There have been many great players in the history of football, but a few stand out even among the greats. On this page we pay tribute to players like Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Di Stefano, Puskas, Zidane, Best, Beckenbauer and Platini. Footballers that deserve to be remembered as the best of the best. Here’s our top 10 of all time best footballers.
1. Pelé (1956-1977)
Obviously Pele (1940) is not the most original choice as greatest ever football player, but there is no denying his pedigree. His deft touch, dribbling skills and tremendous goalscoring ability, would see him notch up more than a thousand goals and play a key role in two of Brazil’s first three World Cup victories. He helped his club Santos win the Copa Libertadores and the Intercontinental Cup twice. His finest hour came in 1970. Playing in perhaps the greatest ever World Cup winning team, Pelé was universally acknowledged as the world’s best player. In 1975 he joined the NASL, and became a goodwill ambassador for football in the USA. It’s a role he has been playing ever since.
2. Johan Cruijff (1964-1984)
Johan Cruyff (1947) was the star of the exciting 1974 Dutch “Total Football” World Cup team and the Ajax team that won a hat-trick of European Cups in the early Seventies. Three times European footballer of the year, he was by far the most naturally gifted European player of his generation, and probably of all time. His supreme technical skills, speed and acceleration made Cruyff virtually impossible to defend against. He usually played the centre forward position, but would often drop deep or move to the wing to confuse and draw out his markers. His tremendous tactical insight meant that Cruyff was one of the few players in this top 10 that went on to become a world class coach.
3. Diego Maradona (1976-1997)
Diego Maradona (1960) won the 1986 World Cup almost single-handedly and and guided Napoli to it’s only two Serie A titles. By far the best player of his generation, Maradona’s main strength was his incredible technique, which allowed him to move the ball with pin-point accuracy. Maradona was voted best player of all time in an internet poll held by FIFA, much to the chagrin of Pelé-fans, who contended that such a poll was bound to attract voters who had never seen Pelé play. The title of greatest ever footballer is probably a bit too much credit for a player who also had clear short comings. Since his retirement from football, Maradona’s life has been marred by drugs abuse and health issues.
4. Alfredo di Stefano (1943-1966)
Two-time European Footballer of the Year, Alfredo Di Stéfano (1926) is believed by many to have been the best all-around player in history. Di Stéfano was a powerful forward blessed with stamina, tactical versatility, and above all vision. He played for River Plate, Huracán, Millonarios Bogota, but was most successful in his role as conductor of Real’s symphony of attacking football. After having almost been signed by FC Barcelona, he led their rivals Real Madrid to five consecutive European Cup victories. Di Stéfano won caps for Argentina, Colombia, and Spain, but never graced a World Cup. He moved to Espanyol in 1964 and played there until hanging up his boots at the age of 40.
5. Ferenc Puskas (1944-1966)
Scoring 84 goals in 85 matches, Ferenc Puskás (1927) was the stand-out player of the marvelous Hungarian national team that notched up a four year unbeaten run in the early 1950s. The “Magical Magyars” won Olympic gold at the 1952 Helsinki games, but heir most resounding victory came in 1953, when they became the first non-british team to defeat England at Wembley. They reached the final of the 1954, but with Puskas picking up an injury early on in the tournament, the Hungarians were defeated by West Germany. Puskas fled Hungary in the wake of the Soviet invasion of 1956 and went on to play for Real Madrid well into his 30’s, winning numerous trophies.
6. Franz Beckenbauer (1964-1984)
This list of top 10 greatest ever football players is heavily biased towards forwards, as all these kind of lists tend to be. We make no apologies for that as it is those players that bring joy to the crowds all over the world with their goals and artistry. However, this list would not be complete without Franz Beckenbauer (1945). Nicknamed ‘der Kaiser’, Beckenbauer was the mainstay of Bayern Munich’s triple European Cup winning team of the mid Seventies. He also captained his country to the 1974 World Cup, held in Germany. An elegant and dynamic player known for his outstanding technique and tactical insight, Beckenbauer single-handedly modernised the role of sweeper.
7. Michel Platini (1973-1987)
Three times European Footballer of the year, Michel Platini (1955) led France to two World Cup semi-finals and the 1984 European Championship title. At the club level he was most successful with Juventus, winning the European Cup and the Intercontinental Cup in 1985. One of the greatest passers of the ball in the history of the game, Platini was also a master of the free kick. It was a skill which he had perfected using a row of dummies during training. Platini displayed a remarkable goalscoring prowess for someone who was nominally a midfielder. He scored 68 goals in 147 league games for Juventus, and was crowned top scorer of the Serie A on three three occasions.
8. Eusebio (1958-1978)
Eusébio da Silva Ferreira (1942) scored an incredible 727 goals in the 715 matches he played for Benfica. His goals helped the club win eleven Portuguese league titles as well as the 1962 European Cup (Eusebio scoring twice in the final). The Mozambique born striker virtually single-handedly took Portugal to third place at the 1966 World Cup, scoring nine goals in six matches. Eusebio’s trademarks were his speed (he was a former under-19 Portuguese 400, 200 and 100 metre champion), quick dribble, and powerful and accurate right-footed strike. Until recently Eusebio was the all-time leading scorer for Portugal, with 41 goals in 64 matches. He was named European Footballer of the Year in 1965.
9. George Best (1963-1984)
A superb dribbler of the ball, George Best (1946) was probably the most naturally gifted British player ever. A combination of lightning pace, perfect balance, and ability to produce goals with both feet meant that, in his prime, Best was a handful for even the most skilled of defenders. Best’s annus mirabilis came in 1968, when he won the European Cup with Manchester United and was voted European Player of the Year. In the years that followed his performances on the pitch were increasingly eclipsed by his problems with gambling, womanising and drinking. In 1974 Best left Manchester United, effectively ending his career at the highest level at the age of only 27 years old.
10. Zinedine Zidane (1988-2006)
Whether Zinedine Zidane (1972) or Michel Platini is the greatest ever French player is up for discussion. That Zidane belongs in this list of truly great players surely isn’t. The outstanding player of his generation, he led France to World Cup glory in 1998 and to the European Championship in 2000. He was a superb passer of the ball first and foremost, an outstanding playmaker that fed his forwards with great passes. But Zidane could produce goals himself as well, most notably the winning goals in the 1998 World Cup Final and the 2002 Champion’s League Final. Zidane was named European Footballer of the Year in 1998, and FIFA World Footballer of the Year in 1998, 2000, and 2003.