Fùtbol aka Football aka Soccer is known throughout the world as the ‘Beautiful Game’. It is also the un-official sport of mankind. There is not a corner of this planet that football hasn’t reached. Every four years, the FIFA World Cup, much like the olympics, is truly a world event that transcends politics, and even religion. The commonality of this game is something that links humanity in interest that is valuable and unique in ways that would be difficult to quantify. It’s a game that doesn’t exclude the poorest of humanity, nor does it doesn’t grant any special rights to the wealthy. There’s a ball, and a pitch, and human beings engaged in a wonderful athletic ballet, an opera that transcends language and geography. Football is a culture that the entire world shares. Idiots Guide has compiled a list of some of the greatest footballers the world has ever had the pleasure to watch perform on the pitch. A select group of men whose feats of play are legendary, part of the fabric of world history. This is our list of the 25 greatest players. We fully expect that there will be some disagreement and encourage constructive feedback and thoughtful opinion. For now Idiots Guide presents ‘The Greatest Footballers of All-Time’. Please Enjoy.
#25. Majed Abdullah / Jeddah, Saudi Arabia / Striker
Majed Abdullah aka ‘The Arabian Jewel’ is also known as ‘Desert Pelé’ to his legions of fans. Majed is a 3 Time Asian Footballer of the Year (1984, 1985 and 1986). He is also a 2 Time AFC Asian Cup winner (1984 and 1988). A prolific goal scorer, Majed was a league top scorer on 6 separate occasions.
#24. Sócrates / Belém, Pará, Brazil / Attacking Midfielder
His full God-given name is Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira. His advanced education which includes a doctorate in medicine made him also known as ‘Doctor Socrates’. His anti-conformist image starting with unruly beard and headband, made him a symbol of free spirited souls of a generation. Sócrates is considered one of the greatest middle field players of all-time. Sócrates was the South American Footballer of the Year in 1983 and in 2004 he was honored by Pelé himself on the FIFA list of 100 greatest living players on earth. A true son of Brazil, Sócrates played on 7 Brazil World Cup teams, including team captain in 1982. He scored 22 goals in his World Cup career.
#23. Rabah Madjer / Hussein Dey, Algeria / Striker
Rabah Madjer made his bones as a player for Porto during the 1980s. In many circles he is widely regarded as the best Algerian football player of all time. Rabah has won 9 major titles, 3 National Championships and a 1987 European Cup Championship. Madjer also played on two Algerian World Cup teams, including their first ever appearance in 1982.
#22. Gerhard “Gerd” Müller / Nördlingen, Germany / Striker
Gerd Müller aka ‘Der Bomber’ was a prolific offensive player known for legendary feats inside the penalty box area. A hard nosed striker, Müller is widely regarded as one of the most prolific goal scorers in football history. In a 15 year career with Bayern Munich, Müller is credited with a record 365 goals in 427 games. He also holds an international record for 66 goals in 74 European club games. Müller is 12th all time as a international goal scorer. In 1970 Müller was named ‘European Footballer of the Year’. That same year he scored 10 goals for West Germany in the World Cup, winning the ‘Golden Boot’ in the process, as top goalscorer. He scored the winning goal in the 1974 World Cup final. In 2004, Müller was named by Pele in FIFA’s 100 world’s greatest living players.
#21. Ronaldo / Rio de Janeiro, Brazil / Striker
Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima aka ‘The Phenomenon’, is one of the greatest individual players that Brazil has ever produced. Ronaldo is also widely considered to be one of the greatest footballers all-time. He has 3 FIFA World Player of the Year awards and 2 Ballon d’Or awards to his career credit. Ronaldo is also a member of the FIFA 100 and is a member of the Brazilian Football Museum Hall of Fame. Not to be outdone, by himself, he is also a member of the Italian Football Hall of Fame.
#20. Michel Platini / Jœuf, France / Attacking Midfielder
France’s own Michel François Platini is widely regarded as one of the best players in France’s history, as well as one of the greatest football players of all time. He is an original member of the FIFA World Cup Dream Team. His career credits include winning the prestigious Ballon d’Or on 3 separate occasions (1983, 1984 and 1985). He also won the Serie A capocannoniere award 3 consecutive years (1983 -1985). In addition, Platini was the top scorer during Juventus’s winning 1984–85 European Cup campaign. In 2004, Platini was named to the FIFA 100 list. He also holds the record for most goals (9) in a European Championship final tournament (1984).
#19. Paolo Maldini / Milan, Italy / Defender
Paolo Cesare Maldini played his entire 25 year career with Serie A Milan. Maldini was a bonafide winner. He earned 26 trophies with Milan. He was a 5 Time Champions League winner. He has 7 Serie A titles, 5 Supercoppa Italiana titles, 5 European Super Cups, 2 Intercontinental Cups, and one each FIFA Club World Cup, and a Coppa Italia title(s). That’s an incredible amount of team success. His individual success is noteworthy as well, Maldini is considered one of the greatest defenders of all-time. He was a world class player for well over 20 years, winning the UEFA Best Defender trophy at the spry age of 39. In the same year (2004) he won the Serie A Defender of the Year Award. A great great player.
#18. Roberto Rivellino / São Paulo, Brazil / Attacking Midfielder
Roberto Rivellino is a legend in Brazilian football lore specifically for his contributions as a star player on the vaunted 1970 FIFA World Cup winning team. Roberto’s face was always easy to spot with his vintage mustache, his game was easy to notice if you like earth bending free kicks, pin-point long range shooting and laser focused passing. He was also known for his excellent pitch vision, ball control especially in close quarters and his incredible dribbling. He invented and perfected the ‘flip flap’, which has since been imitated by modern stars. Rivellino’s exceptional grace on the football pitch is legendary. He is widely considered among the very best midfielders to ever play the game. In 2004, he was named to the FIFA 100 list of world’s greatest living players.
#17. Mario Kempes / Bell Ville, Argentina / Striker
Mario Kempes was a player who could put the ball inside the net. Kempes was a prolific offensive weapon during his club level days for Valencia. He won the La Liga goal scoring title on 2 occasions as he compiled 116 goals during that span. Kempes provided star power and excellent play during Argentina’s 1978 World Cup victory. He found the back of the net twice during that final, and was honored with the ‘Golden Boot’ as top goalscorer for his efforts. In addition he was awarded the ‘Golden Ball’ as best player in the entire tournament. An achievement that made him one of three players to have ever won the trifecta of awards during World Cup play. Individually, Kempes won the ‘South American Footballer of the Year’ award as well as the ‘World Cup Golden Ball’, both in 1978. He was also named to the FIFA top 125.
#16. Hugo Sánchez / Mexico City, Mexico / Forward
Hugo Sánchez Márquez was a phenomenal goal scorer who is legendary for his flamboyant style of strikes and amazing foot volleys. Sánchez is arguably the greatest footballer to ever come out of Mexico, and certainly one of the greatest players of his generation. In 1999, he was voted the 26th best footballer of the 20th century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics. In 2004 Sánchez was named to the FIFA 100 greatest living players.
#15. Xavi Hernández / Terrassa, Spain / Midfielder
Xavier “Xavi” Hernández Creus is a highly decorated and awarded footballer who has won more trophies (28) than any other Spanish born player in history. Hernandez is a 4 – time IFFHS World’s Best Playmaker award winner (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). He is also a 5 – time member of the UEFA Team of the Year (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), and a 6 time FIFA World XI (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013). In addition, he has 3rd place finishes in the 2009 FIFA World Player of the Year and the FIFA Ballon d’Or (2010 and 2011). Hernandez was also the runner up to Lionel Messi as the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award. Considered to be one of the greatest footballers in history.
#14. George Best / Belfast, Northern Ireland / Winger/Midfielder
During an unusually brief career George Best showed the extraordinary talent that made him a legend. In 1968 Best and Manchester United won the European Cup. That same year he was named the European Footballer of the Year, as well as FWA Footballer of the Year. Best was famous for his otherworldly dribbling and skillful style of play that gracefully combined pace, balance, excellent two-footedness and prolific goal scoring. Best was one of the original 22 inductees into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002. He is widely regarded as the greatest footballer that Northern Ireland has ever produced. He is also one of the original ‘celebrity’ footballers with the appropriate nickname ‘El Beatle’. His party lifestyle and alcoholism contributed to his eventual demise as both player and person.
#13. Bobby Moore / Barking, Essex, England / Defender
Robert Frederick Chelsea ‘Bobby’ Moore was a 10 year captain of West Ham United. He was famously the heart and soul captain of the 1966 England World Cup Championship team. In many circles Moore is considered one of the very best defenders of all-time. Pelé credits him as being ‘the greatest defender that he ever played against’. He is also a member of the 20th century World Team. He has a total of 108 caps for team England which was a national record at the time.
#12. Eusébio / Lourenço Marques, Portuguese Mozambique / Striker
Eusébio da Silva Ferreira is a name that will always surface when people discuss the greatest footballers of all-time. He was the top goal scorer (9) at the 1966 World Cup in which Portugal took third place. He earned the ‘Bronze Ball award’ for his efforts. In 1965 he won the vaunted ‘Ballon d’Or Award’ with two runner-ups in 1962 and 1966. He played most of his career for Benfica and is their all-time leading scorer (638 goals). He also won 11 Primeira Liga titles, 5 Taça de Portugal titles, as well as a European Cup (1961–62). Eusébio is the 8th highest goal scorer in European Cup history being the league’s top scorer 3 times (1964–65, 1965–66, 1967–68). In addition he is a 7 time Bola de Prata Award winner, which is also a record. Eusébio was the first ever player to win the European ‘Golden Boot’, doing so in 1968 then again in 1973. Truly one of the greatest ever.
#11. Zico / Rio de Janeiro, Brazil / Attacking Midfielder
Arthur Antunes Coimbra aka ‘Zico’ is often referred to as the ‘White Pelé’ because of his transcendent creativity on the pitch. His technical ability and vision are legendary, however it was his amazing skill as a finisher and his otherworldly passing that set him apart. During the 1970’s Zico was among the very best footballers on earth. He is also known for his free kick talent and ability to bend the ball in numerous directions on the pitch. Zico is the fourth highest goal scorer for the Brazilian national team (48). He played on three World Cup teams (1978, 1982 and 1986). The 1982 Brazilian team is widely considered one of the greatest teams never win the World Cup. Zico was also Player of the Year in both 1981 and 1983.
#10. Garrincha / Pau Grande, RJ, Brazil / Winger
Manuel Francisco dos Santos aka ‘Garrincha’ is widely regarded as the best dribbler the game of football has ever seen. As a member of the Brazilian national team, Garrincha is a 2-time FIFA World Cup Champion (1958, 1962). During the 1962 tournament and with Pelé not available due to injury, he powered Brazil to victory. He earned the ‘World Cup Golden Ball’ as best player of the tournament and the ‘Golden Boot’ as the top goal scorer. He was also named to the World Cup All-Star Team, in addition he was later voted to the FIFA All-Time World Cup Team. Garrincha is also a member of the World Team of the 20th Century as well as an inductee into the Brazilian Football Hall of Fame.
#9. Alfredo di Stefano / Buenos Aires, Argentina / Forward
Alfredo Stéfano Di Stéfano Laulhé aka ‘Saeta rubia’ (Blond Arrow) has a legend that says he is perhaps the most complete all around footballer of all time. He was large part of the talented foundation of the 1950’s Real Madrid team, that dominated the competition in the European Champions Cup. He facilitated a dynastic run in which Real Madrid won 5 consecutive trophies starting in 1956. He is one of three players to participate in all five championships. Di Stéfano played internationally for Spain, Argentina and Colombia in his illustrious career. He is the leading goal scorer for Madrid in the history of El Clásico. Alfredo was honored as the Golden Player of Spain by the Royal Spanish Football Federation and in 2004 he was named to the FIFA 100.
#8. Ferenc Puskás / Budapest, Hungary / Striker
Like every man on this list, Ferenc Puskás was a winner. He is considered in many circles as one of the greatest footballers of all-time. His winning began with his Olympic Championship in 1952. He followed that up with a World Cup final called the ‘Miracle of Bern’ against West Germany. Although Hungary came up short, Puskás was named the best player of the tournament. Puskás won 3 European Cups (1959, 1960, 1966), 10 National Championships (5 Hungarian & 5 Spanish Primera) as well as 8 scoring title honors. His club play with Real Madrid saw 4 ‘Pichichis’ and 7 goals in European Champions Cup finals games. In 1995 Ferenc was recognized as the best scorer of the 20th century by the IFFHS. Not bad. Not bad at all.
#7. Johan Cruyff / Amsterdam, Netherlands / Forward
In the Netherlands, Hendrik Johannes “Johan” Cruijff is a legendary bonafide superstar. He is a 3-time ‘Ballon d’Or Award’ winner (1971, 1973 and 1974). He is credited with the football philosophy known as ‘Total Football’ and he is widely considered to be one of the greatest footballers history. Johan was a huge part of the Netherlands rise as a serious football power in the decade of the 1970s. Leading the Netherlands to the finals of the 1974 FIFA World Cup. He was awarded the ‘Golden Ball’ as best player of that same tournament. A big reason for his award was his execution of a ‘feint’ aka ‘dummy’ a football move that was eventually named after him, during the final game. Post career he has been named to the ‘World Team of the 20th Century’ in 1998, the ‘FIFA World Cup Dream Team’ in 2002 and was named to the FIFA 100.
#6. Franz Beckenbauer / Munich, Germany / Sweeper
Franz Anton Beckenbauer aka ‘Der Kaiser’ (‘The Emperor’) is known as being a true field general with athletic style and dominating play. As with all of the men on this list his career and accomplishments make him one of the greatest players of all-time. Franz was a 2-time European Footballer of the Year and he appeared in over 10o contests representing West Germany and played in 3 FIFA World Cups. He is one of two men on earth who have won a World Cup both as a player and as a manager. He took West Germany to the World Cup as a player and won in 1974, then in 1990 he took West Germany back as a manager and he won again. Franz became the first captain to win the both the World Cup and European Championship. One at the international level and one at the club level.
#5. Zinedine Zidane / Marseille, France / Attacking Midfielder
France’s Zinedine Zidane‘s career is a highly decorated one. He is a 3-time FIFA World Player of the Year (1998, 2000 and 2003), he won the prestigious Ballon d’Or Award in 1998, He was also won the Ligue 1 Player of the Year in 1996, the Serie A Footballer of the Year in 2001 and La Liga Best Foreign Player in 2002. Get all of that? In addition, Zidane was awarded the ‘Golden Ball’ for his play in the 2006 World Cup tournament. This in-spite of his unceremonious ejection for head butting Italy’s Marco Materazzi. His club team career was no less esteemed, winning the La Liga title, UEFA Champions League title, 2 Serie A league championships and a UEFA Super Cup. Yes, he was that good folks.
#4. Diego Maradona / Buenos Aires, Argentina / Attacking Midfielder
How valuable was Diego Armando Maradona as a footballer? Well, he is the only player in history to set the world record for team transfer fee amount(s)…twice. His transfer to Barcelona was worth a world record £5 million. He out did himself with his second transfer fee which commanded £6.9 million, another record amount with his transfer to Napoli. The reason he was worth this kind of money had a lot to do with his amazing field vision, laser focused passing, insane ball control and dribbling skills, plus his lightning speed and ridiculous reflexes. His low center of gravity ( 5’5″) was a great advantage on the pitch. In the 1986 World Cup he was Argentina’s captain while he led them over West Germany in the final to victory. His exploits won him the ‘Golden Ball’ as the best player. Also during the 1986 World Cup he scored two famous goals, the first goal was known as the ‘Hand of God’, and the second goal was called ‘The Goal of the Century’ as per FIFA.com voters in 2002. His individual honors include: 2-time South American Footballer of the Year (1979, 1980), In 1986 he won both the FIFA World Cup ‘Golden Ball’ and the ‘Silver Shoe’, as well as the ‘L’Équipe Champion of Champions’, ‘United Press International Athlete of the Year’ and the ‘World Soccer Player of the Year’. In 1985 he won the ‘Guerin d’Oro’ (Serie A Footballer of the Year) and the ‘Onze de Bronze’ (he won it again in 1988).
#3. Lionel Messi / Rosario, Argentina / Forward
There will be some people who will argue that Lionel Andrés “Leo” Messi should be number one on our listing, and perhaps the greatest of all-time. It’s a strong argument, however the top 3 players are all greatest type players and are interchangeable at this stage of the game. Messi is a phenomenon of a footballer, a scoring machine with the feet of an angel. Messi is the only man on earth to have won ‘FIFA World Player of the Year’ and the ‘Ballon d’Or Award’ on 5 different occasions with 4 of them coming consecutively. He was the original 3-time winner of the European ‘Golden Shoes Award’. With his teams like Barcelona, he has 7 La Liga titles, 4 UEFA Champions League titles and 3 Copa del Rey titles. That’s a ton of winning. Messi is also a record setting goal scorer as he holds the records for most goals scored in a La Liga season (50), as well as in a calendar year (91). He also has records for goals in a single season (73) in Champions League play. The reality is that there’s no arguing Messi’s greatness here, so we won’t begin to try. #3 on our list.
#2. Cristiano Ronaldo / Funchal, Madeira, Portugal / Forward
Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro is without question one of, if not the greatest, footballer on the face of the planet earth at this moment in time. His accomplishments are vast and acclaimed. He surpassed Lionel Messi by becoming the first player to win the European Golden Shoe award 4-times. Playing with teams like Manchester United and Real Madrid, Ronaldo has a mantle displaying 3 Premier League titles, 1 La Liga title, 1 FA Cup title, 2 Football League Cup titles, 2 Copas del Rey titles, 2 UEFA Champions League titles, 1 UEFA Super Cup title and 2 FIFA Club World Cups titles. Individually he has to his credit 3 Ballon d’Or Awards (2008, 2013, 2014). You can also add a FIFA World Player of the Year (2008), FIFA Pro World Player of the Year (2008), UEFA Best Player in Europe Award (2014), 3-time World Soccer Player of the Year Award (2008, 2013, 2014), 2-time GSA Best Player of the Year (2011, 2014), in addition to being a 4-time European Golden Shoe Award winner (2007–08, 2010–11, 2013–14, 2014–15). The scary part is that he’s still in his prime.
#1. Pelé / Três Corações, Brazil / Forward
The Idiots Guide has ranked Edson Arantes do Nascimento aka Pelé as the greatest footballer the world has ever known. That might be debatable, but not by much. What isn’t up for debate is his influence and role as ambassador and global icon for the game of football. Pelé is the man who coined the phrase ‘beautiful game’. He was voted ‘World Player of the Century’ by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) in 1999. In league play Pelé is the most successful league goal scorer, ever. He amassed 541 league goals and 1281 goals in his combined playing career. Playing for his country Brazil, Pelé won 3 FIFA World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970) making him the only player to ever accomplish that feat. Playing for Santos at the club level he led them to 2 Copa Libertadores titles (1962, 1963) His gift for showmanship and amazing, electrifying play including beautiful bicycle kicks, made him a global superstar, as he continues to be even today. Since his retirement in 1977, Pelé has toured the world many times over as an ambassador for the beautiful game of football. For our money, Pelé is the greatest ever.