In an ever-changing game, this question sparks contentious debate among soccer fans across the globe. How one can pick a few soccer legends, who redefined the game when football has an era that started with pigskin ball and reached the advanced technology stage what we know of it today. Still, we tried our best to pick the top soccer players of all time based on statistics, talent, and the overall impact they made on the sport.
What happens when 17-year-old scores six goals in a World Cup that help his team lift their maiden Jules Rimet? He goes down in history as being one of the best soccer players of all time. Pele is the name that made tongues roll. The 1958 World Cup that redefined Brazil as a team of the greats, Pele was the center of attraction. Playing some of his best games with Santos, Pele went on to win World Cup in 1962 and 1970 as well. His performance in the 1970 World Cup was Golden Ball-winning that made him a legend. How can a player with unfathomable 1281 goals in his career be at any other position but the top?
Somewhat vertically-challenged, Messi is the true ‘Mozart of Soccer’ who is destined to surpass Pele if his performance continues to be the same for the remainder of his career. Always inducted among most famous soccer players of all time, the Argentinian forward has earned the respect of peers and millions of fans for his record-breaking achievements that are unlikely to be surpassed by another player soon. Messi joined Barcelona when he was just 13 and went on to become one of the most successful players for the team with eight league titles, four Champion League trophies and five Ballon d’Or awards. That’s not all; he’s also the highest La Liga scorer of all times with his record of 337 goals. If someone argues Lionel Messi’s contribution to the game, then they must watch his Golden Ball-winning performance in the 2014 World Cup.
Youngsters hold him in high regards; fans can’t take eyes off the ball when he plays, and girls swoop over him, Cristiano Ronaldo still doesn’t make it easy for some to like him. His fiasco with the Iceland team when he belittled them or the act of making the Portugal manager redundant in the same tournament, highlights the flaws in 34 years old Portuguese wind wizard’s character. Still, you can’t stop yourself from admiring his achievements. One of the world’s costliest players, the Real Madrid forward is an all-time goalscorer who completed his 400 career goals at just 28. Also, the three Premier League titles, a Champions League, a La Liga, and a European Championship, make Ronaldo one of the greatest players in modern football.
Made immortal for his ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in 1986 World Cup, Diego Maradona has some of the most memorable games in soccer history to his name. His presence helped Napoli to win Series A titles twice in 1987 and 1990, and his 1986 World Cup performance was the one that was not seen since Pele in 1958. It’s a shame that one of the greatest dribblers in football ended his career with failed drug tests. Maradona was found guilty of using performance-enhancing drug ephedrine at Barcelona and 1994 World Cup. Controversial, yet impactful, the contribution of Maradona is valuable in making soccer the game we know today.
Alfredo Di Stéfano
No one can replace Alfredo Di Stéfano as the first Total Soccer Player the game has ever seen. He walked the walk at all positions in the game, except for goalkeeping. Regarded as a prolific forward, Di Stéfano engraved his name as one of the soccer legends when he scored in five consecutive European Cup finals, a record that’s highly unlikely to be matched. The Argentinian has won caps for three different countries-Argentina, Spain and Colombia. His career would have ended very differently if the Saeta Rubia (blond arrow) had joined Barcelona instead of Merengues in 1943. Past might have a different story to tell, but Di Stéfano will always remain one of the most talented all-rounders in soccer history.
Considered by many as Europe’s best-ever player, Johan Cruyff is the soccer legend who first executed the Cruyff Turn. Golden Ball performance in 1974 World Cup from the Total Soccer Player took him to the list of top ten soccer players of all time. From Eric Cantona to Xavi, there’s a whole generation of football players who got influenced by his fluid movements and quick thinking. His importance to the game can be estimated from the fact that before his arrival, no Dutch club ever won a European competition, but in his presence, Ajax won three in a row. Moving to Barcelona, Cruyff broke their 14 years dry spell and earned their first La Liga with his ‘Phantom Goal.’ We fail to recount any other soccer legend with such a legacy.
Fondly remembered as the ‘The Black Panther,’ many regarded Eusébio as the greatest Portuguese soccer player until Cristiano Ronaldo came along. His contribution was not just to the game but towards all African-born players when he earned recognition at the international level. Possessor of explosive pace, Eusébio helped Portugal to finish third in the 1966 World Cup with nine goals that earned him a Golden Boot. However, the real stroke of mastery from him was during his 15-year run with Benfica. For the club team, he earned eleven league titles, a European Cup and a Ballon d’Or. A soccer legend of the right kind, Eusébio is an ardent believer in fair play.
Known as Der Kaiser (The Emperor), no soccer legend can match the commanding charge attitude Franz Beckenbauer had. Under his guidance, West Germany clinched 1972 Euros’ victory, followed by the 1947 World Cup. He went on to spearhead Bayern Munich to four Bundesliga titles and three European Cups. It was his presence that prompted all-star New York Cosmos to win three Soccer Bowls. Beckenbauer found his true success when he switched from midfielder to the attacking sweeper role. It is no wonder that the two-time European Footballer of the Year, went on to continue to influence the game as a coach. West Germany lifted the 1990 World Cup under his mentorship.
His love for ‘booze, birds and fast cars’ led George Best’s career to a tragic end, but he still remains an iconic soccer player of all time. Gifted with magical dribbling ability, fluid movements, sense of balance, and blistering pace, Best was a living example of the beauty of the game. Best had his best career with Manchester United, where he won two league titles and a European Cup. Such was his play that one of the sportswriters claimed it ‘would have made Isaac Newton decide he might as well have eaten the apple.’
Goal machine Puskas is one of the most successful strikers in the history of soccer. At the club and international level, he managed an average of a goal a game, and he was nicknamed ‘The Galloping Major’ by the Hungarian Ministry of Defence when he was part of the army team. Taking his military rank seriously, Puskas took his club team to win five league titles, and then the national team Mighty Magyars to Olympic gold and the final game of 1954 World Cup. Sort of a drama movie, Puskas’s career was met with a harrowing twist when UEFA handed him a 2-year ban. Many deemed his career to be over before Real Madrid decided to give the 31-year old a lifeline. He returned the favor in full, winning the team three European Cups and five La Liga titles. He played a total of 262 games for Madrid in which he scored 242 goals, remarkable, nothing else!
Over the years, soccer has changed. Players are required to be more physically fit to cover 50% more distance from yesteryear, technology has taken center stage, live soccer odds have become important than live scores, but one fact remains the same. The soccer legends who defined the game continue to inspire, and that will never change.