Top 10 Greatest Footballers of the 20th Century

When it comes to selecting the greatest footballers of the 20th century, we're talking about players who have redefined their era with exceptional skills, tenacity, and a special kind of magic that makes your heart race every time they touch the ball. They've danced through defenses, struck the ball with fury, and displayed tactical acumen that left fans and opponents alike in awe. These are players who could turn a game around single-handedly, make a ball do unimaginable things, and create moments that will forever be etched in the collective memory of football fans worldwide.

From every corner of the globe, we've seen the rise of figures who shaped the landscape of football, challenging the norm and pushing the boundaries of what was considered possible. They are the masterminds who've changed the way we perceive and play football, and their stories continue to inspire budding players even today.
The Top Ten
1 Diego Maradona Diego Armando Maradona (October 30, 1960 - November 25, 2020) was an Argentine professional footballer. Widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, he was one of the two joint winners of the FIFA Player of the 20th Century award. Maradona was given the nickname "El Pibe... read more

His skill in running with the ball, his passing skill, and his finishing are the best of all. His abilities and achievements cannot be matched. He is the all-time footballer, and he is a living legend. He is the heart of many football fans.

I have not seen such a talented, complete footballer in my life.

By far the greatest. What he did in '86, no other player has come close to that. Forget Messi.

2 Pelé Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known as "Pelé", was a Brazilian professional footballer who played as a forward. In 1999 he was named Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee and was included in the Time list of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. In 2000, Pelé was... read more

Pelé was the greatest footballer of all time. He won three World Cups and scored 1,281 goals during his 21-year-long career. Nobody can challenge Pelé for the crown!

Pelé was the kind of player that would always light up the game, with a great goal, a piece of skill, or a tackle. He was the most perfect player of all time.

Definitely the best player of all time.

3 Johan Cruyff Hendrik Johannes "Johan" Cruijff (25 April 1947 – 24 March 2016) was a Dutch professional football player and coach. As a player, he won the Ballon d'Or three times, in 1971, 1973, and 1974. Cruyff was a proponent of the football philosophy known as Total Football explored by Rinus Michels, and is... read more

Johan Cruyff completely revolutionized football by executing Total Football to perfection! And oh, those Cruyff turns, the back heel, overhead trappings!

4 Cristiano Ronaldo Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro (born 5 February 1985) is a Portuguese professional footballer who plays as a forward for Serie A club Juventus and captains the Portugal national team.

Cristiano Ronaldo is SUPER! His mentality and motivation on the football field are incomparable.

He is an incredible player with unique attacking and scoring styles. He scores free kicks, penalties, long balls, and more.

5 Zinedine Zidane Zinedine Yazid Zidane, nicknamed "Zizou", (born 23 June 1972) is a is a French former professional football player who played as an attacking midfielder. He received many individual accolades as a player, including being named FIFA World Player of the Year in 1998, 2000 and 2003, and winning the 1998... read more
6 David Beckham David Robert Joseph Beckham is (born 2 May 1975) is an English former professional footballer, the current president & co-owner of Inter Miami CF and co-owner of Salford City.. He played for Manchester United, Preston North End, Real Madrid, Milan, LA Galaxy, Paris Saint-Germain and the England national... read more
7 Alfredo di Stefano
8 Michel Platini Michel François Platini (born 21 June 1955) is a French football administrator and former player and manager. As the president of UEFA in 2015 he was banned from involvement in football under FIFA's organisation, over ethics violations. The ban will last until 2023. Regarded as one of the greatest... read more
9 Hugo Sanchez Hugo Sánchez Márquez is a retired Mexican professional footballer and manager. A prolific goalscorer known for his spectacular strikes and volleys, Sánchez is widely regarded as Mexico's greatest-ever footballer, and one of the greatest players of his generation.
10 Franz Beckenbauer Franz Anton Beckenbauer (born 11 September 1945, died 7 January 2024) was a German professional footballer and manager. Early in his playing career, he was nicknamed "Der Kaiser" because of his elegant style, dominance, and leadership on the field. His first name "Franz" is reminiscent of the Austrian... read more

He was a great reader of the game, nearly impossible to separate from the ball with superb skills and control. He invented the libero position. In this modern sweeper interpretation, Beckenbauer mixed the roles of defender and midfield organizer, scoring surprisingly many goals at a time when that was rare. He won everything with the national team, including the World Cup as a player in 1974 and as a coach in 1990 (a first), and the European Cup in 1972 (Germany's most perfect, elegant style of play is accredited to this team).

Beckenbauer also won everything with his club, Bayern Munich, which he led as they came up into the Bundesliga from the German second league. With Bayern, he then won the Club World Cup and three European Championships in a row (when it was a true champions' competition, with only national title holders in a knockout competition from the start).

Aside from collecting so many national titles and cup wins with Bayern, he also garnered titles at Hamburger SV and New York Cosmos, where he played with Pelé. Pelé said, "Franz deserves it also," when journalists wanted to title him as the best player in the world. Beckenbauer is probably the most complete player of the 20th century.

The Contenders
11 Ferenc Puskás

"The Galloping Major" could have won four Ballon d'Or awards (1948, 1952, 1953, 1954) if this award had been founded ten years earlier. But even without them, he is one of the greatest and most famous football players in the history of the most popular sport in the world.

12 Roberto Baggio Roberto Baggio (Italian pronunciation: roˈbɛrto ˈbaddʒo), born 18 Feb 1967, is an Italian former professional footballer who mainly played as a second striker, or as an attacking midfielder. In 1993, he was named FIFA World Player of the Year and won the Ballon d'Or. He is the former President of... read more
13 Eusébio Eusébio da Silva Ferreira was a Portuguese footballer who played as a striker. Eusébio is considered by many as one of the greatest footballers of all time. During his professional career, he scored 733 goals in 745 matches.

Portugal was very lucky to have Eusébio play for them, as a colonial "property" from the then-occupied Mozambique. He had incredible ball control and scored goals with many long-range, vicious, unreachable strikes. He was also a wonderful team player. In the 1966 World Cup, his underdog team nearly reached the final because of him. With Benfica Lisbon, he won the European Championship and reached the final three times.

14 Gerd Muller

He was a true hunter in the penalty box, sniffing out his prey and striking mercilessly, nearly always with lethal success, often from impossible positions or angles. Beckenbauer often said that Gerd Müller guaranteed all the titles Germany and Bayern Munich won in the 1960s and 1970s.

He also scored more goals in his career than any other player in the world, even though he missed out on even more goals for quitting Germany's national team in 1974. This was in protest against the players' partners not being invited to the winners' banquet for the World Cup. Gerd Müller's fame and reputation motivated Brazil forward Luis da Costa to change his name to Müller. He played for Brazil as Müller in the '86, '90, and '94 World Cups.

Gerd Müller was also well known as a very fair player, rarely fouling back even though desperate defenders attacked him with any means. His teammates in both club and national teams adored him for his warm, supportive personality.

15 Marco van Basten Marcel "Marco" van Basten is a Dutch football manager and former football player, who played for Ajax and Milan, as well as the Netherlands national team, in the 1980s and early '90s as a forward.
16 Garrincha Manuel Francisco dos Santos, known by the nickname Garrincha, was a Brazilian footballer who played right winger and forward.

Unstoppable with the ball, Garrincha was a great example for the young Pelé. His tricks were not just for show but for opening space and putting opponents on the wrong foot. His legs were more like one half of a letter "x" in double version, perhaps adding to the confusion of opponents trying to stop him. The 1958 and 1962 World Cups were won to a large part due to his impact.

Arguably the greatest dribbler of all time, Garrincha was the joint top scorer in the 1962 World Cup, which Brazil won. He only lost one of his fifty international games that he played for Brazil.

17 Stanley Matthews

Greatest British football player ever.

18 Dennis Bergkamp Dennis Nicolaas Maria Bergkamp is a Dutch former professional footballer, who is the assistant manager to Frank de Boer at Ajax.

Skill, style, composure, off the ball runs, with the ball runs - need one say more? And oh, who can forget that '98 goal against Argentina and that goal against Newcastle?

19 Hristo Stoichkov Hristo Stoichkov is a retired Bulgarian footballer who is currently a football commentator for Univision Deportes.
20 Zico

Zico was the greatest Brazilian player never to win the World Cup. He won the World Club Cup with Flamengo in 1981, beating British giants Liverpool 3-0!

The 'White Pelé' was arguably the world's best player of the late 1970s and early '80s, and he is regarded as one of the best playmakers and free-kick specialists in history.

21 George Best George Best (22 May 1946 – 25 November 2005) was a Northern Irish professional footballer who played as a winger, spending most of his club career at Manchester United. A highly skillful dribbler, Best is regarded as one of the best players in the history of the sport. He was named European Footballer... read more

It's a shame he couldn't play in the World Cup on a UK team, rather than one limited to Northern Ireland.

22 Giuseppe Meazza

Best Italian football player ever.

23 Juan Alberto Schiaffino
24 Lothar Matthaus

This energetic leader and prolific midfield goal striker changed the dynamic of any team he joined. Once he came to Bayern Munich from the famous Mönchengladbach, their level lifted another notch, reaching unparalleled heights.

He was unsurprisingly the historic first winner of the Ballon d'Or, so clearly ever-present was he in the international football world from the late 1980s into the 1990s. He won the World Cup with Germany in 1990 and many cups, trophies, and titles with Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, always as a leader and an unstoppable game-changer.

His '90 World Cup run with the ball, starting in his own half and slicing through the highly regarded Yugoslavia team, finishing it off with a cannon shot into the goal, is world-famous. He played in 5 World Cups, a record for a field player, and would have had 6 if not for missing out on one in between due to strong disagreements with national coach Berti Vogts.

25 Paolo Maldini Paolo Cesare Maldini is a former Italian professional footballer who played as a left back and central defender. Maldini captained Italy for 8 years and AC Milan for 12, and was renowned for his leadership skills, earning him the nickname “Il Capitano”, or ‘The Captain’.
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