No other game in the history of mankind has influence as much as football (soccer) does. Football’s uniqueness, and diversity transcend all geographical limitations, ethnic and religious boundaries. Football’s apolitical, universal appeal gives people from around the world a common topic to discuss passionately.
The history of football has observed emotion, victory, defeat, heartbreaking moments, and conflict. However, it has also noted the actors who revolve in the center of the attention — for whom the “biggest show on Earth” is staged. Football is played by so many great players across the world, but only a few are true legends who occupied the hearts of millions with their mesmerizing skills, and prowess.
In this article, I tried compiling a list of those legends of all time. The debate of which players are better than others can incite opinions, and various discussions. It is sheer hardship to narrow down the legends as these legends are unique, and excellent during their age, and time. That is why I tried ranking the legends based on their extraordinary skills, titles, and crowd-magnet influence.
Years Active: 1956-1977
International Career: Brazil, 1957-1971 (91 caps, 77 goals)
Clubs: Santos, New York Cosmos
Edison Arantes Do Nascimento; given the nickname ‘Pele’ during his school days, widely regarded as the greatest player to ever have played the game. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) hailed him as the “Athlete of the Century” in 1999. He played as striker for Brazil. His speed, accurate passing, prowess, technical and athletic skills contributed to Brazil winning the world three times; 1958, 1962, and 1970. He scored 77 goals for Brazil.
- Diego Maradona
Years Active: 1976-1997
Position: attacking midfielder/second striker
Clubs: Argentino Juniors, Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla FC, Newell’s Old Boys
Born in Villa Fiorgto, Maradona’s career, and life centered around accomplishments, and controversies. Maradona will be remembered throughout history for navigating Argentina to winning 1986 world cup. His performance, and leadership reinforced the motion that a strong leader can lead a team to victory. Maradona is one of the greatest technicians, and dribblers the game has ever seen. His miniature size proved to be a perk for changing directions firmly and fast.
- Zinedine Zidane
Years active: 1988-2006
International Career: France; 1994-2006 (108 caps, 31 goals)
Clubs: Cannes, Bordeaux, Juventus, Real Madrid
His two goals scored by his head elevated France to victory in the 1998 World Cup Final. This French football legend is considered one of the most brilliant technicians. With his skilled feet, he proved lethal against any team. His effective ways of ball control fixated millions to his art, and he single-handedly levered France to the 2006 World Cup final.
Years active: 1993-2011
International Career – Brazil; 1994-2011 (97 caps, 62 goals)
Clubs: Cruzeiro, PSV Endhoven, Barcelona, Inter Milano, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Corinthians
Widely recognized as one of the gifted strikers of all time, Ronaldo de Lima contributed to Brazil’s two world cup final victories. His velocity, prowess, slyness in front of the goal earned him 15 goals. Shooting accurately with both feet made his speed, power, and reliability top-notch. He could glide in small, congested spaces, dribble, and score goals efficiently.
- Johan Cruyff
Years active: 1964-1984
Position: midfielder, playmaker
International Career: Netherlands; 1966-1977 (48 caps, 33 goals)
Clubs: Ajax, Barcelona, Los Angeles, Aztecs, Washington Diplomats
One of the greatest players to grace the game, and a distinctive midfielder player of the 70s. Cruyff was unique as both a player and a manager, Cruyff developed innovative techniques to approach the game. Cruyff was the first player to win three Balloon d’Or awards. The iconic Dutchman is the first of many styles, and techniques. The famous Cruyff turn was named after him. He recently passed away after battling cancer.
- Michel Platini
Years Active: 1972-1987
International Career: France (1976-1987) 72 caps, 41 goals. Kuwait (1988) 1 cap, 0 goals.
Clubs: Nancy, Saint-Etienne, Juventus
One of the best free kick specialists, yet roamed as an effective attacking midfielder during his career. Platini’s goal-scoring thirst resulted in engineering many strategies that eventually brought successes for France, and Juventus in the deighties. He scored 9 goals in 5 matches, and assisted many during European Football Championship of 1984.
- Franz Beckenbauer
Years Active: 1964-1983
International Career: Germany, 1965-1977 (103 caps, 14 goals)
Clubs: Bayern Munich, New York Cosmos, Hamburg.
The only person to captain, and coach a world cup leading side, Franz Beckenbauer was nicknamed Der Kaiser (The Emperor). The way he stopped the opposition’s attack, and amplified the team’s scoring abilities earned him a place in the list of best footballers of all time. He played three world cups, scored two goals against Switzerland in the 1966 England World Cup. His trophy cabinet is adorned with the world cup he won when he coached the national team for 1990 world cup,
- Bobby Charlton
Years Active: 1954-1975
Position: midfielder, forward
International Career: England; 1958-1970 (106 caps, 49 goals)
Clubs: Manchester United, Preston North End
Widely recognized as the greatest English football player, and considered as one of the best midfielders, Bobby Charlton led the England’s only World Cup winning team in 1966. Bobby developed exclusive, and effective methods for ball passing, and scoring goals. He showed equal skills in performing chip shots, and strong low-flying shots. Although he never played as striker, yet his 49 goals scored remains the most by an England player. It shows his ability to hike himself on to the D-box, and score goals. Bobby was honored with the FIFA World Cup Golden Ball and the Balloon d’Or.
- Christiano Ronaldo
Years Active: 2002-present
International Career: Portugal; 2003-present (133 caps, 61 goals)
Clubs: Sporting CP, Manchester United, Real Madrid.
One of the main protagonists in modern-age Pele-Maradona debate, who is better; Christiano Ronaldo or Leo Messi; 31-year-old Christiano Ronaldo definitely achieved unparalleled feats to cement his place among the Pantheon of Greats. The Portuguese right-wing magician scored his 400th goal at the age of 28; and is known for his pace, free kick special, and wit. He currently plays for Real Madrid, and captains the Portugal football team. His assiduous endeavor adorned Portugal with the 2016 Euro Champion title. Ronaldo broke several long-standing Euro league records. Ronaldo is the fastest player to score 200 goals in La Liga.
- Leo Messi
Years Active: 1994-present
International Career: 2005-present (113 caps, 55 goals)
Clubs: Newell’s Old Boys, Barcelona
Undoubtedly one of the best football players in the world, many dare go as far as comparing Pele with him; Leo Messi started his career back in 1995, was picked up by Barcelona in exchange of his hormone disorder treatment fees. He helped Argentina win Olympic gold medal in 2008 Beijing Olympics. Messi performed well, excelled in the 2014 World Cup, helped Argentina reach the final. Messi’s goal-scoring thirst, along with his dribbling, passing exploits made him lethal for any opposition. He holds the Guinness World Records title for the most goals in a year. Messi bagged Ballon d’Or for the fifth time in 2015 defeating Ronaldo, and Neymar.