The players listed in this website are all world class players - the greatest players in their position of all time. But only a select few can be counted amongst the much smaller category of 'Legends'. These are the iconic players that are the best the game has ever seen. They have represented the game - becoming household names even to those who do not follow it, they have transformed and expanded the game, and have seized the imagination of the world - often during a World Cup. Most of all they have acted as an inspiration to both fans and amateur and professional players and have inspired millions to follow, play and learn the game.
These are the 20 greatest players the world has ever seen, in order. This always stirs lively debate so let us know what you think via our facebook page!
Att Midfielder, Brazil & Flamengo/Udinese, 1970s/80s
A Flamengo legend, Zico was also the star of the great Brazil team for the 1982 World Cup and one of the stars of that tournament. A creative midfielder with flair and an eye for goal, he was one of the best freekick takers of all time. His legend is tarnished somewhat by his, and the teams' lack of success in 1982, and his showing at the 1978 and 1986 tournaments - marred by injury and rarely selected to start games. At Flamengo he won the Copa Libertadores and then led his team to thrash Liverpool 3-1 in the Intercontinental Cup in 1981, giving Flamengo fair reason to claim the title of best club in the world, with him as their star player.
Part of a great team: Brazil 1982
19. Marco Van Basten
Striker, Netherlands & Ajax/AC Milan, 1980s/90s
The greatest player of the late 80s/early 90s, Marco Van Basten managed to be named European Footballer of the Year three times before he retired at 28 due to injury. A complete striker with pace and great technique, he could score from virtually anywhere.. He scored 128 goals in 133 games for Ajax and then moved to AC Milan where he helped them to win two European Cups (1988, 1989). At Milan he was playing alongside his Dutch team mates Ruud Gullit and Frank Rjkaard, with whom he had won Euro 88, scoring one of the best goals ever scored in the final against the USSR. Sadly he missed Milan's 1994 European Cup win and never played in a World Cup.
Part of two great teams: AC Milan, Netherlands 88
Striker, Brazil & PSV/Barca/Flamego
An instinctive and natural goalscorer, Romario was the best player of the 1994 World Cup, inspiring Brazil to win the trophy. After five seasons at PSV Eindhoven he moved to join Cruyff's dream team at Barcelona in 1993 and played in the European Cup Final of 1994, losing to AC Milan but being named European Footballer of the Year. He ended his career at a succession of Brazilian clubs. While he was at Vasco de Gama he scored twice against Manchester United in the Club World Championship, beating them 3-1. He scored his 1000th goal at Vasco de Gama in 2007, where there is now a statue of him. With 55 goals in 70 appearances for Brazil he was one of their best ever strikers. He formed a lethal partnership with Ronaldo, winning the 1997 Copa America but then missed out on the 1998 World Cup due to injury. Who knows, if he had played Brazil could well have won the World Cup, again that year.
Part of a great team: Barcelona 1989-1994
17. Lev Yashin
Goalkeeper, Russia & Dynamo Moscow, 1950s/60s
You might presume that goalkeepers always commanded their defence, came off their line to intercept crosses and rushed out of the area to challenge attackers. They didn't, and they do now largely because of Lev Yashin. He reinvented the art of goalkeeping while playing for the Soviet Union and presented this to the world at the 1958 World Cup. Dressed all in black and known as the Black Panther, he was the star of the team, impressing with his athleticism. He was also a master of saving penalties, saving 150 in his career. He won the European Championship of 1960 and would appear in four World Cups. He also helped Dynamo Moscow win 5 Soviet League titles. Yashin is the only goalkeeper to win European Footballer of the Year (1963). He is an automatic pick in goal for every all-time dream team and the World Cup award for best goalkeeper is now named after him.
16. Jose Andrade
Defensive Midfielder, Uruguay & Penarol/Nacional
Andrade might be the only member of this list that you have not heard of but he fully deserves his place here. He is the greatest star of the pre-war years and did more than anyone to make football the popular global game it is today. Andrade was the star, from a right half-back position, of the great Uruguay team of the 1920s. The team won the Olympic Games twice, which is recognised by FIFA as being equivalent to a World Cup (as there was no World Cup in this period) in both 1924 and 1928. Andrade also helped his country win three South American Championships. Despite suffering from illness and being near the end of his career he was then the star player of the team that won the first proper World Cup in 1930. At the 1924 Olympics in Paris Andrade drew out the locals in great numbers with his graceful, athletic midfield game. He stayed behind after the tournament to be the toast of French high society. Despite his fame and success he would live his later years in poverty and alcoholism. His story is a fascinating one.
Recommended reading: Before Pele there was Andrade (The Guardian)
Part of a great team: Uruguay 1924-1930
Striker, Portugal & Benfica, 1960s
The only player from Africa on this list - born in Mozambique, Eusebio played for the colonial power Portugal. He led his adopted country to a World Cup semi-final in 1966 and was the undisputed star of this tournament, becoming a household name with remarkable performance scoring four goals against North Korea. This came within a period of success at club level. He was brought to Portugal by Benfica, one of the greatest club sides of the 1960s. They won the European Cup without him in 1962 but he then became their star player, leading them to a second European Cup victory in 1962, scoring twice to beat Di Stefano’s Real Madrid in the Final. Eusebio went on to lead Benfica to two more European Cup Finals but failed to regain the trophy, losing to Inter Milan in 1965 and Manchester United in 1968. He was named European Footballer of the Year for his contribution in 1965.. A phenomenal goalscorer, he would finish his career with 423 club goals in 431 games.
Part of a great team: Benfica 1960s
14. Sir Bobby Charlton
Att. Midfielder, England & Man Utd, 1950s-70s
England’s greatest ever player and still the record goalscorer for both his country and Manchester United. His club career is one of great personal triumph. He had just cemented a place in the famous Busby Babes side, he was certainly not their greatest player, but was one of the very few that then survived the Munich Air Disaster and continued to play to his growing potential. He would go on to become captain and key player for United, forming part of a ‘holy trinity’ alongside George Best and Denis Law. A forward that dropped back into midfield he nevertheless maintained a formidable scoring record. He was two footed, capable of beating a player and had a remarkable, thunderous shot, claiming him many goals from deep positions. From an early age he was also a key player for England. After impressing at the 1962 World Cup he would be his country’s inspirational player when they won the trophy in 1966, being named European Footballer of the Year that year. Two years later he would win the European Cup with United, helping to lay the ghosts to Munch to rest. In 1970 he continued his impressive international career, being named in the team of the tournament despite his advancing age. He remains a United legend with a seat on the Board, and is a great global ambassador of the game.
Part of two great teams: Man Utd 1963-68 and England 1966
13. Michel Platini
Att. Midfielder, France & St Etienne/Juventus, 1970s/80s
France's inspiration and the leading player of European footballer in the early/mid 1980s. Platini was an attacking midfielder with a goalscoring ratio that any striker would be proud of. He was an elegant passer of the ball and a great free-kick taker. He would lead and organise his team from midfield and his play showed great intelligence. Between 1983 and 1985 Platini led his country to victory in the 1984 European Championships, won the European Cup with Juventus and was named European Footballer of the Year three times in succession. He impressed in both the 1982 and 1985 World Cups, reaching the semi-final and being named in the team of the tournament on both occasions. His greatest moment was leading France to European victory in 1984. He scored 9 goals in the tournament, and remains the competitions record goalscorer, despite playing in only one tournament.
Part of a great team: France 1982-86
12. George Best
Right/Left Winger, N. Ireland & Man Utd, 1960s/70s
Named by Pele as his greatest player of all time, one only has to watch footage of Best and it ishard not to agree. A great dribbler and goalscorer Best was the first superstar footballer in England and the greatest star in a famous United team (that also included Charlton). His talent was confirmed to the world with his exploits in the European Cup, in which he showcased his ability in 1966 and then inspired his club to win in 1968, earning him a European Footballer of the Year award. A natural player who loved to entertain, and who fans, and team-mates, never knew what to expect next. He played with verve and imagination and celebrated the best that football could be. He was also brave and would not be intimidated by the hard men of the era. One can only imagine what he could have achieved if he played on the pitches, and with the protection given by referees, of today
Two-footed, Best could play on either wing; he also worked hard for his club and was a good tackler. In the early 1970s, when United were in decline he almost single-handedly maintained their position as a great club. The pressure became too much, and he fell to alcoholism. He may have retired from United at the age of 27 but he had burst into the first team at 17, and so enjoying a lengthy career there, winning all he could win personally and for the club. Best then moved to the US where he continued to wow crowds, on his good days, with astonishing football. Playing for Northern Ireland, it is understandable that he never played at a World Cup, and so never had the opportunity to be measured directly against the all-time great which sit higher than him on this list.
Part of a great team: Man Utd 1963-68
11. Cristiano Ronaldo
Winger/Striker, Portugal & Man Utd/Real Madrid, 2000s/10s
A modern day great that sits comfortably alongside past legends. Ronaldo was signed at 18 by Manchester United after impressing in a pre-season friendly and would go on to inspire the club to three league titles and a European Cup win in 2008. Always an exciting dribbler gifted with pace, United transformed him from an out-and-out winger to a more complete player that drifted infield and scored a phenomenal number and range of goals. He is also a great free-kick and penalty taker. After moving to Real Madrid he would continue his astonishing goal record, despite mostly starting from wide positions, and he continues to perform with remarkable consistency. Becoming the key player in a great side he lit up La Liga with a personal rivalry with Lionel Messi, leading his club to a tenth European Cup win in 2014. It is his misfortunate to share the stage with the slightly superior Messi but Ronaldo is still one of a select number of players to win the Ballon d'Or three times (once with Manchester United). He may be more comfortable in the limelight, and perhaps driven by egotism, but he has always matched his talent with great dedication and won the respect and admiration of his teammates. Now surely Portugal’s greatest ever player, Ronaldo has played in three World Cups but unfortunately disappointed in all of them, otherwise he would have been higher in this list.
Part of a great team: Man Utd 1999-2009
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