Top 10 Best Soccer Players of All Time
The game of soccer (known by many around the world as “football”) is currently considered the most popular sport in the world. Throughout its history, there have been some incredibly talented players. The list below details ten of the greatest male footballers of all time, ranked from one to ten.
Who are the 10 Best Soccer Players of All Time?
- Diego Maradona
- Lionel Messi
- Cristiano Ronaldo
- Johan Cruyff
- Zinedine Zidane
- Franz Beckenbauer
- David Beckham
- Three-time World Cup Winner
- Voted Joint FIFA Player of the 20th Century
- 757 career goals for club and country
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known by his nickname, “Pelé,” is the first of three Brazilian players on this list and the best-ranked player overall. Playing for most of his career as a forward with Santos FC in Brazil from 1956-1974, Pelé’s 757 career goals for club and country were the second most all-time from the time of his retirement in 1977 until Cristiano Ronaldo passed him in 2021. He began his youth career with the Bauru Athletic Club juniors before a coach recognized his superior talents and recommended he try out for Santos FC. During his first full season with Santos, Pele led the league in scoring at just 17 years old. This led to him being chosen for the 1958 World Cup team, representing Brazil as an 18-year-old.
His club team success carried over to the national team, as he scored in both the semi-final and final of the tournament, helping lead Brazil to the title. He would go on to help Brazil win two more World Cup titles in 1962 and 1970. After leaving Santos in 1974, Pele played the final two seasons of his career for the New York Cosmos from 1975-1977. In recognition of his greatness, Pele was voted joint FIFA Player of the Century, along with Diego Maradona.
2. Diego Maradona
- Golden Ball Winner at the 1986 World Cup
- Voted Joint FIFA Player of the 20th Century
- Two-time South American Footballer of the Year
Coming in as the second-ranked player, Diego Maradona was an Argentinian soccer midfielder who played from 1976-1997. A member of six club teams throughout his career, Diego got his career started playing for the Argentinos Juniors of Argentina in 1976 at just 15 years of age. Even before that, the Juniors knew he was a prodigy when they first saw him play at age eight. He often would perform tricks at halftime to entertain the fans before he became an actual member of the team.
Diego would go on to play for some noteworthy clubs in Europe, including Barcelona in Spain, Napoli in Italy, and Sevilla in Spain. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was helping to lead his Argentinian national team to its second World Cup title in 1986. Maradona was the unanimous player of the tournament, scoring five goals in seven matches. For his entire career, Diego scored 192 goals, 158 for his clubs and 34 for his country. For his excellence, Maradona was voted joint FIFA player of the century in 2000.
3. Lionel Messi
- Seven-time Ballon d’Or Winner
- Nine-time La Liga Player of the Year
- 785 goals for club and country
Just like Maradona, Messi is an Argentinian attacking midfielder, and is also the first active player on this list. He played the majority of his career for Barcelona from 2004-2021 before joining Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in France this past year. Recognized as a prodigy at an early age, Messi was invited to come train with the Barcelona youth team at just 13 years old. It took just three years for him to move up to the senior team, where he made his debut in 2004 at just 16 years old. During his first full season with the team, Messi became the youngest player to ever score a goal in La Liga, Spain’s top league.
Throughout his career with Barcelona, Messi scored 695 goals in 775 matches while also assisting 331 goals. This led Messi to win La Liga Player of the Year nine times during his time in Spain. Those 672 goals are the most any player has ever scored with one team. As of 2022, Messi has scored 778 goals in total, 681 between Barcelona and PSG and 81 for Argentina. Lionel has been awarded the Ballon d’Or seven times and the FIFA World Player of the year six times. His first Ballon d’Or came in 2009 after the award was opened to all players playing in Europe–not just those of European descent–in 1995, and has been open to all players across the world since 2007. From 2010-2015, it was a joint award with the FIFA Player of the Year Award before the two separated again in 2016.
4. Cristiano Ronaldo
- 818 career goals for club and country (most all-time)
- Five-time Ballon d’Or Winner
- Five-time FIFA World Player of the Year
Cristiano Ronaldo, ranking fourth on this list, is the first and only Portuguese player on this list and the second active member. Ronaldo began his career as a forward in 2002 playing for Sporting CP in Portugal and has since played for Manchester United (2003-2009, 2021-present), Real Madrid (2009-2018), and Juventus (2018-2021). Ronaldo was just 17 when he first appeared for Sporting CP, and Manchester United quickly recognized his talents. The English club paid 12 million Euros (Over $14 million at the time) to sign him as an 18-year-old, a record at the time for a player his age.
Throughout his career, Ronaldo has won five Ballon d’Or awards along with five FIFA World Player of the Year awards. At the international level, Ronaldo was able to lead his native Portugal to the European Championship at Euro 2016. Between his clubs and country, Ronaldo has scored 818 career goals, the most of any player all-time. When broken down, he has scored 701 of his goals with his club teams and 117 with Portugal.
5. Johan Cruyff
- Three-time Ballon d’Or award winner
- Awarded European Player of Century by the IFFHS in 1999
- Five-time Dutch Footballer of the Year
The fifth-ranked player, Johan Cruyff was a former Dutch footballer who mostly played the position of forward during his career from 1964-1984. Cruyff played for six clubs, most notably Ajax (1964-1973, 1981-1983) and Barcelona (1973-1978). He got his start in professional soccer playing for the Ajax youth team before becoming a member of the senior team in 1964 at the age of 17. While playing for Ajax, Cruyff played a huge role in the club’s new tactic known as “Total Football”. The philosophy of this tactic was that player positions could be interchangeable, so rather than sticking to one position the entire game, players could be playing in any spot on the pitch at any given time (except goalkeeper).
Cruyff was the key to the success of this strategy, as he mastered the skill of switching positions constantly. The success of this tactic and Cruyff’s skills led Ajax to six Dutch League titles, three European Cup titles, and four Dutch Cup titles. As far as individual awards, Cruyff won the Ballon d’Or award three times (1971, 1973, 1974), was awarded best player at the 1974 World Cup, and was deemed European Player of the century by The International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) in 1999. Finally, Cruyff scored exactly 300 goals in his career, 267 for club teams and 33 for the Dutch national team.
- Three-time FIFA Player of the Year
- Two-time Ballon d’Or Winner
- 357 career goals for club and country
Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, known as Ronaldo, is a Brazilian forward who played from 1992-2011 and comes in sixth on this list. Ronaldo played for seven teams in his 20-year career, starting with Cruzeiro of his native Brazil in 1992 and including notable European clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Inter Milan. In his first season playing for Barcelona in 1996, he received his first FIFA World Player of the Year awards. In doing so, Ronaldo became the youngest player to ever win the award at just 20 years-old. He also holds that same distinction for the Ballon d’Or award, winning that award for the first time the following year, at age 21.
In all, Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or twice and the FIFA World Player of the Year three times. At the international level, Ronaldo helped Brazil win two World Cups in 1994 and 2002 as well as the Copa America (South American tournament) title in 1997 and 1999. At the 2002 World Cup, Ronaldo received the Golden Boot award for leading the tournament in goals with 8. Overall, throughout his career, Ronaldo managed to score 357 goals, 295 for his clubs and 62 for Brazil.
- Two-time FIFA Player of the year
- 2006 Ballon d’Or Winner
- 230 career goals for club and country
Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, known by his nickname Ronaldinho, is the final Brazilian player to be chosen for this list. Ronaldinho’s career lasted from 2003-2015, playing in the midfield most notably for Barcelona (2003-2008) and AC Milan in Italy (2008-2011). His nickname was given to him as a youth player due to his small size, as Ronaldinho is the diminutive version of Ronaldo. He first gained media attention when, as a 13-year-old, he scored an amazing 23 goals in his youth team’s 23-0 victory.
In 1998, at 18 years of age, he signed his first professional contract with Grêmio in Brazil. After having success in Brazil, Ronaldinho moved on to Europe, first playing for PSG before moving to Barcelona in 2003. It was with Barcelona that his career took off. He helped lead Barcelona to the La Liga title in 2005 and was recognized for his greatness by winning two consecutive FIFA player of the year awards in 2004 and 2005. In 2005, he also was the recipient of the Ballon d’Or. Throughout his career, the Brazilian scored 230 goals and assisted on 186, 197 goals with 162 assists for his club teams and 33 goals with 24 assists for Brazil.
8. Zinedine Zidane
- 153 goals for club and country
- Three-time FIFA World Player of the Year
- Golden Ball Award Winner at 2006 World Cup
The eighth ranked player on this list, attacking midfielder Zinedine Zidane is the only Frenchman to make the list. Zidane’s career was from 1989-2006, and he played for Cannes (1989-1992), Bordeaux (1992-1996), Juventus (1996-2001), and Real Madrid (2001-2006). Zidane was first noticed by a coach for Cannes as a 14-year-old during a three-day training camp for talented young players in France. After three years playing with the youth team and training, he made his senior team debut in 1989 at the age of 17 and scored a goal during his first match. He began to gain international fame while helping to lead Juventus to a UEFA Super Cup, two Series A (Italian) League titles, an Italian Super Cup, and an Intercontinental Cup between 1996 and 1998.
His career culminated in 1998 at the international level when he scored two goals in the World Cup final to help France win the title for the first time. He would go on to lead France to the finals once again at the 2006 World Cup, where they would fall to Italy, but Zidane was named player of the tournament and received the Golden Ball Award. For his career, Zidane scored 153 goals and had 160 assists, scoring 122 goals with 130 assists for his clubs and 31 goals with 30 assists for France.
9. Franz Beckenbauer
- Two-time Ballon d’Or Winner
- Only man ever to win a World Cup as a manager (1990) and a player captain (1974)
- 97 career goals for club and country
Franz Beckenbauer is a former German footballer who played from 1964-1984, and he comes in ninth on this list. He played for Bayern Munich in Germany for the majority of his career (1964-1977), as well as the New York Cosmos in the USA (1977-1980, 1983-1984) and Hamburger SV in Germany (1980-1982). Beckenbauer mainly played the position of sweeper. Franz got his career started as a 14-year-old by playing for the Bayern Munich youth team in 1959. Five years later, he made his senior team debut at just 19. In the same year, Beckenbauer made his debut for the West German national team.
Speaking to his remarkable leadership skills, Franz was named captain of the Bayern Munich club at just 22 years of age and captain of his national team when he was 26. As captain, Beckenbauer led West Germany to the World Cup title in 1974. Despite playing defense, Beckenbauer managed to score 97 goals in his 20-year career, 83 of which were for his club teams and 14 while he was playing for the West Germany national team. Lastly, Franz was recognized for his outstanding skills when he won two Ballon d’Or awards in 1972 and 1976, the award which at the time was given to the European Footballer of the Year.
10. David Beckham
- 144 career goals for club and country
- Helped his teams win 19 major trophies
- 1999 UEFA Club Footballer of the Year
David Beckham is a former English player whose career lasted from 1992-2013. He played for six different clubs throughout his career, including Manchester United in England (1992-2003), Real Madrid in Spain (2003-2007), and the LA Galaxy in the MLS (2007-2012). Beckham also made 115 appearances for the English national team between 1996 and 2009, serving as captain from 2000-2006. He mainly played the position of midfielder, a position where players play in the middle of the field and try to facilitate the offense while also being the first line of defense.
Making his senior team debut for Manchester United at the age of 17 in 1992, Beckham would go on to help United win six English Premier League titles during his 11 seasons with the club. During his time with Real Madrid, Beckham led the Spanish La Liga in assists in 2005 and helped lead Real to a league title in 2006. Throughout his entire career, Beckham scored 127 goals for his club teams and 17 goals for the English National team, while also dishing out 213 assists for his clubs and 42 for his country.
While they did not make the top 10, the 20 players below still deserve recognition as some of the best soccer players of all time. They are listed in alphabetical order.
- Roberto Baggio
- Franco Baresi
- George Best
- Josef Bican
- Xavier Creus (Xavi)
- Ruud Gullit
- Thierry Henry
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic
- Andres Ineista
- Raymond Kopa
- Robert Lewandowski
- Paulo Maldini
- Gerd Muller
- Ronaldo Nazario
- Ferenc Puskas
- Mohamed Salah
- Alfredo di Stefano
- Marco van Basten
Who is the best soccer player of all time?
This is a challenging question to answer, and depending on who you ask, you will get a few different answers. The top two answers would likely be Pelé and Diego Maradona, as they were voted joint best players of the 20th century by FIFA. Due to their vast amount of success and the awards they have received, current players Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will likely be in consideration for best of all time once their careers are complete.
Who has scored the most goals in soccer?
In professional play, Cristiano Ronaldo has scored the most goals of all-time with 818. Ronaldo passed Austrian Josef Bican’s career mark of 805 in 2021. While Bican scored the second most goals of all-time, he is usually not included in the top players of all time discussion due to the level of competition he faced, as he played from 1928-1955, before most of the game’s greats played. As far as most goals with one team, Lionel Messi’s 672 goals with Barcelona are the most all-time.