It is impossible to write a list of the greatest soccer players of all time without arguments. Fans always favor one player over the other.
But in this article, TOP SOCCER BLOG presents you with its 25 best soccer players in history.
Taken into consideration is each player’s talent, individual and team achievements, era, impacts on football, and wide acceptance.
The first 5 players on this list can all arguably be in the number one spot. But Pele takes this one.
The classic number 10 (the number 10 achieved its significance because of Pelè).
In his prime, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, popularly called Pele, was the most famous footballer — and athlete — in the world.
He was part of the Brazilian national teams that won 3 FIFA World Cup titles (1958, 1962, and 1970).
So good was Pele that after the 1958 World Cup, he was declared a national treasure by the Brazilian government in order to shoo away large offers from European clubs and ensure that he kept playing in Brazil.
He is the all-time leading goalscorer for Brazil, with 77 goals in 92 games.
At club level, he is Santos’ all-time top goalscorer with 643 goals from 659 games.
In a golden era for the club, he led Santos to the 1962 and 1963 Copa Libertadores and to the 1962 and 1963 Intercontinental Cup.
Averaging almost a goal per game throughout his career, his 1,279 goals in 1,363 games is recognized as a Guinness World Record.
2. Diego Maradona
A precocious talent, Diego Maradona was given the nickname “El Pibe de Oro” (“The Golden Boy”). To many, he is the greatest soccer player ever.
He won the FIFA World Cup in a way that no one else has ever been capable of doing — single-handedly leading Argentina to the title in 1986.
In that same tournament, he scored two of the most significant goals in football history in the quarterfinals against England.
The first was infamously dubbed the “hand of god,” while the second is considered the greatest goal ever.
Maradona was the first player to set the world record transfer fee twice: first in 1982 when he transferred to Barcelona for £5 million, and again in 1984 when he moved to Napoli for a fee of £6.9 million.
At Napoli, he is considered an idol. He turned the then downtrodden, unwanted, unfancied club to the best in the Serie A (the strongest European league then) and one of the best club sides in Europe.
Led by Maradona, Napoli won their first-ever Serie A title in 1986/87.
After Maradona’s death in 2021, Napoli’s main stadium was renamed Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
3. Lionel Messi
Regarded by some as the greatest soccer player of all time, Lionel Messi has won a record 7 Ballon d’Or awards and a record 6 European Golden Shoes.
The ultimate attacker, Leo’s array of skills made him a prolific goalscorer as well as a creative playmaker.
He spent the best part of his career with Barcelona, where he won a club-record 35 trophies.
Messi holds Argentina’s record for most appearances and is also the country’s all-time leading goalscorer.
At the youth level, he won the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship — finishing the tournament with both the Golden Ball and Golden Shoe.
Furthermore, Messi helped his country win a gold medal in football at the 2008 Olympics and won the Copa América in 2021.
He holds the record for most goals in the Spanish La Liga and the most international goals by a South American male (90).
Aged 19, his scored a hattrick in the El Clásico, which is regarded as one of the best hattricks in soccer history.
On his day, Lionel Messi is simply unstoppable and is undoubtedly the GOAT of soccer.
4. Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo came in the same era as Messi. Thus, soccer fans have been lucky to witness two of the greatest footballers ever at the same time.
Ronaldo has won 5 Ballon d’Or awards and 4 European Golden Shoes, the most by a European player.
He has won 32 trophies in his career so far.
CR7 is the ultimate goal machine! Arguably the greatest goalscorer ever, he is Real Madrid’s all-time top scorer.
Ronaldo led Portugal to their first major title at Euro 2016.
He also won the inaugural UEFA Nations League in 2019 with Portui, and later secured the Golden Boot as top scorer of Euro 2020.
Cristiano Ronaldo also hold the record for the most international goals by male soccer player (117).
5. Johan Cruyff
A new mythical figure, Johan Cruyff is arguably the most influential footballer of all time; and one of the most talented too.
He was a proponent of the football philosophy known as Total Football (Total Football).
As a player, Cruyff won the Ballon d’Or 3 times. He was a genius soccer player.
So technically good was he that a unique football skill (“the Cruyff turn”) is named after him.
He led the Netherlands to the final of the 1974 FIFA World Cup and received the Golden Ball as the Best Player of the Tournament.
According to Opta, Johan Cruyff is one of the soccer players with the most assists in football history.
After retiring from playing in 1984, Cruyff became highly successful as manager of Ajax and later Barcelona.
Under him, Ajax won the UEFA Champions League in 1995. While at Barcelona, he built what is known as the “Dream Team,” with which the club experienced a glorious era.
6. Franz Beckenbauer
One of the greatest all-round soccer players in history, Franz Beckenbauer made his name as a central defender.
He is often credited as having invented the role of the modern sweeper (libero).
Although a defender, Franz can do everything on the pitch, including regularly scoring goals.
He won the Ballon d’Or twice. The only defender in football history to do so.
Beckenbauer is one of just 3 players that have won the FIFA World Cup as a player and as a manager. He lifted the World Cup trophy as captain in 1974 and repeated the feat as a manager in 1990.
He was the first captain to lift the World Cup and European Championship at the international level and the European Cup (now UEFA Champions League) at club level.
Beckanbauer also became a coach, and is one of the best soccer players who became successful managers.
7. Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane is one of the best playmakers ever.
He was renowned for his elegance, vision, passing, ball control, and technique. Zidane also possessed an exceptional first touch, dribbling skills, use of feints, and creativity.
He was capable of using either foot, despite being naturally right-footed. His technique and coordination enabled him to execute shots and volleys with extreme power and precision — in particular from outside the penalty area.
In the 2002 Champions League final, he scored a left-foot volleyed winner, which is considered to be one of the top 10 best goals in football history.
He was also a free-kick and penalty-kick specialist.
Zidane won many individual awards, which included FIFA World Player of the Year 3 times and the Ballon d’Or once.
Zidane won the 1998 World Cup for France, scoring twice in the final.
Furthermore, he won UEFA Euro 2000 and was named Player of the Tournament.
He also received the Golden Ball as Player of the Tournament at the 2006 World Cup.
But it was at the latter tournament that he put a huge dent on his legacy with his infamous sending-off in the final against Italy for headbutting Marco Materazzi in the chest.
Zinedine Zidane is one of 8 players to have won the World Cup, the Champions League, and the Ballon d’Or.
8. Ronaldo de Lima
A complete player, at ease with either foot and has a truly unparalleled ability to finish from every angle possible.
Ronaldo Nazário de Lima carved himself a place in the history books as arguably the most effective pure goal scorer of the last 50 years, if not of all time.
The awards he won, both personally and collectively, are mind-boggling:
The youngest player to receive FIFA’s World Player award (aged 20). He won the award 3 times.
Ronaldo also won 2 Ballon d’Or as well as 2 World Cup titles.
At club level, he scored 247 goals out of 343 appearances for various clubs.
In 1996/97, Ronaldo scored a remarkable 47 goals in 49 games for Barca — winning the La Liga top scorer award with 34 goals in 37 games!
He would later win it again with Real Madrid. The Brazilian is considered to be one of the most lethal strikers the world had ever seen because he made a name for himself in his position.
Ronaldo De Lima was one of the best soccer players of all time in his striking position.
Injuries plagued him later on in his career, and he denied the world of seeing more of “El Fenomeno.”
9. Alfredo Di Stefano
Nicknamed “Saeta Rubia” (“Blond Arrow”), Alfredo Di Stefano is regarded as the most complete footballer in the history of the game. He could play anywhere on the pitch.
He was a very strong, quick, skillful, and prolific goalscorer, with great stamina, tactical versatility, creativity, and vision.
Di Stefano was most notable for his legacy at Real Madrid, where he was instrumental in the club’s domination of the European Cup and La Liga during the 1950s and 1960s.
He scored in 5 consecutive European Cup finals for Real between 1956 and 1960 — including a hat-trick in the last.
Di Stéfano was awarded the Ballon d’Or for the European Footballer of the Year in 1957 and 1959.
He is currently the 6th highest scorer in La Liga history and Real Madrid’s 3rd highest league goalscorer of all time.
10. Michel Platini
Nicknamed “Le Roi” (The King), Michel Platini was famous for his technical ability, leadership, and prolific goalscoring.
He is one of the best passers and free-kick specialists ever seen.
Despite being a midfielder, he is the 4th all-time top scorer for the French national team. This is amazing if you consider the caliber of strikers that have played for France.
Over the course of 4 years at Juventus, Platini won 2 Serie A championships, 1 European Cup, 1 Cup Winners Cup, 1 European Super Cup, and 1 Intercontinental Cup title.
Furthermore, as a midfielder, he was Serie A’s top scorer three times!
He won three Ballon D’Ors back-to-back-to-back.
For France, he famously led the nation to the 1984 European Championship. He was the top scorer of the competition with 9 goals — a record unmatched to date.
Moreover, Michel Platini was known for his discipline on the pitch; he was never sent off in his career.
11. Gerd Müller
Gerd Müller was renowned for his clinical finishing —especially in and around the six-yard box — and he is widely regarded as one of the greatest goalscorers in the history of soccer.
Nicknamed “Bomber der Nation” (“the nation’s Bomber”) or simply “Der Bomber,” he won the Ballon d’Or in 1970.
Müller astonishingly scored 10 goals at the 1970 FIFA World Cup for West Germany, and received the Golden Boot as top goalscorer.
He is one of the highest goalscorers at the World Cup.
In 1972, he won the UEFA European Championship and was the top goalscorer — scoring 2 goals in the final.
Two years later, he scored 4 goals in the 1974 World Cup — including the winning goal in the final.
12. Paolo Maldini
Hugely regarded as one of the greatest defenders in soccer history, Paolo Maldini spent all 25 seasons of his playing career with AC Milan — where he won 26 trophies.
He is one of the best left-backs of all-time and can equally play at right-back and wing-back. This is due to Maldini’s tactical versatility and two-footedness.
He is among the best wingbacks in soccer history.
He was renowned for his technical ability, athleticism, sliding tackles, stamina, composure, crossing, and fast, energetic forward runs on the overlap.
Maldini came second to George Weah for FIFA World Player of the Year in 1995. He also placed third in the Ballon d’Or in 1994 and 2003.
13. George Best
George is one of the greatest dribblers of all time as he combined pace, skill, balance, feints, and two-footedness. This made him get past opposition defenders easily.
He spent most of his club career at Manchester United, where he scored about 179 goals from 470 appearances over 11 years and was the club’s top goalscorer in the league for 5 consecutive seasons.
He won two League titles and the European Cup with the Red Devils.
George Best won the Ballon d’Or in 1968.
From the Republic of Ireland, he is regarded as one of the greatest players never to have played at a World Cup.
Nicknamed “the black panther” for his slinky acceleration and ability on the ball, Eusébio is one of the greatest footballers from Portugal.
His name became synonymous with Benfica — where he scored a mind-boggling 473 goals in 440 competitive matches.
During his professional career, he scored a total of 733 goals in just 745 matches.
With Eusebio in their ranks, Benfica won 11 Primeira Ligas and put an end to the imperious Real Madrid of the Di Stefano era to claim the European cup.
He was the top scorer in the Portuguese league in 7 out of the 9 seasons he played!!!
Eusébio helped Portugal reach third place at the 1966 FIFA World Cup. He was the top goalscorer of the tournament with 9 goals.
He won the Ballon d’Or in 1965 and was runner-up in 1962 and 1966
15. Giuseppe Meazza
Perhaps the greatest Italian soccer player of all time, Giuseppe Meazza, was a jack-of-all-trades forward.
He is capable of playing as an out-and-out striker or as a trequartista.
Gifted with exceptional shooting and dribbling skills, he scored 216 goals in the Italian Serie A — mostly for Inter Milan. He also represented AC Milan and Juventus, among others.
A charismatic leader, Meazza captained Italy to two consecutive World Cup titles in 1934 and 1938 — providing assists in both finals.
He won the Golden Ball Award at the 1934 World Cup as the Best Player of the Tournament.
The famous San Siro, the major stadium in his native city of Milan — shared by two of his former clubs, Inter Milan and neighborhood rivals A.C. Milan — was named Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in his honor.
His achievements, playing style, and influence makes Giuseppe Meazza one of the best soccer players ever.
16. Ferenc Puskàs
Ferenc Puskas had amazing ball control, a great first touch, as well as quick and precise passing and crossing. He was also able to maneuver and change positions quickly on the pitch — quickly moving from inside left to center-forward.
He was an integral member of the Golden Generation of the Hungarian national team that won a gold medal at the 1952 Olympics and also reached the final of the 1954 World Cup.
Puskas won 3 European Cups, 10 league titles (in Spain and in Hungary), and 8 highest goalscorer awards.
While playing with Real Madrid, he scored 7 goals in two European Champions Cup finals.
The famous FIFA Puskás Award (awarded for the Best Goal of the Year) was named after him.
17. Bobby Charlton
Bobby Charlton was a member of the England team that won the 1966 FIFA World Cup.
As a result of his performances that year, he won the Ballon d’Or. He finished second in the award in the following 2 years.
Charlton was renowned for his attacking instincts, passing abilities, ferocious long-range shots, as well as his fitness, and stamina.
He played most of his club football career at Manchester United, and he captained the team that won the European Cup in 1968.
He scored 2 goals in the final to help them become the first English club to win the competition.
He received a yellow card only twice in his career, once against Argentina in the 1966 World Cup and the other in a league match against Chelsea.
With 249 goals, Bobby Charlton is currently Manchester United’s second-highest all-time goalscorer after his record was surpassed by Wayne Rooney in 2017.
He is also the third-highest goalscorer for England.
18. Franco Baresi
Arguably the greatest center-back of all time, Franco Baresi spent his entire 20-year career with AC Milan. He captained the club for 15 seasons.
Although some might not agree, his incredible amount of titles and accomplishments proves that Baresi is definitely one of the best soccer players of all time.
With Milan, he won 3 UEFA Champions League titles, 6 Serie A titles, 4 Supercoppa Italiana titles, 2 European Super Cups, and 2 Intercontinental Cups.
With Italy, Baresi won the 1982 FIFA World Cup and reached the final in 1994.
At AC Milan, he formed one of the most powerful defensive units of all time, alongside Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, Mauro Tassotti, Filippo Galli, and later Christian Panucci.
He was a complete and consistent defender who combined power with elegance and was gifted with outstanding physical and mental attributes.
Baresi was surprisingly good in the air, despite his very short stature.
After his retirement, AC Milan retired Franco Baresi’s shirt number 6.
Manuel Francisco dos Santos, popularly known as Garrincha (“little bird”), is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. To many, he was the greatest dribbler ever.
Garrincha was renowned for his creativity, pace, and speed of execution, as well as his remarkable ball control, technique, flair, imagination, dribbling skills, and feints.
He came in the same era as Pele as part of Brazil’s greatest team. Brazil never lost a match in which both Garrincha and Pelé played.
Garrincha played a vital role in Brazil’s 1958 and 1962 World Cup victories.
In 1962, when Pelé got injured, Garrincha led Brazil to a World Cup victory with a dominating performance throughout the tournament.
Furthermore, he became the first player to win the Golden Ball (Best Player of the Tournament), Golden Boot (top scorer), and the World Cup trophy in the same tournament.
Of course, another Brazilian has to be on our list of the best soccer players oyall time.
Considered one of the most talented and skillful players of all time, Ronaldinho won two FIFA World Player of the Year awards and a Ballon d’Or.
He was known for his technical skills, creativity, dribbling, free-kick accuracy, tricks, feints, no-look passes, and overhead kicks, as well as his ability to score and create goals.
Due to his versatility, Ronaldinho was capable of playing in several offensive positions; on either wing or in a free central role.
He was most successful at Barcelona, where he won numerous trophies, including the 2006 UEFA Champions League.
With Brazil, Ronaldinho won the 1999 Copa América and 2002 FIFA World Cup.
As captain, he led his country to win the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup title and was named man of the match in the final. He also captained the Brazil Olympic team to a bronze medal in men’s football at the 2008 Olympics.
Furthermore, Ronaldinho is one of only 3 Barcelona players (along with Maradona and Iniesta) to receive a standing ovation from Real Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabéu.
21. Andrés Iniesta
Apart from being one of the most beloved players, Andrés Iniesta is also considered one of the best soccer players of all time.
One of his most influential moments came in the 2010 World Cup final when he scored the winning goal for Spain against the Netherlands.
Iniesta’s ability to control the midfield with his precise passing and incredible dribbling skills made him a force to be reckoned with on the pitch.
He won numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including the European Championship in 2008, 2012, and the World Cup in 2010.
Iniesta played for FC Barcelona for over 16 years, helping the team win numerous domestic and international titles.
His ability to read the game and make crucial passes in tight spaces made him a valuable asset to any team he played for.
Iniesta’s humility, hard work, and dedication to the sport have made him a beloved figure in the soccer world and a true legend of the game.
His teams in Barcelona and Spain are adjudged to be among the best soccer teams of all time.
22. Lev Yashin
For someone who, by many, is said to the greatest soccer goalkeeper in history, Lev Yashin, should definitely be one of the greatest soccer players in history.
As a Soviet professional footballer, he was known for his athleticism, positioning, stature, bravery, imposing presence in goal, and acrobatic reflex saves.
His loyalty to his club and his country, combined with his incredible talent, make him a true legend of the game. Yashin’s legacy continues to inspire and influence generations of soccer players and fans alike.
Lev Yashin won numerous trophies throughout his career, including the Soviet Top League title five times with Dynamo Moscow.
He also won the Soviet Cup three times and was a member of the Soviet Union national team that won the gold medal at the 1956 Summer Olympics. In addition, he was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1963, becoming the first goalkeeper to win the prestigious award.
Lev Yashin won the European Goalkeeper of the Year nine times.
23. Lothar Matthäus
The only German to be named FIFA World Player of the Year is one of the most decorated soccer players in history, and deservedly among the best soccer players of all time.
He won seven Bundesliga titles, two UEFA Cups, a European Cup, and a UEFA Super Cup during his playing career. He was also a World Cup champion with the German national team in 1990, where he served as the team captain.
With over 150 appearances for the German national team, Matthäus is regarded as one of the greatest players to have ever played for his country.
In his prime, Matthäus was a highly versatile and complete player, widely considered as one of the greatest midfielders ever.
He was renowned for his exceptional passing ability, impressive positional sense, well-timed tackling, and powerful shooting skills.
24. Xavi Hernández
Some people might argue that Xavi is not one of the greatest soccer players of all time because he did not score a lot of goals. However, this is a misguided view of what makes a great player.
Xavi’s impact on the game was not measured in goals, but in his ability to control the midfield and dictate the pace of play.
He was a master of the tiki-taka style of play, which relied on quick, short passes and constant movement to create scoring opportunities.
Xavi’s technical skills, vision, and passing accuracy were unparalleled, and he was a key figure in FC Barcelona’s dominance during the early 21st century.
In terms of trophies, the Spaniard won numerous titles with Barcelona, including eight La Liga titles and four Champions League titles, as well as two European Championships and a World Cup with the Spanish national team.
Xavi was also recognized with individual awards, such as the IFFHS World’s Best Playmaker award four times, all straight between 2008 and 2011, and multiple top-three finishes in the FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or awards.
Till date, he is regarded as one of the best passers in soccer history.
25. Gianluigi Buffon
The fact that Buffon never won the Champions League should never negate his place among the greatest soccer players of all time.
Buffon’s performances on the biggest stages have been nothing short of remarkable. He has consistently stepped up in crucial moments, making crucial saves to keep his team in the game.
For example, in the 2006 World Cup final against France, he made a crucial save in extra time that kept Italy in the game before they eventually won on penalties.
His commanding presence in the box, exceptional shot-stopping ability, leadership qualities, longevity, and incredible reflexes sets him apart as one of the best goalies in soccer history.
Other top soccer players of all time who deserve a notable mention include:
- Roberto Baggio
- Samuel Eto’o
- Ali Daei
- Didier Drogba
- Marco Van Basten
- Manuel Neuer
- Thierry Henry
- Telmo Zarra
- Kenny Dalglish
- Raymond Kopa
- Roger Milla
- Lev Yashin
- Dani Alves
- Dino Zoff
- Jay Jay Okocha
- Sergio Busquets
- Enzo Francescoli
- George Weah