywhere he has gone: three Premier League titles with Manchester United, two La Liga crowns with Real Madrid and, to date, two Scudetti with Juventus.
He has earned even more success on the European stage, winning the Champions League on five occasions, while also helping Portugal to their first ever major title, the European Championship in 2016.
Johan Cruyff was a wonderfully gifted footballer but beyond that, he arguably had a bigger impact on the sport than any other individual. Cruyff’s football philosophy has defined his two clubs – Ajax and Barcelona – and his nation – The Netherlands – and much of what he preached is commonplace throughout the modern game.
Cruyff won three successive European Cup trophies with Ajax along with eight league titles. While his spell with Barcelona was less productive, he nevertheless stamped his philosophy on the club and gave it an identity which remains in place today.
Zidane’s greatness was largely derived from his ability to produce his biggest moments on the biggest stage. His two goals propelled France to victory over Brazil in the 1998 World Cup final and his most iconic goal was a volley against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League decider.
He won three titles across his spells at Juventus and Madrid, and while he was sometimes viewed as a luxury player without the levels of consistency and personal records of others on this list, his legacy and ability to define key matches will stand the test of time.
Alfredo Di Stefano
Widely recognized as the world’s best player in the 1950s and 60s, Di Stefano joined Real Madrid – who controversially beat Barcelona to the signing – in 1953 and scored 308 goals in 11 seasons.
That spell included winning five European Cups – he scored in all five finals, including a hat-trick against Eintracht Frankfurt – and eight league titles. Di Stefano’s greatness is evidenced by his two Ballons d’Or awards, while he also won with the Super Ballon d’Or in 1989.
Widely recognized as the greatest defender of all time, Franz Beckenbauer also had a remarkable goalscoring record, netting 112 goals across 857 appearances for Germany and during his club career.
Beckenbauer was officially a ‘sweeper’ behind the defence, but in reality he played everywhere across the pitch, dictating the tempo and surging forward to join the attack. Beckenbauer won three European Cups with Bayern Munich alongside a European Championship and World Cup for his nation.
Ronaldinho won two FIFA World Player of the Year awards and a Ballon d’Or. He was notable for his technical skills, creativity, and as a free kicks specialist. He often uses tricks, feints, no-look passes, and overhead kicks to dodge the players.
Ronaldinho was one of the greatest showmen on the football pitch. He is without a doubt one of the greatest to ever grace the game. Ronaldinho made 97 caps and scored 33 goals for Brazil’s national team.
Famed for his dribbling abilities, he won the 1968 European Cup (now the Champions League) and two league titles during his time with Manchester United.
As an attacking midfielder, he scored a remarkable 205 goals in 579 games, and he 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.
These ten players have left indelible marks on the history of football. Whether it was through their excellence on the field, their leadership off it, or simply their sheer passion for the game, they have become part of the fabric of the sport.
Football is a team sport, but individual players have the power to make or break a game. These ten players have done both, with their incredible talents and accomplishments becoming defining moments in footballing history.
These ten greats remind us that no matter the team, a single individual can make the difference that changes the course of the game. It’s why we love football, and why we will never forget these ten legends of the sport.