Top 10 Soccer Players of All Time
Whether you call it soccer or football, “The Beautiful Game” is the world’s most popular sport, by a huge margin. Over the course of the 142 years the sport has been played competitively, some incredible players have dazzled the world. Obviously it is a very objective list and there have been so many amazing players, it’s hard to cut the list down to only 10. Here are some of the honorable mentions who just missed out on the list: Lev Yashin, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lothar Matthaus, Ronaldinho, Paolo Maldin, Franz Beckenbauer, Michel Platini, and Rivaldo.
#10. Alfredo di Stefano
By far the greatest player to never play in the World Cup, Alfredo di Stefano is still worshiped by Real Madrid fans for the incredible success he brought Los Blancos in the 1950’s. Joining the club in 1953 from Colombian club Millionarios, di Stefano would play 284 matches, scoring 216 goals (the 5th highest in Real Madrid history) and deliver 5 consecutive European Champions Cups. di Stefano was born in Argentina, but played for 3 countries, spending the most time playing for Spain. Due to bad luck, di Stefano never appeared in the World Cup. In 1950 and 1954, Argentina refused to enter. In 1958, di Stefano was playing for Spain, but the Europeans failed to qualify. di Stefano looked to finally appear after helping Spain qualify in 1962, but he suffered a muscular injury just before the event and couldn’t play.
#9. Bobby Charlton
One of the most inspirational stories in soccer history, Bobby Charlton was making his name as one of the world’s greatest midfielders two years after joining Manchester United’s senior team when he was involved in the Munich air disaster. 23 of United’s players and coaching staff were killed, but Charlton was one of the few to survive. With a new determination, Charlton continued to grow as a player, and was handed his England debut two years after the air disaster. His brightest moment would come in 1966, when he helped England win their first (and only) World Cup title, at home, and won the Ballon d’Or for the planet’s greatest player. He is still viewed as one of the greatest players in Manchester United history, as well, appearing 606 times, and 106 times for England.
Mozambique-born Eusebio would go on to become Portugal’s greatest ever player. Nicknamed “The Black Pearl”, “The Black Panther”, and “o Rei” (the King) Eusebio scored 41 goals in 64 matches. His goals fired Portugal to 3rd place in the 1966 World Cup, still their greatest ever performance. In the quarterfinals, Portugal were shockingly losing 3-0 to North Korea, only Eusebio to score 4 goals to lead his country into the semifinals, where they would narrowly lose to England, before rebounding to defeat the Soviet Union for 3rd place. Eusebio was also prolific on a club level, scoring a barely believable 317 goals in 301 appearances for Benfica.
#7. Zinedine Zidane
“Zizou” started his career at Cannes before really making a name for himself at Bordeaux. Zidane began excelling for his club and the French national team, earning a move to Juventus, where he continued his incredible form, winning two Serie A titles and winning numerous individual awards. He then helped France win their first World Cup in 1998, on home soil, scoring twice in the final as France crushed Brazil 3-0, and was named on the tournament’s all-star team. In 2001, Zidane moved to Real Madrid for a world-record fee, spending 5 years at the club and making 155 appearances. He was named one of Real Madrid’s greatest ever foreign players and led France to the 2006 World Cup final, before sadly bowing out of soccer by headbutting Mario Materazzi and earning a red card. In 2004, UEFA named Zidane the greatest European footballer of the previous 50 years.
After impressing for Cruzeiro early in his career, Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima was chosen for to play for Brazil in the 1994 World Cup, despite only being 17. While he didn’t play, PSV still chose to buy him, following the World Cup. He excelled, scoring 54 goals in 58 games, and Barcelona paid a then-world record fee of $19.5 million. While he was only at Barcelona for a single season, Ronaldo dazzled the world, as “Pele returns” was blasted across headlines. He became the youngest player to ever win the FIFA Player of the Year award in 1996, at 20. Ronaldo would go on to score 15 goals in the World Cup, the most of any player, a record he still holds, firing Brazil to the 1998 final and 2002 title.
#5. Ferenc Puskas
When FIFA names an award for the most incredible goal of the year after you, you’re obviously a decent player. Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas was the key member of one of the greatest national teams in history, Hungary’s “Magical Magyars” of the 1950’s. Puskas scored 84 goals for Hungary in 85 goals, and led them to the final of the 1954 World Cup, where they were stunned by West Germany in one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history. Unfortunately, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution destroyed the national side, leaving them the greatest team to never win the World Cup. On a club level, he played 341 matches for Budapest Honved before moving to Real Madrid, where he would win 5 league titles and 3 European Champions Cups, in one of the greatest periods in the club’s history.
#4. Gerd Muller
Widely viewed as the greatest German player of all time, Gerd Muller has scored the third-highest number of international goals of anyone in history, with 68 goals in 62 games. He also scored 398 goals in 453 games for Bayern Munich, winning 3 Champions League (then known as the European Champions’ Cup) and 14 titles with the German giants. Muller played for the German national team for 8 years, ending his career by winning the FIFA World Cup in his home country in 1974, scoring in the final to lead Germany to a 2-1 victory over the Netherlands. With 14 goals, Muller was the highest-scorer in World Cup history for 42 years, until Ronaldo broke his record in 2006, playing for Brazil against Ghana, as he scored his 15th World Cup goal.
#3. Johan Cruyff
Cruyff is often unfairly forgotten in the discussion of the greatest players ever, perhaps because he was unfortunate to never win the World Cup. The truth is that Cruyff is one of the most influential players in history, and can compete with Pele and Maradona for the greatest. After winning an incredible 8 Eredivisie league titles with Ajax, Cryuff moved to Barcelona where he would make 143 appearances and become one of the greatest players in the club’s history, winning La Liga. In 1974, he led the Netherlands to the World Cup final, where they narrowly lost to West Germany 2-1. Along the way, Cruyff helped the Dutch pioneer the style known as “Total Football”. He would also perfect the “Cryuff turn” during his career, a move that is still used often by modern players.
#2. Diego Maradona
Hands down the most controversial player in history (failing drug tests for cocaine and being well known for his huge ego), there’s also a serious argument for Maradona being the greatest player in history, always fighting it out with Pele. Even FIFA couldn’t separate the two, naming them both the Player of the 20th Century. Maradona is the only player in history to set the world record for the highest fee twice, once to Barcelona and once to Napoli, where he became a superstar, where he won 5 titles in all. But Maradona is most famous for his performances for Argentina, captaining his country to two finals, as they won the 1986 World Cup. His performance against England in the quarterfinals is without a doubt the most famous individual performance of all time, as he scored the “Hand of God” and “Goal of the Century” goals.
The incredible achievements of Pele speak for themselves. He is the all-time leading league goalscorer, with 541 goals, and in total scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 games for club and country, the most of any player in history. He also won 3 World Cup titles, 1958, 1962, 1970, the only player to do so. He is also Brazil’s all-time leading goalscorer, with 77 goals in 92 matches and Santos’ record goalscorer. After appearing 638 times for Santos, winning 26 titles over the course of 18 years, he moved to New York Cosmos, where he played 56 times and was massively influential for helping promote soccer. He was named the “Athlete of the Century” by the IOC and one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century”.