Best Soccer Players of All-Time

Best Soccer Players of All-Time

Soccer is the world’s preferred sport of choice. With billions of adoring fans across the globe, soccer continues to soar to new heights.

As the sport grows, it’s easy to forget past players as we root for the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah.

With that said, we’ve compiled a list of the best soccer players of all-time.

We realize there’s many lists similar to ours on the internet but this is strictly the opinion of our team at Soccer Novo.

We honestly think anyone in the top 25 can be interchangeable with this list but we’ve considered the impact these players had on the game as well as their career accolades.

10. Roberto Baggio, Italy

Roberto Baggio

  • Position: Attacking Midfielder
  • Peak Years: 1990-1994

Roberto Baggio played as an attacking midfielder and was known for his technical skills, vision, and ability to score amazing goals.

Maybe best known for his international play, Baggio represented Italy in three World Cups (1990, 1994, 1998) and is the highest scoring Italian player in the tournament’s history.

He won several club titles with Juventus, AC Milan, and Bologna, and was also named FIFA World Player of the Year in 1993.

After retiring from professional football, Baggio became involved in several charitable initiatives and is remembered for his exceptional talent and humble personality.

9. Ronaldo, Brazil

Ronaldo, Brazil

  • Position: Forward
  • Peak Years: 1995-1998

Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, commonly known as simply ‘Ronaldo’, is one of the most admired soccer players from Brazil.

Ronaldo represents a whole generation; he is an elite goal scorer, a competitor and athletic ability like no other.

In his prime, he was physically superior, technically proficient to perfection, and possessed a keen sense of timing and positioning that allowed him to make devastating runs at the right moments.

Ronaldo played for several clubs throughout his career, including PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Barcelona in Spain, Inter Milan in Italy, and Real Madrid in Spain. He also played for the Brazilian national team, helping lead them to victory in the 2002 World Cup and earning the tournament’s Golden Boot award as the leading scorer.

After retiring from professional soccer in 2011, Ronaldo has remained a prominent figure in the world of soccer and continues to be remembered for his impressive skills and achievements.

8. Alfredo Di Stefano, Argentina

Alfredo Di Stefano, Argentina

  • Position: Forward
  • Peak Years: 1956-1962

Many people consider Di Stefano to be Real Madrid’s most outstanding player of all-time. That’s a bold statement, especially in light of Real Madrid’s success over the years and all the superstar players who have graced the grass of the Bernabeu.

Di Stéfano spent the majority of his club career in Spain with Real Madrid, where he won five consecutive European Cup titles and helped establish the club as a dominant force in European football.

He was also an important player for the Argentine national team and was part of the team that won the Argentine league in 1947.

After retiring from professional football, Di Stéfano became a coach and managed several teams, including Real Madrid. He was inducted into the Spanish Football Hall of Fame in 2011 and is remembered for his exceptional talent and contribution to the sport.

Like Ronaldo, Di Stefano was an all-around striker who possessed exceptional strength, speed, and endurance, as well as technical skill way ahead of his time in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

7. Franz Beckenbauer, Germany

Franz Beckenbauer, Germany

  • Position: Central Defender
  • Peak Years: 1966-1976

Franz Beckenbauer did it all. He is considered one of the greatest all-around players in soccer history.

Beckenbauer’s high caliber play in a wide variety of positions made him a no-brainer for inclusion on the list, despite the fact that it is extremely hard to create meaningful comparisons between players from different positions.

The German player began his career as a midfielder before transitioning into the central defender position at the heart of Bayern Munich’s defense. Standing at 5′ 11″ Beckenbauer was a wonder with the ball at his feet in an era of no-nonsense defense and route-one, muscular center-backs.

His ability to control the ball and carry it upfield from the center-back position made him a legitimate threat to score goals from wherever he was on the field.

Throughout his career, Beckenbauer scored an incredible 98 goals throughout the course of his 754 career games, including 75 in 584 for Bayern Munich.

6. Zinedine Zidane, France

Zinedine Zidane, France

  • Position: Central Midfielder
  • Peak Years: 1997-2002

Zidane will be remembered as the best central midfielder of all time, just as Ronaldo was the best striker.

The Frenchman’s technical prowess was incredible, and he displayed a level of grace and elegance on the field that belied his 6’1″ height.

Zidane’s record isn’t as extensive as you may think, yet he’s won every major award at least once. While trophies from tournaments like the World Cup, European Championship, La Liga, Serie A, and the Champions League are undoubtedly impressive, they are far from being the be-all and end-all of success.

Today, Zidane has become a successful coach, managing Real Madrid to three consecutive Champions League titles.

5. Johan Cruyff, Netherlands

Johan Cruyff, Netherlands

  • Position: Attacking Midfielder
  • Peak Years: 1971-1975

Cruyff, another groundbreaking figure, is credited with sparking the “tiki-taka” style of soccer over 40 years before it was popularized.

Cruyff started his professional career with Ajax, where he scored 257 goals in 329 appearances and was a conductor of the notion of “Total Football.” All in all, Cruyff won several league titles with Ajax and Barcelona, and also helped lead the Netherlands national team to the World Cup final in 1974.

After retiring from playing, Cruyff became a successful soccer coach at Barcelona. He lead them to several league titles.

He is also credited with popularizing the turn now known as the “Cruyff Turn“. Cruyff was inducted into the World Football Hall of Fame in 2011 and has been described as one of the most influential figures in the history of football. He is widely remembered and respected for his exceptional talent and contribution to the sport.

4. Pele, Brazil

Pele, Brazil

  • Position: Attacking Midfielder
  • Peak Years: 1958-1964

Everything about Brazilian soccer aspires to embody Pele’s legendary spirit. The success of any Brazilian soccer player you’ve seen was almost certainly due to Pele’s pioneering work in that area.

He scored 77 goals in 92 appearances for Brazil and won three World Cups, making him a legendary international player that raised his game on the big stage.

It will be intriguing to see how Pele’s legacy develops. Some people look quizzically at Pele’s stats, especially the one about him scoring 1,281 goals in 1,363 games. However, many of those games were exhibitions against far lower competition.

Even if we take those games out of the equation, his record is still astounding. Over the course of 18 years, he scored 643 goals in 659 appearances for Santos before finishing his career with the New York Cosmos in the United States.

Many people use the fact that Pele never played consistently in Europe but there’s no doubting his superior soccer skills, his three World Cup titles and his impact on the game of soccer.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal

  • Position: Forward
  • Peak Years: 2008-2016

Ronaldo is probably the partially loved and most hated superstar that currently plays today. Ronaldo’s accolades speak for themselves but his arrogance and confidence can rub fans and other players the wrong way.

Once his career is over, Cristiano will have earned a place at the top table of all-time greats.

Ronaldo has been a bright spot in the Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A, winning league and cup titles in all three leagues. He has won the European Championship with Portugal and the Champions League a total of five times with two separate clubs.

Ronaldo has produced a game-winning performance in each of those years. Penalties at the last minute? Sure, no sweat. Concussive strikes that go against the grain? Sorted. Performances that are so fiery that they can change the course of history against all the odds? Done.

Ronaldo’s career is a model of victorious achievement. In his prime, no one could equal his tenacity or his focus on the game at hand.

2. Diego Maradona, Argentina

Diego Maradona, Argentina

  • Position: Attacking Midfielder
  • Peak Years: 1985-1990

Fans on both sides of the Atlantic rarely adored a player as much as Maradona.

The Argentinian attacking midfielder could easily glide past opponents because of his low center of gravity and outstanding technical skill. Maradona was a terrifying opponent because of his relentless intensity and direct running style. Not only did his fierce focus instill fear in his opponents, but it also inspired his teammates to step up their game like an army commander in the midst of battle.

The late-great Maradona played for several clubs throughout his career, including Boca Juniors and Barcelona in Spain, and is best known for his time at Napoli in Italy, where he led the club to its first-ever Serie A championship and became a fan favorite.

He also played for the Argentine national team, helping lead them to victory in the 1986 World Cup and earning the tournament’s Golden Ball award as the best player.

1. Lionel Messi, Argentina

Lionel Messi, Argentina

  • Position: Attacking Midfielder
  • Peak Years: 2009-2015

Not much can be written about 🐐 Lionel Messi that hasn’t already been said, but I’ll give it a shot.

Let’s start with the numbers so we can move on. In 1,002 career appearances between club and country, Messi has racked up 791 goals and 350 assists. That’s a total of 72 minutes per goal scored, within the scope of an 18-year professional life.

While Messi has changed tactics throughout his career, mostly to account for his slowing pace, his final results have stayed consistent.

He has a remarkable touch, putting just the right amount of pressure on each light tap like a skilled craftsman. The ball seems to cling to his foot when he touches it, and his ability to distribute the ball with precision and control is unparalleled. Nobody has ever or will ever be able to break down a defense as he can.

The Argentine superstar is capable of turning the best defenders in the world inside out when he doesn’t feel like going through them.

After his runs, he’ll either cut the ball back with pinpoint accuracy, slide, dink, or flick it over the keeper, displaying remarkable selflessness.

In summary, we can conclude that Lionel Messi possesses the finest kind of magic that makes us all adore soccer. He has a simple way of making anyone who watches him smile. A privilege that will last till the day he finally retires—the confirmed, undeniable GOAT.

Greatest Soccer Players of All-Time (Who Could’ve Easily Made the Top 10 List)

The following players also made a huge impact on the game of soccer and could’ve easily been in our top list.

  • Eusebio
  • Michel Platini
  • Franco Baresi
  • Raymond Kopa
  • Paolo Maldini
  • Gianluigi Buffon
  • Mane Garrincha
  • Marco Van Basten
  • Ferenc Puskas
  • Gerd Muller
  • Giuseppe Meazza
  • Bobby Charlton
  • Ronaldinho
  • George Best
  • Romario
Beau Bridges - Soccer Novo Hey 👋 I’m Beau. A proud Dad, former coach and soccer enthusiast. I continue to love the game of soccer today the same way I did when I was 7. I created to share what I know about the game as well as provide a platform so other parents can learn more about youth soccer in the U.S.

Find a Club Near You

Be in the know for everything soccer in the U.S. 🥳️

SoccerNovo was built out of pure passion for the game of soccer. Our team provides helpful and entertaining content that helps players become better and enjoy the game more.
© 2023 SoccerNovo, LLC. Trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
SoccerNovo is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases but there's no cost to you.