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10 best soccer players of all time, from Maradona to Messi

best soccer players of all time

The rankings of the best soccer players of all time have seen a lot of revisions throughout the history of the planet’s most popular sport. Currently, two of the greatest to ever do it, and one player who may top this list in the next decade, are competing in the sport and will create even more changes in the near future.

Related: Soccer games today – Watch times and odds for upcoming EPL and MLS matches

For the true lovers of the sport, before taking a look at the top 10, you may also be interested in viewing a rundown of the best soccer movies of all time as well.

Without further ado, here are the 10 greatest soccer players to have ever played “o jogo bonito” [the beautiful game].

10. Neymar – 7-time European League champion

best soccer players of all time
Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

While he is behind Pele and Ronaldo on the list of all-time Brazilian soccer players, Neymar is still an iconic talent from the South American nation. While he has not won a Ballon d’Or during his distinguished career, he has done nothing but win championships where ever he has gone.

Neymar has two titles with FC Barcelona in a LaLiga, a Champions League title with the Spanish club, and has been a part of four straight Ligue 1 championship sides with French powerhouse Paris St-Germain. There have been few better players in the world during the 2010s than the latest Brazilian star with one name.

9. Zinedine Zidane – 3 FIFA player of the year awards

10 best soccer players of all time
Credit: Luzzani/Liverani/ USA TODAY Sports (c) Copyright Luzzani/Liverani

Zinedine Zidane became a soccer demigod in France after bringing a FIFA World Cup championship home in 1998. However, along with ending the country’s championship drought, he won three FIFA World Player of the Year awards and reached rare air by winning Player of the Year honors in three of the top five leagues on the planet. Plus, he came up large in the biggest games. The proof is his place as the all-time scorer in FIFA World Cup final games.

8. Michel Platini – 3 Ballon d’Ors

Michel Platini was the greatest player in French football history for a very long time until Zinedine Zidane came on the scene. He won the Ballon d’Or (the sports world MVP award) three years in a row in the 1980s and, he was honored with the award for French Player of the Century.

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Not to be outdone, he is also in the Italian football Hall of Fame. Easily making him one of the best soccer players of all time.

7. Ronaldo Nazario – 3 FIFA world player of the year awards

Brazils Ronaldo Nazario is one of the greatest soccer players ever based on pure talent. He won two Ballon d’Or awards, as well as three FIFA World Player of the year honors. He was the player that made a generation of sports fans realize that Brazil was a soccer powerhouse, and lead his countrymen with otherworldly skills. However, knee injuries curtailed a career that could have been the greatest of all time.

6. Johan Cruyff – 3 Ballon d’Ors

Johan Cruyff has reached mythic levels, not just in his native Netherlands, but across the entire sport. The way in which he played the game and his philosophies on the sport were revolutionary in the 1970s and influenced managers and coaches for decades after he finished playing.

He is the rare player that even has a feint move named after him — the “Cruyff Turn” — and earned three Ballon d’Ors as he blazed a trail through the game.

5. Kylian Mbappe – 2 World Cup Finals

best soccer players of all time
Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

While Kylian Mbappe is only 23 years old, he is arguably the greatest player on the planet today and is quickly on pace to being the best that France has ever produced. He was a teenager when he helped his country win a World Cup title in 2018 and has shown that was only the start as he helped lead them to the finals again in 2022.

While Mbappe was unable to earn a second straight Cup title, it certainly wasn’t his fault. As the Frenchman was the best player on the field, scoring all three of his country’s goals in their loss to Argentina. Kylian Mbappe could be at the top of this list by the team World Cup 2026 arrives.

4. Cristiano Ronaldo – 5 Ballon d’Ors

best soccer players of all time
Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Cristiano Ronaldo is the Lebron James of soccer. A freak athlete with incomparable gifts. The proof of his excellence shows in the fact that he has won an impressive five Ballon d’Or awards [second all-time] and owns the records for most goals and assists in the legendary Champions League.

He is such a transcendent figure that he is even known to sports fans that have never seen him play. And like James, at 37 he has shown no signs of slowing down. That is why he is among the best soccer players of all time.

3. Diego Maradona – FIFA goal of the century

Although he may not have a trophy case full of Ballon d’Or or FIFA Player of the Year trophies, Diego Maradona has one honor no one else has: FIFA Goal of the Century. He is adored around the world for his uncanny skills and is the icon of all sports icons in Argentina, for willing them to a world cup championship almost singlehandedly.

Plus, Maradona’s bad-boy side has always made him a bit of an old-school anti-hero superstar.

2. Pele – FIFA Player of the Century

Pele is one of the most famous soccer players ever. Not only does he have the most goals in the history of Brazilian soccer — an amazing feat all to itself — but he has recorded the most goals on planet Earth (1279). He also has logged the most assists in FIFA World Cup history and helped lead his country to four World Cup titles. He was voted the FIFA Player of the Century, but the award that may say the most about him is landing a spot on TIME’s 100 Most Important People of the Twentieth Century list.

With Pele’s passing after a battle with cancer at 82 in December, soccer fans are sure to be looking back on his distinguished career and his place among the greatest soccer players of all time. For many fans of the beautiful game, he will be seen as the best of them all because he was a one-of-a-kind sports star.

1. Lionel Messi – 6 Ballon d’Ors, 2022 World Cup

best soccer players of all time
Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It would seem impossible that any player from Argentina could break through to a level to stand side-by-side with someone like Maradona, but Lionel Messi has done exactly that during his illustrious career. He scored the most goals in history for legendary club Barcelona FC, earned a record six Ballon d’Ors, and will go down as the greatest player of his generation.

Messi is a once-in-a-lifetime talent that has excelled in an era where athletes are groomed to peak performance and molded into physical freaks. The one goal that has eluded him is a World Cup title.

In 2022 his grand chase ended when he helped Argentina win their third Cup title, as he starred in the biggest game of his life and scored two goals. That is why he is right near the top of our rundown of the best soccer players of all time.

Best soccer players of all time honorable mentions: George Best, Gianluigi Buffon, Franz Beckenbauer, Mane Garrincha, Harry Kane,  Paolo Maldini, Giuseppe Meazza