Definitive List Of The Top 10 Best Soccer Players Of All Time

Definitive List Of The Top 10 Best Soccer Players Of All Time

In this article, I end the debate once and for all, listing the top 10 best soccer players of all time based on their stats, honors, skills, and longevity. So, who is the GOAT? And more to the point, do you agree? This list is pretty definitive if you ask me…

10. Michel Platini

Number ten on our list of the best soccer players of all time is French midfield master, Michel Platini. He was an icon of football in the 70s and 80s, especially on the European stage, ultimately becoming the 6th president of UEFA from 2007 to 2015. His crowning glory came in leading France to victory in the 1984 European Championship and being named player of the tournament.

National team: France

Best World Cup performance: Semi-finalist (1986)

Club teams: Nancy, Saint-Étienne, Juventus

Position: Attacking midfielder

Total number of games: 653

Total number of goals: 353

Major honors (team): European Championship (1984), Serie A (1983–84, 1985–86), European Cup (1984–85), Coppa Italia (1982–83), Cup Winners’ Cup (1983–84), Ligue 1 (1980–81), Coupe de France (1977–78).

Major honors (individual): Ballon d’Or: (1983, 1984, 1985), European Championship Player of the Tournament (1984).

Peak years: Late 1970s to mid-1980s

9. Alfredo Di Stefano

Alfredo Di Stéfano with the Spain national teamImage credit: Wikipedia Commons

An Argentinian and Spanish soccer legend, Alfredo Di Stefano is most known for being part of the dominant Real Madrid side that won the first five European Cups between 1955 and 1960. His versatility meant he could operate as either a striker or attacking midfielder, and his game-to-goal ratio (0.72) is up there with the very best in history.

National team: Argentina, Spain

Best World Cup performance: Did not play in a World Cup

Club teams: River Plate, Millionarios, Real Madrid, Espanyol

Position: Forward/Attacking midfielder

Total number of games: 706

Total number of goals: 509

Major honors (team): Argentine Primera División (1945, 1947), Campeonato Profesional (1949, 1951, 1952), La Liga (1953–54, 1954–55, 1956–57, 1957–58, 1960–61, 1961–62, 1962–63, 1963–64), Copa del Rey (1961–62), European Cup (1955–56, 1956–57, 1957–58, 1958–59, 1959–60).

Major honors (individual): Ballon d’Or (1957, 1959)

Peak years: Late 1940s to early 1960s

8. Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane was a mercurial talent that sometimes springs to mind for the wrong reasons (we’re looking at you, Marco Materazzi). But “Zizou” was undoubtedly the best player in the world for some years and the crucial part of the dominant French team of the late 90s and early 00s.

With the build and presence of a midfield enforcer, he also had the elegance, ball control, vision, and technique that has rarely been seen elsewhere on a football pitch.

National team: France

Best World Cup performance: Winner (1998)

Club teams: AS Cannes, Girondins de Bordeaux, Juventus, Real Madrid

Position: Attacking midfielder

Total number of games: 803

Total number of goals: 156

Major honors (team): Serie A (1996–97, 1997–98), La Liga (2002–03) Champions League (2001–02), World Cup (1998), European Championship (2000).

Major honors (individual): Ballon d’Or (1998), FIFA World Player of the Year (1998, 2000, 2003), French Division 1 Player of the Year (1995–96), Serie A Footballer of the Year (2000–01), European Championship Player of the Tournament (2000).

Peak years: Late 1990s to early 2000s

7. Franz Beckenbauer

Muller, Beckenbauer and trainer SchonImage credit: Bert Verhoeff for Anefo/Wikipedia Commons

“Der Kaiser” was a German icon and the only player on our list to play in a primarily defensive position. Despite being deployed as a center-back or sweeper, Beckenbauer’s technical ability and leadership made him the essential cog in the dominant Bayern and West Germany teams of the mid-70s. The latter being widely regarded as one of the best soccer teams of all time.

His game-to-goal ratio of 0.13 is also outstanding for a defender and highlights his ability to contribute at both ends of the pitch.

National team: West Germany

Best World Cup performance: Winner (1974)

Club teams: Bayern Munich, New York Cosmos, Hamburger SV

Position: Sweeper/Center-back

Total number of games: 857

Total number of goals: 112

Major honors (team): Bundesliga (1968–69, 1971–72, 1972–73, 1973–74, 1981–82), DFB-Pokal (1965–66, 1966–67, 1968–69, 1970–71), European Cup (1973–74, 1974–75, 1975–76), European Cup Winners’ Cup (1966–67), North American Soccer League (1977, 1978, 1980), World Cup (1974), European Championship (1972).

Major honors (individual):  Ballon d’Or (1972, 1976), Footballer of the Year (Germany) (1966, 1968, 1974, 1976).

Peak years: Late 1960s to mid-1970s

6. Johan Cruyff

Johan CruyffImage credit: Bert Verhoeff for Anefo/Wikipedia Commons

Johan Cruyff arguably left a bigger legacy on soccer in his time as a coach than a player. That, and the work he did helping to establish Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy, which developed the talents of Pep Guardiola, Lionel Messi, and many others.

However, as a player, Cruyff’s dribbling and creativity were unrivaled in an era of superstars. He was the Ballon d’Or winner three times in four seasons. Though he was cruelly denied the biggest prize in world football when West Germany (led by a certain Franz Beckenbauer) won the World Cup in 1974. Despite this, he still goes down in history as one of the best soccer players of all time.

National team: Netherlands

Best World Cup performance: Runner-up (1974)

Club teams: Ajax, Barcelona, Los Angeles Aztecs, Washington Diplomats, Levante,       Feyenoord

Position: Forward/Attacking midfielder

Total number of games: 761

Total number of goals: 433

Major honors (team): Eredivisie (1965–66, 1966–67, 1967–68, 1969–70, 1971–72, 1972–73, 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84), KNVB Cup (1966–67, 1969–70, 1970–71, 1971–72, 1982–83, 1983–84), European Cup (1970–71, 1971–72, 1972–73), La Liga (1973–74), Copa del Rey (1977–78).

Major honors (individual): Ballon d’Or (1971, 1973, 1974), Dutch Footballer of the Year (1968, 1972,1984).

5. Ronaldo Nazario

Ronaldo NazarioImage creditL Alex Carvalho, CC BY-SA 2.0

The first of two Ronaldos on our list (spoiler alert), Ronaldo Nazario is considered by many to be the most complete striker in the history of soccer. He is a double World Cup and Ballon d’Or winner, and in his prime, the combination of power, speed, technical skill, and finishing ability made him almost unplayable.

Despite having his career curtailed by a repetitive patellar tendon injury, Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of the best Brazilian soccer players of all time and still managed to score 414 goals in 616 games for club and country, with a game-to-goal ratio of 0.67.

National team: Brazil

Best World Cup performance: Winner (1994, 2002)

Club teams: Cruzeiro, PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Corinthians

Position: Striker

Total number of games: 616

Total number of goals: 414

Major honors (team): KNVB Cup (1995–96, Copa del Rey (1996–97), UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup: 1996–97, UEFA Cup (1997–98), La Liga (2002–03), Copa do Brasil (2009), World Cup  (1994, 2002), Copa América (1997, 1999).

Major honors (individual): FIFA World Player of the Year (1996, 1997, 2002), Ballon d’Or (1997, 2002), Serie A Footballer of the Year (1998), UEFA Club Footballer of the Year (1997–98), FIFA World Cup All-Star Team (1998, 2002).

Peak years: Late 1990s to early 2000s

4. Cristiano Ronaldo

Christiano RonaldoImage credit: Ludovic Péron/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

A true legend of the past two decades, Cristiano Ronaldo has helped shape the vision of what a modern soccer player should be. His athleticism, professionalism, work ethic, and longevity have created a mold that many younger players will surely aspire to follow. However, his legendary goalscoring ability, especially in clutch moments, will likely never be matched.

During an era-defining rivalry with Lionel Messi’s Barca, as a Real Madrid player, the Portuguese master managed to secure four Champions League titles in five seasons. He also won five Ballon d’Or trophies and the first major trophy in Portugal’s history across an illustrious career.

National team: Portugal

Best World Cup performance: Semi-finalist (2006)*

Club teams: Sporting CP, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Juventus, Al Nassr

Position: Forward

Total number of games: 1,206*

Total number of goals: 873*

Major honors (team): Premier League (2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09), FA Cup (2003–04), Football League Cup (2005–06, 2008–09), Champions League (2007–08, 2013–14, 2015–16, 2016–17, 2017–18), FIFA Club World Cup (2008, 2014, 2016, 2017), La Liga (2011–12, 2016–17), Copa del Rey (2010–11, 2013–14), Serie A (2018–19, 2019–20), Coppa Italia (2020–21), European Championship (2016), UEFA Nations League: (2018–19).

Major honors (individual): Ballon d’Or (2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017), FIFA World Player of the Year (2008), Premier League Player of the Season (2006–07, 2007–08), La Liga Best Player (2013–14), Serie A Footballer of the Year (2019, 2020).

Peak years: Late 2000s to late 2010s

*To date

3. Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona celebrating his second goal during the 1986 FIFA World CupImage credit: Clarín newspaper/Wikipedia Commons

If you look up the phrase “tortured genius”, Diego Maradona’s name will surely be included in the description. His outstanding dribbling, technical skill, and mental resilience were made all the more fascinating by his challenges off the pitch, and his willingness to do whatever it took to win, including embracing the “hand of god”. Sorry, England fans.

Maradona never won the Ballon d’Or because, for the majority of his career, only European players were eligible. Still, he was named FIFA Player of the Century in 2000, an award he shared with the next player on our list.

National team: Argentina

Best World Cup performance: Winner (1986)

Club team(s): Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla, Newell’s Old Boys

Position: Forward/Attacking midfielder

Total number of games: 680

Total number of goals: 345

Major honors (team): Argentine Primera División (1981), Copa del Rey (1982–83), Serie A (1986–87, 1989–90), Coppa Italia (1986–87), UEFA Cup (1988–89), World Cup (1986).

Major honors (individual): FIFA Player of the Century (2000), FIFA Goal of the Century (2002).

Peak years: Late 1970s to mid-1980s

2. Pele

Pelé with BrazilImage credit: El Gráfico/Wikipedia Commons

The joint-best player of the 20th century comes in at number two on our list. Pele pips Maradona to the position based on his superior goalscoring record, and because he is the only player in history to have lifted the World Cup on three occasions.

Despite having never played for a European club team, Pele’s exploits on the international stage are even more incredible when you consider the brutal treatment he received from opposition defenders.

Like Maradona, other teams often decided the best way to stop Pele was to kick him, and the rules back then resembled something closer to modern kickboxing than soccer. Even with this treatment, Pele had a career goal-to-game ratio of 0.91 and inspired Brazil to three World Cup trophies in four tournaments.

National team: Brazil

Best World Cup performance: Winner (1958, 1962, and 1970)

Club teams: Santos, New York Cosmos

Position: Forward/Striker

Total number of games: 858

Total number of goals: 789

Major honors (team): Campeonato Brasileiro Série A (1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1968), Copa Libertadores (1962, 1963), North American Soccer League, Soccer Bowl (1977), World Cup (1958, 1962, 1970).

Major honors (individual): FIFA Player of the Century (2000).

Peak years: Late 1950s to early 1970s

1. Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi in 2014Image credit: Av Lluis/Store norske leksikon, CC BY 2.0

If this list had been written before December 2022, there would have been an argument that Lionel Messi could not take the number one spot. A World Cup win had evaded Messi for many years, and surely the true GOAT must have won the ultimate prize in soccer at least once. Well, the greatest player of all time settled the debate once and for all when he lead his team to a win in Qatar in 2022.

Amongst his many achievements, Leo has won the most major team trophies of any player in history (44), the most Ballon d’Ors (8), the most Best FIFA Men’s Player awards (3), and is the only player in history to score 40+ goals in 12 consecutive seasons. And of course, he’s topped our list of the best soccer players of all time!

All hail the GOAT, Lionel Andrés Messi.

National team: Argentina

Best World Cup performance: Winner (2022)

Club teams: Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Miami

Position: Forward/Attacking Midfielder

Total number of games: 1079*

Total number of goals: 832*

Major honors (team): La Liga (2004–05, 2005–06, 2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11, 2012–13, 2014–15, 2015–16, 2017–18, 2018–19), Copa del Rey (2008–09, 2011–12, 2014–15, 2015–16, 2016–17, 2017–18, 2020–21), Champions League (2005–06, 2008–09, 2010–11, 2014–15), FIFA Club World Cup (2009, 2011, 2015), Ligue 1 (2021–22, 2022–23), World Cup (2022), Copa América (2021).

Major honors (individual): Ballon d’Or/FIFA Ballon d’Or (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019, 2021, 2023), Copa América Best Player (2015, 2021), La Liga Best Player (2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11, 2011–12, 2012–13, 2014–15), Argentine Footballer of the Year (2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023)

Peak years: Late 2000s to 2010s

*To date

Best Soccer Player FAQs

Who are the best soccer players ever?

The top 10 best soccer players of all time are (in descending order): Michel Platini, Alfredo Di Stefano, Zinedine Zidane, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, Ronaldo Nazario, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Maradona, Pele, and Lionel Messi. This is based on their achievements, skill level, goal-scoring records, and longevity in soccer.

Who are the best soccer players right now?

According to the voting in the last edition of the Ballon d’Or in 2023, the top ten best players in soccer right now are (in descending order): Luka Modrić, Bernardo Silva, Victor Osimhen, Julián Álvarez, Vinícius Júnior, Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne, Kylian Mbappé, Erling Haaland, and Lionel Messi.

Is David Beckham one of the best soccer players ever?

For several years David Beckham was considered one of the best players in the world. He was runner-up in the Ballon d’Or in 1999, and twice runner-up for FIFA World Player of the Year in 1999 and 2001. He is regarded as one of the best English soccer players ever, and is also one of the richest players.

However, David Beckham isn’t one of the best soccer players of all time. To be considered as such, a player usually has to have won one or more Ballon d’Or trophies, and the World Cup. Beckham achieved neither.

What country has the best soccer players?

The best soccer players in the world can come from any country. For example, in the 2023 Ballon d’Or rankings, the top 10 players were each from a different country and the top 20 included players from Norway, Nigeria, Morocco, Georgia, and Egypt.

However, when looking historically at the best soccer players of all time, both Argentina (Messi and Maradona) and Brazil (Pele and Ronaldo) have two players in the top five, so they have arguably produced the best talent ever seen on a soccer pitch.

Who are the best US soccer players?

Some of the best American soccer players at the moment are Christian Pulisic (AC Milan), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Weston McKennie (Juventus), and Folarin Balogun (Monaco). Each of these USMNT stars plays in one of the big five European leagues, challenging for the biggest titles domestically and in Europe.

Historically, some of the best American soccer players were Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, and Brad Friedel.

Lead image credit: Football Pictures/Flickr, PDM 1.0

Author: Nathan Sanchez