Talking about the best footballers ever is often a generational thing and you tend to favour the players you grew up watching. But we’ve tried to put all loyalties aside here to try and put together a list of the 10 greatest footballers of all time.
10. George Best – Best was one third of the Holy Trinity at Manchester United, where he spent the best years of his career. Best is up there with the best dribblers of all time, a player who had flawless control over the ball. He scored 137 times in 361 games in the league for United. Best was recognised for his special abilities with the Ballon D’or in 1971. He won the European Cup once and the English First Division twice. The winger may have only played for Northern Ireland 37 times during the course of his career but he’s still a national hero, the Northern Ireland national airport has been named after the Belfast man. Best by name, best by nature.
9. Michel Platini – The attacking midfielder Played over 432 games scored 224 goals helping his sides to number of club honours. Platini is the proud owner of 3 Ballon D’or awards. Platini is one of the best passers in football history. He led his country to a European Championship win in 1984 by scoring 9 goals.
8. Johan Cruyff – The late Johan Cruyff was the main man in the Dutch team that invented ‘total football’ where players would interchange, a tactic now employed by most teams in modern football. Cruyff was the main benefactor of the new tactic as he was equally good playing on the wings or in central areas. Cruyff was the total footballer. Sadly, Cruyff never won anything with Holland and he has number 7 on this list to thank for that. However, Cruyff endured monumental success with Ajax winning 6 league titles in a row from 1965 – 1973, he later won two more with Ajax years later. Even more impressive Cruyff led Ajax to 3 consecutive European titles. The pioneer deservedly has his shirt number retired by Ajax. Football is a worse place without The Saviour.
7. Franz Beckenbauer – Der Kaiser is the most graceful defender of all time. Not only was Beckenbauer an absolute monster of a defender but he had the ability to start attacks with his brilliant passing and ball skills from the back. Beckenbauer would stride forward and start attacks all by himself, this led to the creation of the ‘sweeper’ position. Beckenbauer captained West Germany to a World Cup victoy in 1974, where his impressive defensive performance nullified Johan Cruyff in the final. Beckenbauer is the proud owner of two Ballon D’or awards. And he is a four time Bundesliga winner with Bayern Munich and a winner with Hamburg. He was not only a great player but a visionary who changed the game.
6. Alfredo Di Stefano – Di Stefano is one of Real Madrid’s greatest players of all time. His goal scoring abilities led to Real Madrid’s European dominance. He scored in 5 consecutive European cup finals for Real Madrid (the most of any player ever), winning all 5 of them in the 1950s. Scoring 216 goals in just 282 matches for Real Madrid made him the all time top scorer for the team, before the emergence of Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s hard to comment on Di Stefano’s international career due to the controversy that surrounded it. Therefore we will judge him on his time playing for Madrid where he was the key man in a team that dominated. He is the only player to be awarded the Super Ballon d’Or. A super Ballon D’or for a super player.
5. Zinedine Zidane – Sir Alex Ferguson once said “Give me Zidane and 10 pieces of wood and I’ll win you the Champions League”. Zidane was a player worthy of such high praise. Zidane was a magician on the ball. He was a conductor of games and had the ability to control the most important games as if it was nothing. His ability to run at players full pace with the ball was something special. Although Zidane was a genius with his feet, it was his head that won France the 1998 World Cup as he netted two headed goals. Zidane also won the most prestigious club honour in Europe, the Champions League, where he scored one of the most mesmerising volleys ever. The passionate Frenchman was a genius in every sense of the word.
4. Diego Maradona – Diego Maradona is the best dribbler of a football ever, just watch his second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup as proof, which he later went on to win. Maradona played in the classic number ten role and weaved in and out of defences effortlessly. He used his small stature to his advantage, using his low centre of gravity to manoeuvre around the pitch. He played for Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla and Newell’s Old Boys during his club career but it was Napoli where he became a hero leading the Italian team to two league titles. Maradona fell off slightly at the end of his career gaining weight, but he will always be remembered for his scintillating abilities on the ball.
3. Pele – According to unofficial statistics Pele has scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 games. He scored more than 100 goals in a year three times for santos in 1959, 1961 and 1965. He is perhaps the best goal scorer of all time. Pele has won the World Cup in 1958, 1962 and 1970, making him the best international footballer of all time. The only downside in his career has been the fact that he never played in Europe in a competitive league. Pele won everything there was to be won with Santos and even had a brief stint in America. But his international success and his unquestionable ability still makes him one of the best to ever play the beautiful game.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo – Ronaldo first made a name for himself at Manchester United. He became the main man in a very successful period for United where they won the Champions League in 2008 and has since won the competition with Real Madrid. In 2009 he moved to Real Madrid for a record-breaking fee of £80 million. He’s won the Premier League 3 times and the La Liga twice. The Portugal national team captain has since become the Portugal top scorer and the Real Madrid top scorer. He has made 265 La Liga appearances for Madrid scoring 285 times. Ronaldo has proved he can perform in different high calibre leagues and on the international stage earning himself the number two spot on this list.
1. Lionel Messi – If this Argentinian sensation isn’t at the top of your list, he will be by the time he hangs up his boots. He has been the main man of Barcelona’s recent success. During his career so far he has won 5 Ballon D’or awards, more than any other player. So far he has led Barcelona to 8 La Liga titles, 5 Copa Del Rey’s and 4 Champions League titles. His club career is exceptional. The only criticism of Messi has been his international career, in the 2014 World Cup he single handedly guided Argentina to the final but failed to win the trophy as Germany beat Argentina by 1-0 in extra time. He won the Golden Ball during the tournament. Messi is the top scorer of both Argentina and Barcelona. Messi has the ability to glide through players like they’re not even there whist the ball sticks to his feet like glue. Messi plays football like FIFA on amateur mode, we are truly witnessing the greatest player to ever grace the pitch and we need to enjoy every minute of it.