Greatest XI: The Best Soccer Players Of All Time By Position
Ever wondered who the best soccer players of all time are by position? These are players who showed excellence in the soccer position they played. They typically possess a great array of skills, high technical quality and have won some of the biggest trophies on the grandest stages.
Soccer is a popular sport, undoubtedly the most famous, and followed throughout the globe; it has given the fans many amazing footballers who have reached legendary status while playing the beautiful game of soccer.
Determining the best soccer players of all time by position is, of course, going to generate a lot of opinions.
However, the criteria used in determining the game’s finest exponents includes quality, trophy won, leadership skill, and, most importantly, how impactful they are to their respective club or nation.
So here are the best soccer players of all time by position.
GOALKEEPER: Gianluigi Buffon
Many years have passed since Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon’s spectacular Serie A debut, yet the legendary goalkeeper is still very much active despite his age.
The signing of Gigi Buffon from Parma to Juventus in 2001 will forever be regarded as a masterstroke from Marcello Lippi when he spotted him as the goalkeeper that would turn around the fortune of the club in the future.
The iconic shot-stopper became the most expensive goalkeeper in the world when the Turin-based club paid €52.88m for his signature in 2001, and he thereafter went on to enjoy a great career at Juventus, where he won a record nine Serie A titles, four Coppa Italia titles, five Supercoppa as well as a World Cup trophy.
Aside from his collective achievement with Juventus and Italy, he also achieved decent success at Paris Saint Germain, where he had a short stint in the twilight of his career.
He also achieved personal success as the first goalkeeper to win the Serie A Footballer of the Year award and was also named Serie A goalie of the Year a record twelve times.
His quick reflexes, superb ball-catching abilities, and penalty-saving skills makes him the best soccer player of all time in the goalkeeping position.
Honourable Mentions: Lev Yashin, Iker Casillas, Manuel Neuer, Thibaut Courtois, Dino Zoff, and Oliver Kahn.
RIGHT-BACK: Dani Alves
Dani Alves is arguably the greatest full-back of all time and is renowned for his pace and tenacity with unrivaled technical ability on and off the ball when on the field.
The Brazilian, who had stints with Sevilla, Barcelona, Juventus, and Paris Saint Germain in Europe, is an attacking full-back who knows when to be aggressive in attack and when to hold back when defending for all the teams he donned their shirt.
Dani Alves is also the most decorated football player in history with over 43 trophies won.
Alves also achieved success in Europe with Barcelona, Juventus, and Paris Saint Germain, including 3 Champions League, 6 LaLiga titles, one Serie A title, and two Ligue 1 titles.
Dani Alves is one also one of the best wing-backs in football history.
The only trophy missing from the Brazilian cabinet now is the World Cup trophy, and he could make it into Brazil’s squad going to the 2022 World Cup; he might be able to achieve that before he finally calls it quit with soccer.
Honourable Mentions: Giuseppe Bergomi, Cafu, Lilian Thuram, Philip Lahm, Djalma Santos, and Javier Zanetti.
LEFT-BACK: Paolo Maldini
Paolo Maldini is one of the greatest one-club player since he basically spent his whole professional career with the Rossoneri.
In more than 900 appearances for Milan, the versatile defender can boast of five European trophies and seven Serie A titles while donning the red and black jersey of Milan.
The soccer number position of number 3 (often associated with the left-back) was what Paolo Maldini wore mainly his career, and AC Milan retired that jersey number in his honour.
In a 25-year career span at club level, Maldini won a whopping 26 trophies in total, plus a successful career at the international level with the Azzurris’ featuring in four World Cups and accumulating 126 appearances for Italy before retiring in 2002.
Aside from being a great defender, Maldini is also regarded as one of the best leaders on and off the pitch due to his leadership skill and how serious he went about his job on the pitch against the best attackers in the game.
CENTER-BACK: Frank Beckenbauer
‘Der Kaiser,’ as he is fondly called, is widely regarded as one of the greatest German players of all time to ever graced the game with his talent.
Beckenbauer also holds the record of being one of the players to have won the World Cup as both a player and manager for Germany in 1974 and 1990.
As an amazing defender, he was so good that he re-invented the sweeper role, capable of dictating play from deep and surge forward to attack.
Not having him on our list will definitely be an injustice to the German for how brilliant he was as a player, leader, and winner when on the field.
Honourable Mentions: Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol, Marcel Desailly, Giorgio Chiellini, and Bobby Moore.
CENTER-BACK: Fabio Cannavaro
There are many words to describe Fabio Cannavaro, but none will be more suitable than a legend for how brilliant he was as a world-class defender. He will forever remain one of the finest center-back to play the game throughout his illustrious career.
To date, he still remains the only defender to win the “FIFA World Player of the Year Award,” in a year where he had arguably his best performance on the international stage for Italy at the World Cup. He is also the third defender ever to win the highly-coveted Ballon d’Or.
At Juventus, Cannavaro was part of an extremely fearsome and excellent defensive pairing with Lilian Thuram et al., where he won two consecutive Serie A titles before he left for Real Madrid, where he also won three La Liga titles.
Honourable Mentions: Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Gerard Piqué, Alessandro Nesta, and Daniel Passarella.
CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Zinedine Zidane
The legendary French midfielder is regarded as one of the best midfielders that graced the game with a lot of personal awards and team accolades to his name.
Zidane will be remembered for a number of reasons as a player, one for how he dazzled Serie A with his mesmerizing skills and helped Juventus secure the Scudetto.
Likewise, his iconic goal — one of the best goals in football history — in the Champions League against Leverkusen helped Madrid win the most coveted club football trophy.
Aside from being adored at all of the clubs he donned their shirt, the French national team will also not forget in a hurry his spectacular efforts on the international scene, where he won both the World Cup and European Championship for Les Bleu.
Zidane possesed great vision, agility, ball control, passing accuracy and tactical awareness. It is combined with his ability to score spectacular goals. This definitely makes him one of the best soccer players in his position.
Honourable Mentions: Xavi, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, Zico, Bobby Charlton, and Andrea Pirlo.
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDERS: Claude Makélélé
Call him the king of defensive midfielders, and you’ll probably not be wrong because of his prowess in marshaling that position with aplomb while active.
Makélélé was so good that no position was named after him because he could literally play every position in the midfield, and he proved that with France, Real Madrid, and Chelsea, where he all achieved success.
He was so good at what he does that Los Blancos suffered for his departure for a lengthy period of time in the midfield when they let him leave for Chelsea.
As one of the greatest midfielders of all time, he achieved quite a number of successes at club and international levels.
Claude Makélélé was known for his combativeness, acceleration, tenacity, positional sense, tactical discipline, intelligence, energy, work rate, and ball-winning ability.
Honourable Mentions: Gennaro Gattuso, Sergio Busquets, Dunga, Edgar Davids, Pep Guardiola, Didier Deschamps, Patrick Vieira, Lothar Matthäus, Casemiro, and N’Golo Kanté
ATTACKING MIDFIELDER: Andrés Iniesta
Like Xavi Hernandez, Iniesta was one of the midfielders that made Barcelona’s midfield thick with his quality on and off the ball and, above all, his finesse.
The La Masia product no doubt embodied a proper Cataluyan because of his loyalty and love for the Blaugrana during his time with them. Under Pep Guardiola while at Barcelona, Iniesta often showcased his amazing talent on the ball with his close control and ability to mesmerize opponents.
Iniesta’s illustrious career stories can’t be complete without mentioning his efforts for Spain on the international scene, where he won both the World Cup and European Championship trophies for his darling nation.
Iniesta was a great passer, dribbler, and playmaker. He had a knack for scoring important goals, and was very the greatest midfielder of his generation.
Honourable Mentions: Johan Cruyff, Frank Lampard, Thomas Müller, Kaka, Rivaldo, Michel Platini, Ruud Gullit, Roberto Baggio, Michael Laudrup, Socrates, and Diego Maradona.
When it comes to ranking some of the perfect and great number nine, it is always impossible to look past King Pele. The Brazilian legend scored a scintillating 643 goals in 659 games for Santos, winning six Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A titles.
Pele also won two Copa Libertadores titles, two Intercontinental Cup, and ten Campeonato Paulista titles with the Brazilian outfit while active. At the age of 17 years, he won the first World Cup for the Selecao and thereafter won two more World Cups, scoring 77 goals in 92 games.
Those who didn’t see him play may want to argue about his greatness, but the reality is that the records do not lie concerning those phenomenon things King Pele achieved as a player for Brazil and did for the game.
He was recognized by FIFA as the greatest footballer ever.
Honourable Mentions: Gerd Müller, Giuseppe Meazza, Marco van Basten, Ferenc Puskás, Didier Drogba, Robert Lewandoski, Samuel Eto’o, George Weah, Gabriel Batistuta, Miroslav Klose, Romário, Eusébio, and Ronaldo De Lima.
LEFT-WINGER: Cristiano Ronaldo
Although Cristiano Ronaldo played a variety of positions in his career, he made a name for himself and was at his peak when he played as a left-winger for Real Madrid and Portugal.
Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of the best players of his generation, of how consistently consistent he has been performing on the biggest of stages in soccer.
The Manchester United starman has rewritten the history book of Portugal during his career by winning the country’s first major trophy after many years of disappointment on the grandest of stages.
Following his successful spell at United, he moved to Real Madrid, where he achieved a mouthwatering success with Los Blancos winning a stunning 15 trophies in nine years.
With 140 goals during his illustrious career in the Champions League, the Portuguese remains the top-scorer in the history of the competition and a five Ballon d’Or awards winner, one FIFA World Player of the Year, and two FIFA’s Best awards to his name.
Cristiano Ronaldo also holds the record for the most men’s international goals (117), and the most international appearances by a European soccer player (191).
Honourable Mentions: Franck Ribéry, Ronaldinho, Hristo Stoichkov, Francisco Gento, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Ryan Giggs, Thierry Henry, and Rob Resenbrink.
RIGHT-WINGER: Lionel Messi
Messi is arguably the greatest player of all time to grace the game of soccer, and not having him on our list will certainly be an injustice and insult to one of the best talents that football has ever seen.
Even though Lionel Messi has been used as a false nine, he played a lot of matches on the right-wing position, where he dazzled the world with his sheer brilliance.
The Argentine won a mind-blowing 25 trophies during his time at Barcelona, which includes ten La Liga and four Champions League titles. His personal accolades include a record number of Ballon d’Or (7) which further gives credence to his greatness.
Lionel Messi is the footballer with the most individual awards, and one of the footballers with the most assists in history.
Among the Argentine’s notable records, his goal-scoring prowess with 672 goals in 786 games for the Spanish outfit during his time in Spain says a lot about how impactful he was for Barcelona.
Lionel holds the record for the most goals by a footballer in a calendar year (91).
Achieving success for Argentina on the international scene in the Copa America and Finalissima recently further helped him ink his name in the folklore of the nation.
Honourable Mentions: Ángel Di María, Jairzinho, Arjen Robben, David Beckham, Mohammed Salah, Jimmy Johnstone, Allan Simonsen, George Best, Stanley Matthews, Marc Overmars, Robinho, Garrincha, and Luis Figo.