Soccer is one of the most popular sports in the world. Whether as someone’s profession, a fan’s sporting attraction or for some punter’s betting action, we all love the game.
As much as we love the sport, we also love the players of the past who have paved the way for today’s stars and who have put the game of soccer where it is today. Here are 19 of them:
Pele is regarded by most as the greatest soccer player of all-time. At the age of 17, he took the 1958 FIFA World Cup by storm with his brilliance and incredibly, did it all over again two decades later in 1970. In four World Cup appearances, Brazil went 12-1-1 with him at the helm. He won three World Cup titles and is the only football player to be part of three different World Cup title teams. He is also one of two players to score at four different World Cup tournaments. Pele is Brazil’s top goal scorer with 77 goals in 92 appearances. In club play, the “King” was a one-man club. He won 10 Paulista championships, 2 Copa Libertadores and 2 Intercontinental Cups. He was the Brazilian League’s top goal scorer in 11 seasons, including nine in a row.
2. Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona was so great that even the goals he scored had names. His first goal against England in the 1986 FIFA World Cup has been dubbed as “Hands of God”. His second goal of that same match was dubbed as the “El Barrilete de Cosmico” or “The Cosmic Kite”. The latter was spectacular because he weaved 60 meters through six English defenders to score his second goal of the 1986 FIFA quarterfinals. With Maradona, Argentina won the 1986 World Cup and finished runner-up in 1990. He was Player of the Tournament and Golden Ball winner in the 1986 World Cup. In club play, Maradona helped Napoli win its only two Serie A titles and he scored a total of 258 goals for six clubs while playing in three different countries.
3. Johan Cruyff
Johan Cruyff was the leader of the “Total Football” generation in the Netherlands, which thrilled the world when they finished 2nd to West Germany in the 1974 World Cup. Cruyff won the Golden Ball in 1974 as well. Cruyff’s vision and technique helped win the European Cup three straight times from 1971-1973, eight Eredivisie titles and three Ballon D’Ors between 1971 to 1974 while scoring a total of 190 goals for Ajax. In 1999, he was voted as European Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics and was second to Pele in the same organization’s World Player of the Century poll. As a player, he won only one La Liga title with Barcelona but as a manager, he led them to four in a row plus a European Cup.
4. Michael Platini
Michael Platini is considered one of the best free-kick artists and passers ever and despite the fact that his position was a midfielder, he ranked next to Henry as France’s top goal scorer. In four years at Juventus, Platini won two league championships, one European Cup, one Cup Winners Cup, one European Super Cup, and one Intercontinental title. He was also awarded three consecutive Ballon D’Ors and once again, despite being a midfielder, he led Serie A in goals three times. During the 1982 European Championships, he led France to the title while scoring a still unequaled nine goals. He retired young, at the age of 32 but he is still very much into football. Platini is the current President of the UEFA.
5. Franz Beckenbauer
Franz Beckenbauer is hailed as the best defender in the history of the sport. He led Bayern Munich to three straight European Cups from 1974-76. He started out a midfielder but his versatility enabled him to play various positions in the pitch. Beckenbauer is often credited for creating the role of modern sweeper. He played 103 times for West Germany and led the Germans to three World Cup appearances, lifting the trophy in 1974. Beckenbauer was named as European Football Player of the Year twice and won the World Cup again in 1990, as a manager for Germany.
Ronaldo was beauty in the pitch, the Phenom. He was a complete player who was at ease using both his feet and had the uncanny ability to find the back of the net from any angle, including those only he could have seen beforehand. He is considered as the most effective pure goal scorer in the last 50 years and his achievements back that. He won three FIFA Player of the Year awards, receiving the first at the age of 20. He is a two-time Ballon d’Or winner, two-time World Cup Champion and the leading goal scorer in the World Cup. At the club level, he scored a total of 247 goals in 343 games. During the 1996-97 season, he scored a ridiculous 47 goals in 49 appearances for Barca then followed that up with a season where he led the La Liga in scoring with 34 goals in 39 appearances. Ronaldo would win the Pichichi again with Madrid and the UEFA Cup with Inter.
7. Alfredo Di Stefano
Alfredo Di Stefano made Real Madrid the legend that they are. He was Argentine by birth, Spanish by choice and an attacker by profession. But not only was he a finesse shot maker, but he was also an omnipotent playmaker. Di Stefano led Madrid to a remarkable five straight European Cup victories. The feared trident of Puskas, Di Stefano, and Kopa are immortalized as one of the greatest frontlines in history. Di Stefano is the best Spanish player of the century and one of the most influential players to put on the cleats.
8. Giuseppe Miazza
Guiseppe Miazza was a jack of all trades forward and he was probably the greatest Italian soccer player of all-time. Miazza could play in and out striker and he was gifted with exceptional dribbling and shooting abilities. He scored 216 goals in Serie A, mostly with Inter Milan. As his country’s charismatic leader, Miazza led the Italians to two World Cup victories in 1934 and 1938 and during both wins, he provided the winning assist.
Garrincha was known as the “ O Alegria de Povo” or the “Joy of the People”. He was an ultra-talented winger although he was declared as “cripple” during birth. But it was his uniquely bowed legs that contributed to his enchanting style of play. He won the World Cup in 1958 with Pele and with the latter injured in 1962, he carried the Selecao to the World Cup title again with six goals scored while winning the 1962 World Footballer of the Year award.
10. Bobby Charlton
Bobby Charlton was lucky to survive the Munich air crash of 1958 which left 23 people dead including 8 of his Manchester United teammates. But Manchester United was luckier that he survived the crash because Charlton helped mold the Red Devils to the team they are today. Of course, he led England to victory in the 1966 World Cup while winning the Golden Ball and Football Player of the Year award. He also led Manchester United to three English League titles and captained them to a European Cup in 1968. He is one of England and United’s top goal scorers ever and he did all these after that horrific plane crash where he witnessed his teammates die.