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Top 10 Best Soccer Players Ever in History

All-Time Soccer Rankings

by Riley Baines
Top 10 Best Soccer Players of All-Time

Top 10 Best Soccer Players Ever in History

Stepping onto the lush, green canvas of the football pitch, legends are born and legacies are crafted. Across continents and through generations, the beautiful game of soccer (or football, as it’s known in many corners of the world) has birthed a pantheon of extraordinary talents. From the bustling streets of Rio to the electric nights in Barcelona, from the passionate roars in Buenos Aires to the echoing anthems in Manchester, soccer has been the heartbeat of nations and the dreamscape of millions. Now, as we embark on the daunting task of sifting through history’s archives and highlighting the top 10 best soccer players ever, it’s vital to remember: our selections aren’t merely based on goals scored or trophies won. Instead, they encapsulate moments of magic, unparalleled influence, and an indelible impact on the global stage. As we lace up our boots and prepare for this journey, let’s revel in the stories, skills, and sheer brilliance of the sport’s most iconic figures.


#10 – Zico

Ah, Zico—the white pele, the genius from Brazil. When discussing the most illustrious playmakers in the history of football, Arthur Antunes Coimbra, better known as Zico, unequivocally secures his spot. Born in a country where soccer is less of a sport and more of a religion, Zico was the maestro who made the ball dance to his tunes.

Donning the iconic yellow of Brazil and the fiery red and black of Flamengo, Zico showcased a style of play that blended vision, precision, and flair. With an uncanny ability to read the game, he could conjure assists out of thin air, leaving defenders befuddled and audiences enchanted. His free-kicks? Legendary. The man had an almost telepathic connection with the ball, curling it around walls and beyond the reach of the most agile goalkeepers.

Throughout the late 70s and early 80s, Zico was the embodiment of samba soccer. While he never clinched a World Cup—despite coming agonizingly close in 1982—his influence on the global stage was undeniable. At the club level with Flamengo, he achieved monumental success, becoming the heart and soul of the team.

Zico’s impact wasn’t confined to just his playing days. After hanging up his boots, he took to coaching, sharing his vast reservoir of footballing knowledge with new generations.

In a nation brimming with footballing legends, Zico carved out his own legacy, one of elegance, intelligence, and sheer brilliance. And as we delve into our top 10 countdown, it’s only fitting that this Brazilian maestro gets the ball rolling.


#9 – Franco Baresi

In the realm of defensive maestros, few names shine as brightly as Franco Baresi. The heartbeat of AC Milan and a stalwart for the Azzurri, Baresi’s illustrious career stands as a testament to the art of defending.

Born in the bustling city of Travagliato, Baresi’s journey to the top was anything but ordinary. At AC Milan, he wasn’t just a player; he was an emblem, a symbol of resilience and unwavering dedication. For two decades, he wore the Rossoneri jersey with unparalleled pride, marshaling the backline with an iron fist.

Baresi’s style of play was a unique blend of elegance and tenacity. While his stature wasn’t imposing, his reading of the game was second to none. He had the uncanny ability to anticipate opponents’ moves, often making game-saving tackles or interceptions that left forwards in disbelief. His leadership on and off the field was palpable, earning him the captain’s armband for both club and country.

The crowning jewel of his international career came in 1982 when Italy lifted the World Cup. Though heartbreak followed in 1994 with a missed penalty in the final shootout, Baresi’s legacy remained untarnished. Such was his influence that, upon his retirement, AC Milan retired the iconic number 6 jersey in his honor.

In a sport often dominated by attacking prowess and flashy skills, Baresi reminded the world of the beauty of defense. With impeccable timing, unmatched intelligence, and an indomitable spirit, Franco Baresi rightly claims his spot among the greatest to ever grace the football pitch.


#8 – George Best

Hailing from the streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland, to the grand stages of the footballing world, George Best was more than just a player; he was an enigma, a maverick, the original “rockstar” of football. With dazzling footwork, a fearless spirit, and charisma in spades, Best graced the pitch in a manner few could replicate.

At Manchester United, under the guidance of Sir Matt Busby, Best burst onto the scene in the 1960s, a decade where he would leave an indelible mark. His dribbling was hypnotic, his vision unparalleled, and his goals—simply spectacular. It wasn’t uncommon to see Best weave through a maze of defenders, leaving them in his wake, as Old Trafford erupted in jubilation.

Yet, what made Best truly special was the joy he brought to the game. Every touch, every shimmy, every sprint was laced with a childlike enthusiasm and a touch of genius. In 1968, he reached the pinnacle of club football, helping Manchester United clinch the European Cup, while also being crowned the European Footballer of the Year.

Off the pitch, Best’s life was filled with as much drama as flair. His larger-than-life personality meant he was as much a tabloid fixture as he was a footballing icon. But amid the whirlwind of fame, the footballing genius of George Best remained undeniable.

While his career and life had its fair share of peaks and troughs, the legacy of George Best remains untarnished in the annals of football history. A trailblazer in every sense, Best’s magic on the pitch and his spirit off it ensures his rightful place among the greatest ever to play the game of soccer.


#7 – Michel Platini

When the chronicles of European football are recited, the name Michel Platini reverberates with a unique blend of reverence and nostalgia. Hailing from the eastern realms of France, Platini emerged as the epitome of midfield excellence, masterfully orchestrating play with an elegance that was truly poetic.

Draped in the blue of Les Bleus and the black and white stripes of Juventus, Platini showcased a footballing intellect that was decades ahead of its time. His vision was panoramic; he seemed to perceive plays and avenues that remained invisible to mere mortals. But it wasn’t just his playmaking that stood out. Platini had a knack for finding the back of the net, especially when the stakes were sky-high. His free-kicks were things of beauty, curling masterpieces that left goalkeepers mere spectators.

During the 1980s, Platini’s star shone the brightest. He won the Ballon d’Or thrice in succession, a testament to his unmatched prowess and consistency. On the international stage, he was instrumental in France’s triumph in the 1984 European Championship, a tournament where he was top scorer and the undeniable MVP.

Beyond the playing fields, Platini’s influence in football persisted, as he ventured into realms of administration and leadership. However, these endeavors were mired in controversies that, for some, cast shadows over his illustrious legacy.

But as we reminisce about the magician on the pitch, it’s the moments of brilliance, the deft touches, the roaring goals, and the sheer joy he brought to fans that truly define Michel Platini. A maestro in every sense, his legacy in football’s hall of fame is well-deserved and undeniable.


#6 – Johan Cruyff

Stepping into the theater of dreams, few players have redefined the beautiful game quite like Johan Cruyff. From the bustling avenues of Amsterdam to the colossal Camp Nou in Barcelona, Cruyff was not just a player; he was a philosopher, a visionary, a beacon of football’s evolution.

Dawning the iconic Ajax jersey, Cruyff’s footballing brilliance was evident from the outset. His agility, speed, and technical prowess were unparalleled. But what truly set him apart was his footballing brain. With Cruyff on the pitch, every move was a calculated chess play, every touch a brushstroke on a canvas. The birth of “Total Football” in the Netherlands had Cruyff at its epicenter, blurring traditional positions and reshaping how the game was played.

A move to Barcelona saw Cruyff further engrain his legend, with a style of play that laid the foundation for the club’s future successes. The “Cruyff Turn”, a move so simple yet so ingenious, became synonymous with the Dutch maestro, a signature that left defenders flummoxed.

Internationally, while the coveted World Cup eluded him, Cruyff’s influence in taking the Dutch side to the final in 1974 was profound. His #14 jersey, forever etched in Oranje lore, became emblematic of a player ahead of his time.

Yet, Johan Cruyff’s legacy isn’t confined to his playing days. His managerial stint at Barcelona birthed the “Dream Team”, laying the philosophical groundwork for modern football concepts, which includes the now-famous tiki-taka style.

The football world mourned when Cruyff passed away, but his ideologies, his teachings, and his undying love for the game ensure that his legacy will echo through eternity. A maestro in every essence, Johan Cruyff’s place among football’s elite is not just deserved—it’s imperative.


Honorable Mention – Kylian Mbappe

In the constellation of football luminaries, there emerges a young star, still in the nascent stages of his career, but shining with an intensity that promises legendary status. Enter Kylian Mbappé, the wunderkind from Bondy, whose meteoric rise has been nothing short of astounding.

Mbappé is a whirlwind of energy, pace, and skill. His blistering speed often leaves defenders gasping in his wake, earning him the title as one of soccers’ fastest players ever. Whether it’s darting through defensive lines or providing the finishing touch to a team move, Mbappé is the embodiment of youthful exuberance meeting exceptional talent.

His feats at such a young age are already stuff of legends. A pivotal role in France’s triumphant 2018 World Cup campaign, with a goal in the final that drew comparisons to the great Pelé, showcased his arrival on the global stage. Add another World Cup finals in 2022 and it’s clear he’s here to stay.

Yet, it’s not just the accolades or the goals; it’s the sheer joy and passion with which Mbappé plays the game. Every sprint, every dribble, every celebration exudes a love for football, a passion that resonates with fans around the globe.

While the journey is still unfolding, and many chapters of the Kylian Mbappé story remain to be written, his current trajectory suggests a path lined with glory, records, and an ever-growing list of admirers.


#5 – Zinedine Zidane

From the gritty streets of Marseille to the pinnacle of global football, Zinedine Zidane’s journey is nothing short of a cinematic epic. With a ball at his feet, ‘Zizou’, as he’s affectionately known, was an artist, crafting masterpieces that left spectators in a state of awe and opponents in dazed admiration.

Donning the white of Real Madrid and the blue of Les Bleus, Zidane’s style was an intoxicating blend of strength and subtlety. His ball control was impeccable; whether it was the tightest of spaces or the grandest of stages, Zidane always seemed to have an eternity to decide his next move. With an elegance that belied his robust physique, he danced around challenges, often making world-class defenders look like mere training cones.

His moments of brilliance are etched in football folklore: the exquisite volley against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League final, the two headers that propelled France to World Cup glory in 1998, and, of course, the infamous headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final, a moment of passion that epitomized Zidane’s raw connection with the game.

Beyond his playing days, Zidane’s influence on football persisted. As the manager of Real Madrid, he steered the Spanish giants to an unprecedented three consecutive Champions League titles, further solidifying his legendary status.

Zinedine Zidane was more than just a player; he was an embodiment of passion, elegance, and unyielding determination. In the vast tapestry of football greats, Zizou’s legacy stands out, shimmering with moments of magic, resilience, and an undying love for the beautiful game. His place among football’s immortals isn’t just merited; it’s profoundly deserved.


#4 – Cristiano Ronaldo

From the humble terrains of Madeira, Portugal, to the grandest arenas of global football, Cristiano Ronaldo’s tale is a symphony of sheer will, unparalleled ambition, and footballing genius. Few athletes, let alone footballers, possess the drive and insatiable hunger for success that Ronaldo exhibits every time he steps onto the pitch.

Representing the emblematic red of Manchester United, the royal white of Real Madrid, the iconic black and white of Juventus, and now back with the Red Devils, Ronaldo has been a force of nature. His physical prowess, combined with a razor-sharp footballing mind, has seen him rewrite record books and redefine longevity in the sport. Whether it’s a towering header, a bullet of a free-kick, or a deft finish, CR7, as he’s popularly known, has done it all.

Beyond the goals – and there have been many – it’s Ronaldo’s relentless pursuit of perfection that stands out. His work ethic, both on and off the field, has become the stuff of legend. Training sessions that extend long after his peers have left, a regimented lifestyle, and an unwavering commitment to fitness, all serve as a testament to his dedication.

On the international stage, he’s been the beating heart of Portugal, leading them to their first-ever European Championship in 2016 and the UEFA Nations League triumph in 2019. These victories solidified Ronaldo’s status not just as one of the best in the world, but one of the best ever.

Off the pitch, his larger-than-life persona, philanthropic endeavors, and entrepreneurial ventures paint the portrait of a man who knows no bounds.

In the annals of football history, Cristiano Ronaldo will not merely be remembered as one of the game’s finest talents but as an icon, a trailblazer, and an embodiment of what it means to chase greatness relentlessly. The CR7 saga, still in the making, is a testament to talent, grit, and a determination that’s simply out of this world.


#3 – Diego Maradona

In the pantheon of football gods, Diego Armando Maradona holds a place of reverence, passion, and sheer, unadulterated genius. Emerging from the bustling barrios of Buenos Aires, Maradona’s journey to footballing immortality was as tumultuous as it was mesmerizing, embodying a spirit that was as rebellious as it was brilliant.

Clad in the blue and white stripes of Argentina and the azure of Napoli, Maradona was a force unparalleled. His low center of gravity, coupled with dribbling skills that seemed otherworldly, made him a nightmare for defenders. Every touch, every feint, every swivel was poetry in motion, a dance of a man completely in tune with the spherical muse.

The 1986 World Cup remains the zenith of Maradona’s legend. His goal against England, a solo run that saw him gracefully dance past five English players, was aptly described as the ‘Goal of the Century’. Yet, it was his infamous “Hand of God” in the same match that encapsulated the duality of Maradona – a blend of cheeky audacity and unparalleled skill.

At Napoli, Maradona transformed a side perennially in the shadows into Italian champions, achieving god-like status in the process. The streets of Naples still resonate with tales of his heroics, with murals and shrines dedicated to the diminutive genius.

However, Maradona’s life off the pitch mirrored the drama of a Shakespearean tragedy. Battling addiction, controversies, and health issues, his life was a rollercoaster, a reflection of a man who lived every moment with unbridled intensity.

In November 2020, the world mourned as Maradona departed from this realm. Yet, his legend, his magic, and his undying love for the game ensure that Diego Maradona will forever be remembered not just as a footballer, but as an icon, a revolutionary, and one of the greatest maestros the sport has ever witnessed. In the heartbeats of football lovers worldwide, Maradona’s spirit lives on, eternal and undying.


#2 – Pelé

In the vast cosmos of football, few stars have shone as brilliantly as Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known to the world simply as Pelé. Born in the humble town of Três Corações, Brazil, Pelé’s journey from kicking a sock stuffed with newspaper in the streets to gracing the world’s grandest stages is the stuff of legends.

Decked in the iconic yellow and green of Brazil, Pelé was not just a player; he was an embodiment of joy, passion, and the samba spirit that Brazil so cherishes. With a touch that was as soft as a feather and a strike as powerful as thunder, Pelé dazzled defenders and mesmerized spectators. His vision, flair, and ability to conjure magic from seemingly nothing made him a maestro on the field.

His record speaks volumes. A jaw-dropping 1,000+ career goals, three World Cup titles with Brazil in 1958, 1962, and 1970, and countless accolades and awards. But it wasn’t just the statistics. It was the way Pelé played the game—with a smile on his face, with joy in his heart, and with a grace that made it seem as if he was dancing with the ball.

Beyond his national duties, Pelé’s club career, predominantly with Santos and later with the New York Cosmos, showcased his enduring class and ability to light up any league in the world.

Off the pitch, Pelé’s impact was just as profound. A global ambassador for the game, his charisma, humility, and advocacy for peace and love made him a beloved figure worldwide. His name became synonymous not just with football, but with sporting excellence across all disciplines.

In the annals of time, as tales of footballing greats are recounted, the story of Pelé will always hold a special place. Not just for the goals, the trophies, or the accolades, but for the sheer love and joy he brought to the beautiful game. In a world of fleeting legends, Pelé’s legacy remains timeless, golden, and evergreen. A true “King” of football, his reign on the throne of greatness remains unchallenged and revered.


#1 – Lionel Messi

In the artful gallery of football’s finest, there emerges a figure whose tapestry of achievements, skill, and genius paints a scene unlike any other: Lionel Messi. From the football-mad streets of Rosario, Argentina, to the colossal Camp Nou in Barcelona, Messi’s narrative is one of extraordinary talent meeting relentless determination.

Wearing the iconic Blaugrana of Barcelona, Messi’s brilliance transcended definitions. His diminutive stature belied an astronomical presence on the pitch; defenders, no matter how adept, often found themselves mere spectators to his balletic performances. With an uncanny ability to weave through the tightest of defenses, combined with a left foot that could caress or cannon a ball, Messi was both a dreamer’s vision and a pragmatist’s solution on the field.

The records, and there are plenty, only tell a fraction of the tale. The seven Ballon d’Or titles, the plethora of goals, assists, and the countless trophies with Barcelona provide a numerical testimony to his prowess. But Messi’s magic isn’t confined to statistics; it’s in the moments – the solo runs, the cheeky chips, the last-minute winners, and the joy he brings to millions.

On the international stage, after years of heartbreak, Messi’s crowning glory came with Argentina’s triumph in the 2022 World Cup.

Away from the lime-lit stages, Messi’s humility stands in stark contrast to his global stature, embodying the spirit of a boy who simply loves to play football. His philanthropic endeavors and commitment to bettering the lives of the less fortunate reflect a hero off the pitch as much as on it.

In the endless debate of the greatest of all time, preferences may vary, and eras may shift, but Lionel Messi’s claim to the throne is undeniable. In a realm of stars, legends, and icons, Messi shines the brightest, etching his name in golden letters in the annals of footballing history. As time moves on, stories of Messi’s genius will be told and retold, a testament to a legacy that is both awe-inspiring and infinite.

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