Sports History: Top 10 Soccer Players of All Time

top 10 soccer players of all time

Soccer is, by far, the most popular sport on the planet. But with half of the world’s population tuned in to the biggest games, there is a lot of dispute over who the sport’s biggest stars are. Some look at the career number of goals as the most important factor, others count the titles, while some simply choose the player they love most.

If you are wondering what an objective stance on soccer would reveal, read on. Here are the top 10 soccer players of all time.

Best Soccer Players Ever

10. Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane

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Zinedine Zidane, the most famous and successful French soccer player of all time, played as an attacking midfielder during his entire 17-year career. He was known for his brilliant passes, incredible ball control, and some of the most beautiful goals the sport has ever seen.

Zidane won the FIFA World Player of the Year award three times. In addition, he was the recipient of the Ballon d’Or in 1998, which is the highest accolade a professional soccer player can get. He scored 95 goals for different clubs and 31 for his home country, having played over 600 cumulative matches.

Popularly known as Zizou, Zidane made his debut in Cannes, where he stayed for the first four years of his career. In subsequent years, he played for Bordeaux, Juventus, and Real Madrid. There, Zizou became the superstar the world knows today. He also played for the French national team, helping it win the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship.

After his retirement, Zidane dedicated himself to helping other teams and players reach the same success he did. Today, he is one of the most renowned coaches in the world. His most notable results are with Real Madrid.

9. Ronaldinho


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Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, popularly dubbed Ronaldinho, is a legendary retired Brazilian soccer player. Although he spent most of his career playing as an attacking midfielder, he could also play the winger position quite well.

A global icon of the sport, he won FIFA’s award for the best player twice, as well as one Ballon d’Or. Ronaldinho was best known for his dribbling ability, along with no-look passes, overhead kicks, and excellent technical skills. Overall, most people see him as the most creative soccer player of all time.

During his career, Ronaldinho played for several clubs. These include PSG, Grêmio, Flamengo, Atlético Mineiro, Querétaro, FC Milan, Fluminense, and Barcelona.

Throughout his international career for Brazil, he won the 1999 Copa América, the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup, as well as a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics.

Ronaldinho ended his pro career in 2015. Nowadays, he is an ambassador for Barcelona FC at institutional events.

8. Ronaldo Nazario

Ronaldo Nazario

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Dubbed O Fenômeno, this Brazilian striker is widely considered to be one of the best players of all time. His innovative approach to playing a striker inspired a whole new generation of players.

As far as individual accolades go, Ronaldo has won 2 Ballon d’Ors and 3 FIFA World Player of the Year awards. He became the youngest player in history to win both, claiming the awards at 20 and 21, respectively. To this day, no one has beaten his record.

Ronaldo was equally impressive in his club and international career. He played for many clubs, including Cruzeiro, PSV, Inter, Real Madrid, Milan, and Corinthians.

Internationally, he played for the Brazilian national team, scoring over 60 goals and winning one World Cup and several Copa America titles.

Throughout his career, Ronaldo was plagued by injuries. At one point, he was out of the game for over three years, recovering from knee surgeries. He also suffered from convulsive fits and other injuries, which all prompted his retirement in 2011.

Although he no longer plays, Ronaldo remains a prominent figure in the soccer world. He is the owner of Brasileiro Série B club Cruzeiro and the president of Segunda División club Real Valladolid. He is also a World Cup ambassador every four years.

7. Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff

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No list of the best soccer players of all time is complete without Johan Cruyff. The Dutch legend won the Ballon d’Or three times during the mid-seventies.

Cruyff was one of the leaders of the Total Football strategy, which revolutionized Dutch soccer. However, this school of soccer also made waves beyond the country, changing the way outfield players approached the game.

Aside from winning all major individual accolades a player can win, Cruyff was also named the best European soccer player of the 20th century by the IFFHS. He came in second in the world behind the legendary Pelé.

Throughout his professional career spanning two decades, Cruyff played for Ajax, Barcelona, Los Angeles Aztecs, Washington Diplomats, Levante, and Feyenoord. He won every possible competition in the world, from national titles and the Champions League to the World Cup and European Championships.

In 1947, he performed the infamous feint that quickly gained him legendary status. Today, this move is known as the Cruyff Turn. It is popular with forwards and midfield attackers all around the globe.

After retiring in the 80s, Cruyff started working as a soccer manager. His legacy is just as great in that field, as Ajax and Barcelona are still very much influenced by his leading style. In addition, he started his own line of sneakers, aptly named the Cruyff Trainers.

Johan Cruyff died on 24 March 2016, after a long and exhausting battle with cancer. The beloved soccer legend was 68 years old.

6. Ferenc Puskas

Ferenc Puskas

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Ferenc Puskas, a Hungarian forward, was one of the biggest goal-getters in the history of the sport. He was the first international soccer superstar, and his popularity was unparalleled at the height of his career.

Puskas scored 84 goals in 85 matches for the Hungarian national team. Moreover, he scored 625 goals in 631 matches in the Hungarian and Spanish national leagues, the most of any player until the 21st century.

This Hungarian powerhouse led his nation to an Olympic gold medal in 1952 and to the final of the World Cup two years later. His international career is, perhaps, even more impressive. As a forward in Real Madrid, he won 5 Spanish league titles and 3 European Cups.

Puskas’ goals were otherworldly, as he always managed to sneak the ball into the net no matter how impossible his position might have seemed. To honor this incredible ability, FIFA established an award named after him in 2009. Namely, this accolade celebrates the scorer of the most beautiful goal of the season.

Ferenc died in 2006. Although he was there because his Alzheimer’s had gotten too severe, he actually died from Pneumonia. At the time of his passing, he was 79 years old.

5. Alfredo Di Stefano

Alfredo Di Stefano

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Alfredo Di Stefano is one of the most famous classic Argentinian players. Fans called him Saeta Rubia (Blond Arrow) for his extraordinary striking ability, as he rarely missed free kicks.

Like many of the players on this list, Di Stefano also made a name for himself playing for Real Madrid. He led the club to 5 consecutive European Cup finals and helped it dominate the Spanish league for a whole decade.

The Argentinian legend was most famous for its tactical prowess. Namely, he was flawless with the ball, quick on his feet, and even quicker at thinking under pressure. Furthermore, he had excellent stamina, allowing him to maintain the same level throughout an entire game.

Although his club career is extraordinary, he wasn’t as successful internationally. He played for Argentina, Colombia, and Spain, but he never participated in a world cup.

However, he does have a Copa America trophy with Argentina, a title he was most proud of.

Alfredo lived to be 88 years old. He died in 2014 after multiple heart attacks that left him unable to walk or move.

4. Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

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Lionel Messi, also known as Leo, is one of the most successful soccer players of all time. Unlike the players mentioned so far, he is still active. He is a forward, and his dribbling abilities are some of the best and most creative the world has seen.

Throughout his career, Messi has scored over 750 goals. This number becomes even more impressive when you consider that he is still playing and has a chance to score even more.

Leo has spent most of his professional career in a single club: Barcelona. He led the team to an astonishing 35 trophies, including 7 Copa del Rey titles, 10 Spanish league titles, and 4 UEFA Champions Leagues.

Messi holds many records, each one more impressive than the last. For example, he scored the most goals in the history of the Spanish league overall (474), with 50 of them being in a single season. Moreover, he holds the record for most hat-tricks in both La Liga and the UEFA Champions League.

As far as his international career goes, Messi plays for his native Argentina. He has the most appearances in the country team’s history, and he has scored the most goals as well. He has led the team to 4 Copa America finals, winning the prestigious title once.

In 2021, Messi announced that he was changing clubs for the first time in his career. At the moment, he is one of the top scorers in Paris Saint-Germain. Having won the Ballon d’Or eight times, Leo is the most awarded soccer player of all time.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo

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Just like Messi, Ronaldo is another active player with legendary status. He is a forward from Portugal. At the moment, he is the captain of the Portuguese national team and plays for Manchester United.

So far, Ronaldo has won 5 Ballon d’Ors, as well as several European Golden Shoe awards, the most by any player from Europe. He has a cumulative 32 titles to his name, including 5 UEFA CLs, 7 league titles in different countries, and gold medals at both the European Championships and Nations League competitions.

Cristiano is also the holder of many records, mainly in the Champions League. These include having the most appearances, assists, and goals. He has played in over 1,100 matches thus far, and scored over 800 goals.

Ronaldo started his career in Sporting. Subsequently, he played for Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Juventus. Currently, he is back in Manchester United under a two-year contract.

2. Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona

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Diego Maradona is an Argentinian sports hero and a figure with almost divine status. As an attacking midfielder and second striker, he played for the Argentinian national team, as well as clubs such as Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla, and Boca Juniors.

Maradona is one of the shortest soccer players ever, which gave him a low center of gravity. That, in turn, allowed him to maneuver the ball expertly, passing all his opponents with an ease no one could rival.

Aside from incredible stamina and creativity, Diego’s main advantage was his incredible charisma. Namely, he could energize his teammates within seconds and make everyone hungry for a win.

However, Maradona’s achievements were often overshadowed by his somewhat problematic personality. He was known for being temperamental, getting into fights often, and being easily provoked by insults from spectators and other players. In addition, he experimented with drugs, which jeopardized his career on more than one occasion.

Still, the controversy can never speak louder than Diego’s undeniable talent. He won 11 career titles, including a World Cup and 5 titles with Napoli. In 1999, FIFA named him the best player of the 20th century, along with Pelé.

Maradona died in 2020 after undergoing brain surgery and suffering a heart attack. He was 60 years old.

1. Pelé


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Pelé was another legendary forward. Since he got the crown for Player of the Century in 1999, most people have considered him to be the best soccer player of all time.

This amazing Brazilian scored 1,269 goals in 1,363 matches, making him the best goal scorer in the sport’s history. He was also excellent at reading other players and anticipating their moves. That gave him an incredible tactical advantage, making his passes and dribbling a joy to watch.

Playing for his native Brazil, Pelé won the World Cup three times, along with 5 league titles and 2 Copa Libertadores titles. No soccer player has won as many WC titles as Pelé, and it is unlikely that anyone will pass him anytime soon. Furthermore, he is still the youngest player to ever score a goal at a WC, having done it at just 17.

After his retirement, Pelé became a UNICEF and UN ambassador, did charity work, starred in films, and even wrote several autobiographies. Pelé is currently 81 years old, but he is as vivacious as ever. He travels the world and donates lots of funds and equipment to impoverished countries.

Gretchen Walker
Gretchen is a homemaker by day and writer by night. She takes a keen interest in life as it unfolds around her and spends her free time observing people go about their everyday affairs.