Top 20 Footballers of all Time

There are many gifted and talented footballers have walked onto football pitches across the world and done wonders with the football. The truth is there are very many footballers who have played the beautiful game and rating each one of them can be quite tricky.  However, these are the 20 most artistic and gifted players that this world has seen over the years.


20. Jurgen Klinsmann


One of Germany's premier strikers of the 90s Klinsmann curved out a career that had his name ringing off the minds of every football fanatic in the world. A darling to German football lovers and a threat to every football nation, Klinsmann's combative playing style was one of the reasons German became a force to reckon with in the 90s. With a total of 232 league goals stretching 516 games in 9 clubs, the German striker was simply a talent through and through. Between 1987 when he graduated to the Senior German team and 1998 when he retired from International football, Kilnsmann netted 47 goals in 108 appearances.


19. Ronaldinho


Born Ronaldo de Assis Moreira in 1980, Ronaldinho's name has become synonymous with style, flair and trickery on the field of play. The two-time winner of the FIFA World Player of the Year award, 'Gauchho' was named on the FIFA 100 list which compiled all the greatest footballers; a list that was named by his fellow countryman Pele. Ronaldinho is more popular for his style of play than his goal scoring even though by any standards his goal scoring is quite good (32 goals in 88 appearances for the Brazilian senior team). Winner of several individual awards, the stylish player began his trade at an early age of 8 where he began displaying his skill. No doubt, he deserves the number 19 spot.


18. Ian Rush


The words ‘Liverpool’ and ‘Ian Rush’ almost mean the same thing – rich history! The Welsh hero became a Liverpool darling after almost single handedly re-writing the name 'Liverpool' in the books of history in the 80s and 90s. With a career that spanned 602 league games with 245 goals, Ian Rush became well known for his goal scoring antics. In the Liverpool shirt alone, he scored 90 league goals in 245 appearances for the Reds. With several accolades to his name including 5 League triumphs, 3 FA Cup Victories, 5 League Cup Wins, 5 Charity Shield Trophies as well as a European Cup, Rush's talent puts him at number 18.


17. Franco Baresi


When strikers attempt to get close to a goal, they often get shaken in case they encounter mean defenses. Franco Baresi was one such defender who created fear and uncertainty amongst strikers. With his ruthless and mean defensive qualities, the Italian created a powerful and impenetrable defense for the Azzurri. According to Gianni Brera, Baresi would attack the ball as a wolf would attack a lamb. He had a great command of the defense and often stopped strikers in their tracks. Despite having played for only Italy and AC Milan, Baresi became a household name in Italy.


16. Garrincha


In Brazillian football history, there are several talented names that feature and each of these tend to have an impact on the people. While Pele was known as “O Roi” (the king), Garrincha was “O alegria de povo” (the Joy of the People). The extremely talented winger had been declared a cripple at the time of his birth but went on to ply his trade against all odds and become a darling of many football fans. It was often said that Garrincha would run rings around defenders, wait for them and then beat them all over again; just for fun.


15. George Best


In Northern Ireland, there is a saying: "Maradona good; Pele better; George Best". Best was one of the most talented footballers in the late 60s and into the 70s. He had ability to beat defenders so easily while having a keen eye for goal. He is also remembered for his exceptional talent with both feet as well as acceleration and extremely accurate passing and balance. In 1968 he was named the European Footballer of the Year during his "annus mirabilis" where he won the European Cup.


14. Telmo Zarra


Telmo Zarra is the leading goal scorer in Spain's Primera Division with 252 goals in 278 appearances, a feat which remains to be broken. Telmo Zarra also holds the record for the most Pichichi trophies (six). Despite his prolific goal scoring on Club level, he only made 20 appearances for the Spanish national side. And even then, he was able to score a record 20 goals in the 20 appearances including 4 goals in the historic 6-3 Spanish defeat of Switzerland on 18 February 1951.


13. Bobby Charlton


It is safe to say that without Bobby Charlton, Manchester United would probably not be one of the greatest football clubs of English and world history. After surviving the Munich Air disaster of 6 February 1958, Bobby Charlton went on to write his name and Manchester United’s name in the books of history. Having scored 199 goals between 1956 and 1973 for Manchester United, Bobby Charlton cemented his name as one of the greats at Manchester United with his very sharp shooting skills and spectacular long range efforts on goal.


12. Gerd Muller


Known simply as one the greatest goal machines of all time, Gerd Muller comes in at number 12. With a national record of 68 goals in just 62 appearances for Germany as well as 365 goals in 427 games in the German Bundesliga, Gerd Muller is widely seen as one of the most successful goal scorers to ever walk on to a pitch. Nicknamed “Bomber der Nation” (the nation's Bomber), Gerd Muller is 8th on the list of all time international goals scorers despite having played fewer matches than all the top 15 players. He leads the ranks in Germany as the greatest goal scorer with his follower a massive 97 goals behind him.


11. Marco Van Basten


Marco Van Basten is one of the several players whose colourful careers were sadly cut short due to injury woes. Despite this, the Dutch footballer was still able to imprint his name in the minds of several football lovers across the world. Known greatly for his tactical awareness, great strength on the ball as well as very spectacular strikes and volleys, van Basten was the European Footballer of the Year three times and FIFA World Player of the Year once.


10. Zinedine Zidane


The crop of French players that won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship were led by Zinedine Zidane whose talent on the ball was simply amazing. With almost every honour there is to win added to his name, Zidane is recognized as one of the major reasons for the resurgence of the French National team which since his retirement has never gotten back to its feet. With a club history that saw him play for Real Madrid, Juventus, Bordeaux and Cannes, Zidane is known for his famous match winning goal, a volley which he hit with his weaker foot as Real Madrid went on to beat Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 UEFA Champions League Final. He, together with Brazilian Ronaldo, are the only two players to win the FIFA World Player of the Year award three times.


9. Giuseppe Meazza


Arguably one of the greatest football talents to ever come out of Italy, Giuseppe "Peppino" Meazza led Italy to two world cup victories in 1934 and 1938 and in 1934 he won the Golden Ball Award. He is considered one of the greatest Italian players of all time and in the history of the world cup, he is the Fourth best player. He started his career as a striker but later on emerged to be a skillfully gifted midfielder as well. His dribbling skills, eye for goal and extremely accurate shooting set him aside as one of the best of his generation.


8. Eusebio


Eusébio da Silva Ferreira was a Mozambican-born Portuguese footballer who according to many pundits is one of the reasons why football is known as the 'beautiful game'. Nicknamed 'the Black Panther' Eusebio was extremely fast on the ball and very technically gifted. He had an accurate right foot strike and this made him one of the most prolific goal scorers at the time. In 2003 he was selected as Portugal's most outstanding player in the past 50 years having helped them to third place finish at the 1966 World Cup and emerging top scorer at the tournament. In 1965 he won the Ballon d'Or and in 62 and 66 he was runner up.


7. Michel Platini


In the 1984 European Championship, one player emerged as one of the most talented players of the tournament. This player went on to score the most goals and win the admiration of all who were watching the tournament. Michel Platini is one of the greatest French footballers of all time, if not the greatest ever. He, together with Jean Tigana, Luis Fernández and Alain Giresse made up the carré magique" (French for "magic square"), midfielders who were the heartbeat of the French team all through the 1980s. He is also widely regarded as one of the best passers of the ball and one of the best free kick specialists of all time. His style of play combined vision, accuracy, skill and dead ball specialty.


6. Franz Beckenbauer


Nicknamed "Der Kaiser" (The Emperor) because of his unique leadership skills and very elegant style of play, Franz was a dominant force on the field of play. Regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time and as one of the most decorated footballers in the history of German football, Beckenbauer's career started out as a midfielder even though he was greatly remembered as an astute defender. The role of a ‘libero’ (modern sweeper) is attributed to Beckenbauer. Some of his accolades included Ballon d'Or, FIFA World Cup Young Player of the Tournament, FIFA World Cup Golden Ball, FIFA World Cup Team of the Tournament and European Footballer of the Year among others.





5. Ferenc Puskas


It is because of Ferenc Puskas that the award for ‘most beautiful goal’ was created. With a massively impressive 84 goals in 85 appearances for Hungary, 157 goals in 182 appearances for Real Madrid and winning the Pichichi four times in five seasons, Puskas is one of the greatest players to ever play the game of football. He, along with Alfredo di Stefano are responsible for creating the giant that Real Madrid became and still is. A total of 514 goals in 529 matches in both the Hungarian and Spanish leagues is no simple accomplishment and for this reason, he was voted the top scorer of the 20th Century.


4. Alfredo Di Stefeno


Born into a family of Italian immigrants from Capri, di Stefano played a style of football that was extremely attractive and he is one of the reasons why Real Madrid became the force that they are today. With him, Real Madrid won the European Champions' Cup a record 5 times in a row from 1956. He was a powerful and strong striker who was nicknamed "Saeta rubia" ("blond arrow") because of his stamina, vision, eye for goal and technical talent. One of the most versatile players of all time, di Stefano was able to play almost anywhere on the pitch. He played his international football mostly for Spain though he had spells with Argentina as well as Colombia.


3. Johan Cruyff


Three time winner of the Ballon d'Or (only managed by two others, Michel Platini and Marco Van Basten), Cruyff is regarded as one of the reasons why football became a popular sport. The football concept of 'Total football' is attributed partly to Cruyff even though it was created by Rinus Michels, a famous Dutch football coach. The idea of passing the ball around so that no particular player is the central player is one that Johan Cruyff perfected. In this system, the only player who has a permanent position is the goalkeeper and the rest of the players keep shifting positions as they pass the ball around. Cruyff was voted European Player of the Century in 1999. Cruyff often drifted back and forth in the attack and he was extremely versatile so much that he was known as the ‘Total Footballer’ and at times he was called the ‘Pythagoras in Boots’ because of his vision. His technical ability, dribbling skill, acceleration and speed made him one of the most feared players at the time.


2. Diego Maradona


Diego Maradona is probably the most talented individual players of all time. His skill on the ball was simply unmatched and for many, watching him was just enough without having to watch anyone else. In Argentina, Diego Maradona is almost worshiped and oftentimes, one can be crucified for even daring to compare him to any other footballer, dead or alive. His style of football was extremely eye-catchy and he was able to cut through defenses with so much ease. He had extremely strong legs and was technically gifted on the ball. He also had a very keen eye for goal with several spectacular free kicks to his name. He had some trademark moves that would often leave opponents wondering where he passed, only to realize that he had already scored or set up a team mate. He was mostly left footed though often times he switched with his right foot. Maradonna is very famous for two very historically unique goals that he scored in Argentina's 2-1 win over England in the 1986 World Cup. The first goal was known as the 'Hand of God' and the second was voted the Goal of the Century after he scored what is now known as the greatest individual goal of all time. He made his way through six England players in 10 seconds after dashing across a distance of 60 meters.


1. Pele


Edison "Edson" Arantes do Nascimento known simply as Pele is the reason we all love football. He is the reason football is a beautiful game and he is the reason we love to go back to football history every now and again. 1,281 goals in 1,363 games puts Pele heads and shoulders above anyone who has ever played the game of football. His impact on the game was so widespread that in 1999 the International Olympic Committee named him the "Athlete of the Century". In Brazil, he is nothing short of a national hero who made Brazil the footballing force that it is today. During his playing days, he was referred to as "O Rei do Futebol" (The King Of Football) and "O Rei Pelé" (King Pele). He began his career at the age of 15 when he played for Santos and by 16 he was already wearing national team colors. The number 10 Jersey is popular today because of Pele. He was extremely talented, visionary, speedy, accurate and above all, he was a team player who if he played in a team, chances are he would have a hand in almost every goal scored. He is the only player to have appeared in three different World Cup Winning squads and he is one of two who have scored at four different World Cup tournaments.


Written by Jason King

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