As the soccer playing landscape continues to develop, the great debate as to which players can stake their claim as the best of all time, continues to rage.
Quantifying the impact, a particular soccer player has on one game is often tricky, adding that formula to a full career of soccer matches, makes deciphering the best players in the history of the game an even more difficult task.
Soccer differs to many sports in that the position a player takes up on the field of play, can often impact on how they are perceived in terms of performance. For example, a striker may miss 9 chances in one game, but should they score the winning goal, all is naturally forgiven and forgotten.
Applying that rationale when picking the best soccer players of all time assists with the process and pinpointing the most consistently successful players throughout the course of soccer history is a formidable hill to climb.
And with more soccer than ever before being played, deciphering the very best players to have ever played the game is no easy task – with the old debate between team and individual performances continuing to rage.
Here are the top 10 soccer players of all time:
10. Ferenc Puskas
Over the past century or so of professional soccer, many different countries have enjoyed prolonged spells of dominance at the very top of the game.
For Hungary, this spell was very much in the 1940’s and 1950’s, where although they didn’t win a major tournament, they were classified as the best team in the world.
The star of the show in this side was Ferenc Puskas, who’s goal scoring exploits have been the stuff of legend ever since.
Originally plying his trade for his local side Budapest Honved before moving to the mighty Real Madrid, Puskas’s goal record of 703 goals in exactly as many professional games, sees him stand out as one of the all time greats of the game.
Brazil have a deserved reputation for producing soccer playing greats and few can compete with the enigma that is Ronaldinho.
With incredible ball skill and tricks that often defied logic, Ronaldinho shaped modern football in the early 2000’s and his impact is still being felt on the game today.
Beginning his career at Gremio, Ronaldinho enjoyed stellar spells at European giants such as Barcelona, AC Milan, and PSG, where he won all there is to win in the modern game.
His performances at the 2002 World Cup also propelled Brazil to their 5th title and few players have enjoyed the lasting impact Ronaldinho sustained throughout his career.
8. Zinedine Zidane
Despite having plenty of incredible players at their disposal through the generations, France were the perennial underachievers in the game of soccer.
This all changed however with the emergence of Zinedine Zidane.
The talismanic midfielder began his career at Cannes and then Bordeaux in a relatively inauspicious start to his life in soccer, however it was his move to Juventus in 1996 that shaped Zidane moving forward.
He almost single-handedly won the World Cup for France in 1998, before playing a big part in the side that backed it up by triumphing at Euro 2000.
Zidane then moved to Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2001, where he went on the Champions League as both a player and more recently as a manager – underlining his credentials as one of the best players to have ever played the game.
Goals are the currency all strikers deal in and when it comes to coming the ball in the back of the net, few players in soccer history can compete with Ronaldo.
Now referred to as the ‘original Ronaldo’ due to the prominence of Cristiano Ronaldo (read on for more on him!), Ronaldo was a rip roaring success throughout his career.
Bursting on to the scene in his native Brazil, Ronaldo moved to PSV Eindhoven in 1994, where his performances attracted the attention of Bobby Robson and Barcelona.
The goals continued at the Nou Camp, before big money moves to Inter Milan, Real Madrid, and AC Milan, where despite his continual injury problems, he maintained one of the most incredible goal records in soccer playing history.
His club career ended with an incredible 352 goals in just 518 games, coupled with 62 international goals in 98 appearances for Brazil.
Throw two World Cup wins into the mix too and Ronaldo has to take his place amongst the greats of the game.
6. Johan Cruyff
The phrase ‘total football; has now become part of soccer parlance and its origins lie with one man.
Johan Cruyff made one of the biggest contributions to modern day soccer ever seen, with his impact as a player at both Barcelona and for his native Netherlands, still bearing fruit today.
Having coined total football at Ajax, he then moved to Barcelona in 1973, where the accolades and achievements continued to pour in.
With European Cup wins as both a player and a manager, Cruyff continued to revolutionise soccer until his untimely death in 2016 and with modern day greats such as Pep Guardiola still subscribing to his philosophies, few people in world soccer have impacted the game in the way that Cruyff has.
5. Franz Beckenbauer
The first out and out defender on the list, few players have enjoyed the physical battle on the soccer field as much as Franz Beckenbauer.
A man almost single-handedly responsible for the lazy stereotype of German efficiency on the soccer field, Beckenbauer never wasted a pass and frequently pulled his side over the line when they needed him most.
His 14 year tenure with his boyhood club Bayern Munich saw him win everything available to him in the German game, before he enjoyed a career swansong in the United States.
Captaining Germany to both Euro 1972 and World Cup 1974 triumphs are perhaps the defining moments of Franz Beckenbauer’s incredible career.
4. Cristiano Ronaldo
Modern day players are often looked at through rose tinted glasses, but Cristiano Ronaldo is a Bonafede great of the game.
Beginning his career in stop, start fashion at Manchester United was the antithesis of what was to come for the Portuguese superstar, who is still plying his trade at the top of the game at the age of 37.
Moving to Real Madrid for a world record fee of £80 million in 2009, Ronaldo has broken countless goal scoring records for the Spanish giants, before moving to Juventus and back to Manchester United once more.
With 815 career goals scored there is no sign of Cristiano Ronaldo relenting at the age of 37 and he continues to blaze a trail at the top of the game.
3. Diego Maradona
With an ability to dribble the ball like no other player, Diego Maradona has to go down as one of the best players to have played the game – on skill alone.
There was much more to him than that though.
The fiery Argentine stopped at nothing to ensure he won titles and matches season in, season out and the prestige he is held in amongst modern day soccer experts is testament to the impact he had on the game.
In his native Argentina, at Barcelona in Spain and for Napoli in Italy, Maradona proved himself time and time again at the highest level and his list of career accolades compares with some of the most decorated players to have ever lived.
Perhaps his defining moment was lifting the FIFA World Cup for Argentina in 1986 and despite his death in 2020, Maradona continues to be revered by soccer fans across the world today.
When it comes to scoring goals, few players in the history of the game can compete with Pele.
Brazilian soccer was an enigma in the 1940’s and early 1950’s, that was until Pele came along.
The only man to have won three FIFA World Cup titles, Pele’s goals propelled Brazilian soccer to a whole new level, and he set the benchmark for generations to come.
His 710 career goals scored in 751 professional appearances, is a goals to game ratio like no other and at the age of 81, Pele continues to promote the game of soccer globally with aplomb.
1. Lionel Messi
Soccer is an entertainment business and no player in the history of the game has been able to provide fans with the level of entertainment Lionel Messi produces, every time he crosses the white line.
The diminutive Argentine defied early career predictions over his lack of height to become Barcelona’s most decorated player, in a trophy laden 15 year stint with the club.
His 796 career goals for Barcelona, Argentina and more recently PSG have enabled Messi to defy the record books and etch his name into soccer history moving forward.
With an incredible 10 La Liga titles to his name, as well as 4 Champions League triumphs, Messi’s place amongst the greats of the game is well established.
Whilst the World Cup has remained elusive, Messi led his native Argentina to Copa America glory in 2021, arguably the defining moment of his incredible career – that is far from over yet, at the age of 34.
Combining his sports coaching career with freelance journalism, Sam is a sports betting writer for various online publications. He is looking to develop both his respective coaching and writing careers, whilst incorporating his other huge passion – travelling the world.
Sam currently lives and works in Milan, Italy and playing/following/writing about cricket, football (soccer), tennis, formula 1 and golf continue to take up much of his spare time.