Who Are the World’s Best Footballers?
The creativity and zeal that typify “the beautiful game” of football (soccer) would render it an art form if not for the physical context within which the sport is played. What distinguishes football from most other sports is the freedom of expression granted to the players. While baseball players and cricketers are limited to specific movements, footballers may shoot, pass, tackle, or dribble the ball in any variety of ways, allowing the most talented players to reach the peak of the game.
For football enthusiasts, the legacy of these legendary players goes beyond the thrill of the game; it's a testament to the power of human potential and the endless pursuit of excellence on the football pitch. From Pelé's mesmerizing skills to Cristiano Ronaldo's unmatched athleticism, they have showcased an unparalleled passion for the sport. This passion extends to fans worldwide, making the football experience even more exciting, especially with the added element of responsible betting. Ek betting, when done within the boundaries of the law, amplifies the excitement and engagement of football, creating a deeper connection between fans and their favorite players. These football icons have not only rewritten the history of the sport but continue to inspire millions, both on and off the field.
Only Retired Players Were Considered for This List
This list now includes Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who are both close enough to retirement for their careers to be properly judged. Otherwise, it includes retired players from the entire recorded history of the modern game. It does not include active players whose careers are still developing.
1. Pelé, Brazil
Full name: Edson Arantes do Nascimento Date of birth: October 23, 1940 Height: 1.73 m (5 ft 8 in) Playing positions: Forward, attacking midfielder
Pelé was the ultimate goal-scoring machine in his native Brazil, and he is often ranked the best player ever to grace the sport. He scored an incredible 1,282 goals in 1,366 games (including friendlies). His sheer power, strength, pace, and dribbling ability saw him score all varieties of goals for fun. The Ballon d’Or committee said that Pelé would have won the award 7 times (equaling Messi) if it had been awarded to non-Europeans before 1995.
Pelé brought his best football to the World Cup, and he is the only player to have won it three times, in 1958, 1962, and 1970. He also won two Copa Libertadores (continental titles) and five league titles in Brazil. His international triumphs saw him within teams of highly talented players, including Garrincha, Vavá, and Carlos Alberto. He became a symbol for these teams and is often accredited with all of the praise.
2. Diego Maradona, Argentina
Full name: Diego Armando Maradona Life: October 30, 1960–November 25, 2020 Height: 1.65 m (5 ft 5 in) Playing positions: Attacking midfielder, second striker
Diego Maradona’s talent was quite possibly the greatest ever seen in football. His dribbling ability was mesmerizing, his goal-scoring was unique and clinical, and his passing and crossing were precise—earning him many assists in his career. From attacking midfield, he scored 345 goals in 680 games.
With a much more difficult career than Pelé, Maradona still won the 1986 World Cup with Argentina (almost single-handedly) as well as three league titles and one UEFA Cup with Napoli. Against England, he scored one of the greatest goals of all time.
3. Lionel Messi, Argentina
Full name: Lionel Andrés Messi Date of birth: June 24, 1987 Height: 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in) Playing position: Forward, winger
After a successful trial with Barcelona, Lionel Messi arrived in Spain as a 13-year-old and had his first-team debut at 17. He would go on to win 10 league titles, 7 domestic cups, and 4 Champions Leagues with the Catalan club.
Toward the end of his career, Messi relocated to Paris Saint-Germain, where he won two more league titles. He then moved to Inter Miami in 2023. In total, Messi has 40 team trophies and 7 individual Ballon d’Ors (a record).
Messi is known for his quick feet, agility, strength (despite his small frame), acceleration, and ability to dribble past defenders. Apart from heading, Messi has the complete attacking skill set, including an accurate shot, free-kicks, penalties, and the creativity to link-up play and provide assists.
Messi has scored over 800 career goals, including more than 100 for Argentina (a national record). He also became Argentina’s World Cup top scorer (13 goals) when he lifted the 2022 World Cup, aged 35, to round off his extraordinary career with what may be its crowning achievement. Messi’s international career also includes winning the 2021 Copa América and reaching the 2014 World Cup final.
4. Alfredo Di Stéfano, Argentina
Full name: Alfredo Stéfano Di Stéfano Laulhé Life: July 4, 1926–July 7, 2014 Height: 1.76 m (5 ft 9.5 in) Playing position: Forward
The first footballer to transcend the sport and become a global superstar, Alfredo Di Stéfano was the best all-round forward to ever play the game. He was a complete footballer who was not only a prolific goal-scorer but also a creator and leader on the pitch. Di Stéfano played for both Argentina and Spain at the international level.
Di Stéfano won five consecutive European Cups with Real Madrid, scoring in each final. His ability to perform on the grandest stage was a testament to his greatness. He scored over 800 career goals and won numerous league titles in Argentina, Colombia, and Spain. He was a true pioneer of the modern game.
5. Johan Cruyff, Netherlands
Full name: Hendrik Johannes Cruijff Life: April 25, 1947–March 24, 2016 Height: 1.80 m (5 ft 11 in) Playing position: Forward, attacking midfielder
Johan Cruyff was the architect of “Total Football,” a style of play that revolutionized the sport. His footballing intelligence, vision, dribbling, and playmaking abilities were unmatched. Cruyff was the ultimate football thinker on the pitch.
Cruyff won three Ballon d’Or awards and led Ajax to three consecutive European Cups. He also enjoyed success with Barcelona and Feyenoord, winning numerous league titles. Cruyff’s impact on the game extended beyond his playing career; he went on to become a highly influential manager, especially during his tenure at Barcelona.
6. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Full name: Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro Date of birth: February 5, 1985 Height: 1.87 m (6 ft 2 in) Playing positions: Forward, winger
Cristiano Ronaldo is often compared to Lionel Messi as one of the greatest footballers of the modern era. Known for his incredible athleticism, goal-scoring prowess, and versatility, Ronaldo has achieved success at every club he has played for.
He won five Ballon d’Or awards and has consistently been among the top goal-scorers in the world. Ronaldo has won league titles in England, Spain, and Italy, as well as the UEFA Champions League with Manchester United and Real Madrid. His dedication to fitness and his relentless work ethic have extended his career at the highest level.
7. Franz Beckenbauer, Germany
Full name: Franz Anton Beckenbauer Date of birth: September 11, 1945 Height: 1.81 m (5 ft 11 in) Playing position: Sweeper, central defender, midfielder
Franz Beckenbauer, known as “The Kaiser,” was a revolutionary figure in football. He redefined the role of the sweeper, combining defensive solidity with exceptional ball-playing ability. Beckenbauer’s elegant style of play set him apart from other defenders.
He won the FIFA World Cup as both a player and a manager, a feat unmatched in the history of the tournament. Beckenbauer was a key player for Bayern Munich, New York Cosmos, and the West German national team, earning the nickname “Der Kaiser” for his regal presence on the field.
8. Ferenc Puskás, Hungary
Full name: Ferenc Purczeld Kis Life: April 1, 1927–November 17, 2006 Height: 1.72 m (5 ft 7.5 in) Playing positions: Forward, attacking midfielder
Ferenc Puskás, often referred to as the “Galloping Major,” was a prolific goal-scorer known for his exceptional left foot and scoring ability. He was the captain of the legendary Hungarian national team of the 1950s, which was considered one of the greatest teams in football history.
Puskás enjoyed success with Budapest Honvéd and Real Madrid, winning numerous league titles and European Cups. He scored over 700 goals in his career and had an incredible goal-scoring record for both club and country.
9. George Best, Northern Ireland
Full name: George Best Life: May 22, 1946–November 25, 2005 Height: 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in) Playing positions: Forward, winger
George Best was a true football icon known for his style, flair, and dribbling ability. He played for Manchester United during the 1960s and was a key figure in the club’s success during that period.
Best was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1968, and he was known for his incredible balance, close ball control, and ability to take on multiple defenders. Despite his relatively short career at the highest level, Best’s impact on the game and his influence on future generations of players is undeniable.
10. Zinedine Zidane, France
Full name: Zinedine Yazid Zidane Date of birth: June 23, 1972 Height: 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in) Playing positions: Midfielder, attacking midfielder
Zinedine Zidane, often referred to simply as “Zizou,” was a maestro in midfield known for his elegance, vision, and technique. He was a key player for both club and country, achieving success at the highest level.
Zidane won the FIFA World Cup with the French national team in 1998 and played a pivotal role in France’s victory. He enjoyed club success with Juventus and Real Madrid, winning league titles and the UEFA Champions League. Zidane’s ability to control the game from midfield and his knack for producing moments of magic made him one of the most revered players in the history of the sport.
These ten football legends have left an indelible mark on the sport, each showcasing their unique skills and contributing to the beautiful history of football. While opinions on the greatest player of all time may vary, there is no denying the immense talent and influence of these iconic figures. Football fans around the world continue to celebrate their contributions to the game, and their legacies will endure for generations to come.