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
Left Winger, Brazil & PSG/Barcelona/various
Ronaldinho Gaúcho ipayed mostly as an attacking midfielder, but was also deployed as a forward or a winger. He played the bulk of his career at European clubs Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and A.C. Milan as well as playing for the Brazilian national team. Often considered one of the best players of his generation. He was renowned for his technical skills and creativity; due to his agility, pace and dribbling ability, as well as his use of tricks, feints, overhead kicks, no-look passes and accuracy from free-kicks.
Ronaldinho made his career debut for Grêmio, in 1998. At age 20, he moved to Paris Saint-Germain in France before signing for Barcelona in 2003. This followed his starring on the world stage, winning the 2002 World Cup for Brazil as part of the legendary "Three Rs" front line (with Ronaldo Luis and Rivaldo). In his second season with Barcelona, he won his first FIFA World Player of the Year award, as Barcelona won La Liga. The season that followed is considered one of the best in his career as he was instrumental in Barcelona winning the UEFA Champions League, their first in fourteen years, as well as another La Liga title, giving Ronaldinho his first career double. After scoring two spectacular solo goals in El Clásico, Ronaldinho became the second Barcelona player, after Diego Maradona in 1983, to receive a standing ovation from Real Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabéu. Ronaldinho also received his second FIFA World Player of the Year award, as well as the Ballon d'Or. He was widely tipped to star in the 2006 World Cup but disappointed in the tournament. Following a second-place La Liga finish to rivals Real Madrid in the 2006–07 season and an injury plagued 2007–08 season, Ronaldinho departed Barcelona to join Milan and his career never again achieved the same hieghts. He would be higher on this list if his time at the top hadn't been so short.
Part of two great teams: Barcelona 1989-1994 Barcelona 2006-11
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 in this era 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 to see his graceful, athletic midfield game. He stayed behind in Paris 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 a 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 until as recently as 2016. 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 1986 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 is hard 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 of 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 enjoyed 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 he never had the opportunity to be measured directly against the all-time greats, which consequently sit higher than him on this list.
Part of a great team: Man Utd 1963-68
Right Winger, Brazil & Botafogo, 1950s/60s
Garrincha was born with deformed knees and it was a miracle he could play at all, but instead he was a genius with the ball, probably the best dribbler of all time. He would tear teams apart from the right wing, delighting the crowds with his tricks, scoring great goals and creating many chances for his team-mates. It seemed like he was playing for his own amusement most of the time. He would often turn up at his club Botafogo without knowing who the match was against. He would only train when he wanted to and in the afternoons he would return to his home village, playing kickabouts with his old mates, and drinking and womanising.
None of this stopped him delivering when it mattered. He went to the 1958 World Cup with equal billing to Pele and proved just as important in leading Brazil to victory. In 1962, with Pele injured, he picked up the mantle and became the player of the tournament and the inspiration behind his country's second World Cup victory. He played in a very good Botafogo side and won several national titles and various international trophies. By the mid sixties though, his legs were failing him and his lifestyle caught up with him. Sadly he was to die in obscurity at the age of 49, having left behind an indelible legacy. His play seemed to express the carefree attitude and joy of the Brazilian people, he is better loved in his home country than Pele.
Part of a great team: Brazil 1958-62
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