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Greatest football player of all time: Who comes out on top?

Lionel Messi is regarded by many as the greatest football player of all time. The Argentina captain has won every prize in the sport of football and has been one of the most consistent football players of all time.

Football is the most popular sport in the world and the most widely played all over the world. As a result, modern football is extremely competitive and in its history, the sport has seen several magical players over the years.

It is common human tendency to compare and people always keep debating about the greatest football player of all time. While it is actually difficult to compare different players from different eras given how the sports has changed and evolved over the years, we will try to do justice to the title below.

Read below to find out who is the greatest football player of all time and which footballers make it to the top 10 list:

Greatest football player of all time: Top 10 list

Player Nation Active between Clubs played for Career Goals Major trophies won
Lionel Messi Argentina 2004 – present Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain 805 42
Diego Maradona Argentina 1976 – 1997 Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli 353 12
Pele Brazil 1956 – 1977 Santos, New York Cosmos 767 26
Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal 2002 – present Manchester United, Real Madrid, Juventus 835 35
Johan Cruyff The Netherlands 1964 – 1984 Ajax, Barcelona 296 22
Alfredo Di Stefano Argentina/Spain 1945 – 1966 River Plate, Real Madrid 376 27
Franz Beckenbauer Germany 1964 – 1983 Bayern Munich, New York Cosmos 72 20
Ronaldo Nazario Brazil 1993 – 2011 Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, AC Milan 414 19
Zinedine Zidane France 1989 – 2006 Juventus, Real Madrid 156 15
Andres Iniesta Spain 2002 – present Barcelona, Vissel Kobe 88 35

Lionel Messi | Argentina

Lionel Messi has not only been the best player in the world for the last decade and a half, he is also one of the greatest footballers of all time. Messi had already won everything there is to win in his club career with Barcelona. After the recent Copa America and FIFA World Cup victories with Argentina, Messi has a genuine contention for being the greatest football player of all time.

He first burst on to the scene as a fresh-faced teenager in Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona and impressed everyone with his raw pace and dribbling ability. Messi then became the outright best player in the world under Pep Guardiola and he was the face of that Barcelona team that ruled Europe.

Also Read: How many trophies has Messi won?

In fact, it was during this phase when he was first attracted shouts as one of the best players of all time. Over the next decade, he has only consolidated those claims with repetitive and consistent success and has also managed to turn around his previously tragic international career with Argentina.

He is the player with the second most trophies won in football history after former teammate Dani Alves and nobody has won more Ballon d’Ors than the seven that Messi has to his name.

Diego Maradona | Argentina

Diego Maradona was more than just a footballer as he was capable of things on a football pitch that mere mortals could only dream of. Supremely skillful, Maradona attracted plenty of attention in Argentina as a prodigious talent and created a legacy for himself at Argentinos Juniors.

He became the then most expensive player in the world when he moved to Barcelona in 1982 and then again to Napoli in 1984. It was with Napoli where he achieved the greatest heights of his club career and led the then-struggling Italian outfit to a Scudetto title.

However, Maradona’s greatest impact on world football came with Argentina. What he did over the course of the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico is enough to place him high on this list as the greatest footballer of all time. Maradona was unstoppable in Mexico and his genius will always shine bright in the modern game!

Pele | Brazil

Brazilian legend Pele held the title of being the greatest football player of all time and in the opinion of several people, especially those fans from the older generation, he is still the king. Pele has won the most World Cups for a player in history, having lifted the Jules Rimet trophy thrice and that fact alone is enough to put him in the discussion.

Pele holds the record for being the youngest player to score in a World Cup and he even scored two goals in the final of the 1958 World Cup held in Sweden. Although he played just one match in the 1962 World Cup which Brazil also won, Pele proved his true peak to the world of football in 1970.

Also Read: Who is the god of football?

He was at the centre of an extremely skillful and wonderful Brazilian team that did justice to the Jogo Bonito philosophy over the course of the World Cup. He also had an extremely impressive career with both New York Cosmos and Santos in club football. Pele will always remain the gold standard in football history.

Cristiano Ronaldo | Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo has defined the modern generation of football and his rivalry with Lionel Messi took the game to a new height. He is one of the most talented goal-scorers the sport has ever seen and his knack for finding the back of the net is unparalleled. Cristiano was a talented kid at Sporting in Lisbon before he first showed his world-conquering potential at Manchester United and under Sir Alex Ferguson’s tutelage.

It was his spell with Real Madrid where Cristiano would go on to become a beast and he won four UEFA Champions League titles with the club, including winning three in succession! Ronaldo also led Portugal to the UEFA Euro title in 2016, the first in the country’s history.

Also Read: Cristiano Ronaldo teams

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner then moved to Juventus in 2018 where he dominated domestically once again. Ronaldo had secured a return back to Manchester United in 2021 but the move didn’t work out and it ended with him having his contract terminated after falling out with Erik ten Hag and moving to Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia.

Johan Cruyff | The Netherlands

We’ve discussed plenty of great footballers so far, but no single individual has had as much impact on the history of the sport as well as the standards of the modern game as Johan Cruyff. He was simply a football genius and a great thinker of the game who brought the philosophy of ‘Total Football’ to Ajax, Barcelona, and to the Dutch National Team.

He was the first footballer to win the Ballon d’Or thrice and Cruyff conquered Europe with Ajax, winning three European Championships and then dominated Spain with Barcelona. He guided the Catalan giants to their first league title in 14 years and transformed them into powerhouses once again.

He was also the leader of perhaps the greatest football side to never win the World Cup trophy, the Dutch side of 1974. In his later years, Cruyff laid the foundation stone of modern Barcelona with his tiki-taka philosophy, setting up La Masia, introduction of rondos and influencing coaches like Pep Guardiola, Frank Rijkaar, Ronald Koeman, Louis Van Gaal, Xavi, Luis Enrique, Mikel Arteta, Ernesto Valverde, Marco Van Basten and Roberto Martinez among others.

Alfredo Di Stefano | Argentina/Spain

The era before Pele was mostly dominated by Alfredo Di Stefano. He is considered the best player in the history of Real Madrid and Di Stefano’s brilliance paved the way for more success to follow at Los Blancos.

The Argentine forward, nicknamed ‘The Blonde Arrow’ completely dominated the footballing landscape in the 1950s and had a 20-year long career where he was on top of the game! Di Stefano is best known for his achievements with Real Madrid and he won five straight European Championships with the club and went on to win 15 other honours.

Di Stefano formed a formidable partnership with other legendary players like Paco Gento and Ferenc Puskas and he will be remembered for his performances in big games. He holds the record for scoring in five European Cup finals and is the only player to achieve that feat.

Along with Maradona and Messi, Di Stefano is considered footballing royalty in Argentina although he never got to play in the World Cup.

Franz Beckenbauer | Germany

Franz Beckenbauer will always be the template for the perfect defender and he is regarded as the most outstanding defender in football history. Beckenbauer had revolutionised the sweeper position back in the 1960s and 1970s with Bayern Munich and West Germany and he also romped forward and contributed heavily to his side’s attacks.

Beckenbauer was affectionately known as ‘Der Kaiser’ or The Emperor because of his elegant style, dominance and leadership. The German is also one of only nine players to have won the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA Champions League as well as the Ballon d’Or.

Beckenbauer won three consecutive European Championships with Bayern Munich between 1974 and 1976 and he also lifted the 1974 FIFA World Cup with Germany. Der Kaiser would repeat the feat once again as the head coach of Germany in 1990 and he is one of three men besides Mario Zagallo and Didier Deschamps to have won the World Cup as both a player and a coach.

Ronaldo Nazario | Brazil

The fact that Ronaldo Nazario played for Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, and AC Milan and still did not attain any kind of hate or negativity is a testament to the talent and personality he was on the football pitch! Nicknamed ‘O Fenomeno’ or the phenomenal one, it was easy to recognise that Ronaldo would go to the top of world football and dominate the sport quite early on.

He took European football by storm at PSV Eindhoven and had a record-breaking season with Barcelona. He later moved to Inter Milan and was the star of both the 1998 as well as the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the latter of which he would go on to win with Brazil as the best player of the tournament!

Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or award in 1997 and 2002 and his abilities as a striker were unique and made him stand out. Had it not been for injuries, Ronaldo would’ve had a longer and much more successful career and would probably rank higher on this list.

Zinedine Zidane | France

Zinedine Zidane is considered to be one of the most incredible midfielders of the modern generation. Zidane had a successful career with Juventus in Italy but he first came to the attention of the world following his marvellous performances during the 1998 World Cup which was held in France.

The attacking midfielder led that French side from the front and was consistent throughout the tournament. He scored a brace of headed goals in the final against Ronaldo’s Brazil and proved to be the difference as France won the World Cup for the first time in their history. Zidane followed that success with victory in the 2000 European Championship and he was crowned the player of the tournament.

Zidane later moved to Real Madrid where he would attain more fame and success and he famously scored the world famous volley from outside the box against Bayer Leverkusen which helped Los Blancos win the UEFA Champions League in 2002. He retired from the sport in 2006 but then had a successful career as a coach, most famously leading Real Madrid to three successive Champions League titles between 2016 and 2018.

Andres Iniesta | Spain

Much like Zinedine Zidane, Andres Iniesta is the most influential midfielder of his generation and was one of the pillars of success for the Barcelona and the Spain side that conquered and dominated the whole world. Iniesta came through Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy and made his way to the first team.

He was brilliant as a late substitute and helped the turn game around for Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final against Arsenal. Iniesta would go on to win the Man of the Match awards in the 2009 and 2015 Champions League finals for Barcelona and he was a proper big game player.

While he never had the knack for scoring too many goals and was always the artist and the creator in midfield, Iniesta scored the goal that won Spain their first ever World Cup in South Africa in 2010. Iniesta left Barcelona in 2018 with an unparalleled legacy as probably the most talented Spanish player to play the sport and he is seeing out the last phase of his career with Vissel Kobe in Japan.


Who is the king of football of all time?

Pele is also called ‘O Rei’ or The King and he is known as the king of football.

How many World Cups has Pele won?

Pele has won three FIFA World Cups and he is the only player to have three World Cups.

Who is the best player in the world?

Lionel Messi continues to be the best player in the world and was the player of the tournament at the FIFA World Cup recently which Argentina won.


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