Soccer wouldn’t be the most popular sport in the world if it weren’t for the stellar play of the best soccer players of all-time. Through the years, they have helped revolutionize how the game is played and are viewed as pioneers in the history of soccer — or football, as most people call it.
While modern-day soccer was invented in the 1860s, similar sports and games date back as early as the 2nd century in China. It wasn’t until the 1900s that soccer started gaining popularity worldwide with the first FIFA World Cup taking place in 1930. The sport has exploded since then.
And if you didn’t think soccer was popular, try this on for size — the World Cup Finals pulls in an average of 500+ million viewers and more than half the population will tune into the World Cup each year. For reference, the Super Bowl pulls in an average of around 100 million viewers.
Who Are the Best Soccer Players of All-Time?
The best soccer players of all-time knew how to draw a crowd. They knew how to dictate the field, always brought their A-game, made their teammates better, and frequently put on a show for the fans. If it weren’t for the best soccer players of all-time, it wouldn’t be as popular as it is.
Over the past 150+ years, we’ve witnessed thousands of soccer players test their skill at the professional level. While they all had aspirations of being considered one of the best soccer players of all-time, only a select few were good enough and consistent enough to earn that title.
As we rank the 25 best soccer players of all-time, we’re going to touch base on both male and female soccer players that have helped revolutionize the sport with their spectacular play. It’s only right, especially since both genders have played an important role in the history of soccer.
25. Eusébio – Portugal
Eusébio is a Portuguese soccer player that was born in Mozambique. He dominated the soccer scene from 1957-1980, spending a majority of his career with S.L. Benfica in the Primeira Liga — the No. 1 league in Portugal. He started his career with the Sporting Lourenço Marques in 1957.
Throughout his 23-year career, Eusébio recorded 580 goals in 575 Club matches and 41 goals in 64 National matches. He almost led Portugal to a World Cup victory in 1966, but lost to England in the Final Four. Still, he led all players with nine goals in that year’s competition.
24. Christine Sinclair – Canada
Christine Sinclair played college ball at the University of Portland, scoring 110 goals in 94 matches. She would then go on to play for the Vancouver Breakers, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, FC Gold Pride, Western New York Flash, and Portland Thorns — where she currently plays.
Throughout her illustrious career, Sinclair has scored 94 goals in 221 Club matches. She also has 10 goals in the World Cup and 33 goals in the Olympics. She most recently helped lead Canada to a Gold Medal at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo — which actually took place in 2021.
23. Sun Wen – China
Sun Wen is a former captain of China’s national soccer team and appeared in four World Cups with the team. While they never won, she did help them win the Asian Cup four times and a Silver Medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics. She scored 106 goals in 163 National matches.
She had an incredible performance at the 1999 World Cup, scoring seven goals and being named the tournament’s Golden Ball and Golden Boot — top player and top scorer, respectively. From 1989-2002, she also scored 171 goals in 692 Club matches, mostly for Shanghai.
22. Paolo Maldini – Italy
Paolo Maldini is a legendary player, especially in the eyes of AC Milan fans around the world. He spent his entire 25-year senior career with the team and even spent his youth years playing for the team. To this day, he’s the technical director for AC Milan, so he hasn’t gone anywhere.
In 647 Club matches for AC Milan, Maldini scored 29 goals and helped his team win 25 trophies in total. The club eventually decided to retire his No. 3 jersey number after he announced his retirement in 2009. He also scored 7 goals in 126 National matches with Italy from 1988-2002.
21. George Best – Northern Ireland
George Best was recruited by Manchester United at the age of 15 and eventually signed with the team in 1962. It didn’t take long for Best to make the first team and he was a key contributor by 1965. Best scored 239 goals in 604 Club matches and nine goals in 37 National matches.
He made up one-third of what became known as the Holy Trinity of Manchester United — which also consisted of Bobby Charlton and Denis Law. He once scored six goals in one game, helped Manchester United win their first European Cup, and scored 179 of his 239 goals for the team.
20. David Beckham – England
David Beckham is one of the most iconic and well-known soccer players to ever play. He first played for Manchester United in 1992 and spent his first 11 years with the team before moving on to Preston North End, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, Milan, and Paris Saint-Germain.
Over his 21-year career, Beckham scored 97 goals in 523 Club matches and 17 goals in 115 National matches. He was key to Manchester United’s dominance in the 1990s, helping them win six Premier League titles and a European Cup. He was a household name by 1996.
19. Birgit Prinz – Germany
Birgit Prinz could score as well as anyone, which is why she’s featured on our list of the best soccer players of all-time. Her 14 career goals in the World Cup are the second-most among female soccer players and she won German Female Footballer of the Year eight times.
From 2000-2008, she not only won two World Cups with Germany, but she won three Bronze Medals in the Olympics. She has scored 128 goals in 214 career National matches and another 282 goals in 282 career Club matches. There aren’t many players that scored as much as her.
18. Homare Sawa – Japan
Homare Sawa won’t just go down as one of the greatest Asian soccer players ever, but she’ll go down as one of the best soccer players of all-time. She spent 24 years in club play, scoring 159 goals in 415 matches, and 22 years in National play, scoring 83 goals in 205 career matches.
Sawa began her career with NTV Beleza in Japan’s WE League, then bounced around for a while — playing stints with the Denver Diamonds, Atlanta Beat, Washington Freedom, and INAC Kobe Leonessa. Her 205 caps and 83 goals is the most by any other female Japanese player.
17. Ronaldinho – Brazil
Known for his flashy moves, incredible footwork, and ability to straight-up embarrass anyone that tried to defend him, Ronaldinho is certainly one of the best soccer players of all-time. In his career, he won the FIFA Player of the Year award twice and the Ballon d’Or award once.
Ronaldinho scored 205 goals in 511 Club matches from 1998-2015 and 33 goals in 97 National matches from 1999-2013. He helped lead Brazil to a World Cup title in 2002, a Confederations Cup title in 2005, and was captain of the bronze medal team during the 2008 Olympics.
16. Michel Platini – France
Michel Platini is easily one of the most decorated, celebrated, and talented soccer players to ever represent France. His 41 goals in 72 National matches currently ranks fifth among French players all-time, though he was never able to lead his country to a World Cup title.
He spent 15 years with Nancy, Saint-Étienne, and Juventus, recording a total of 224 goals in 432 Club matches. He helped lead Juventus to the UEFA Super Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup, and league championship in 1984. He also led Serie A in goals scored in three different years.
15. Franz Beckenbauer – Germany
Franz Beckenbauer was successful as both a player (sweeper) and a manager. In fact, he’s the only person to ever win a World Cup as both a player and manager. He enjoyed an illustrious 20-year career as a player from 1964-1984, including 13 years with FC Bayern Munich.
As a defender, Beckenbauer scored 83 goals in 572 Club matches and 14 goals in 103 National matches. Since retiring as a player, Beckenbauer has managed the West Germany national team for six years, Olympique de Marseille for one year, and Bayern Munich for two years.
14. Ferenc Puskás – Hungary
Ferenc Puskás will go down as one of the most dangerous and consistent goal scorers in the history of the sport. Puskás scored 358 goals in 350 club matches for Budapest Honvéd from 1943-1956, then scored 156 goals in 180 club matches with Real Madrid from 1958-1966.
He also scored 84 goals in 85 national matches for Hungary from 1945-1956. He helped his teams win the European Cup three times, World Cup once, Spanish Championships five times, Spanish Cup once, Hungarian Championship four times, and Olympic Gold Medal once.
13. Alfredo Di Stéfano – Argentina
Known as Saeta Rubia (which translates to Blond Arrow), Alfredo Di Stéfano is one of the best soccer players of all-time. He dominated the sport with his gifted talent and skill from 1945-1966. He spent a majority of his career with River Plate, Millonarios, Real Madrid, and Espanyol.
Over his 21-year career as a player, Di Stéfano scored 376 goals in 522 Club matches and 23 goals in 33 National matches. He spent 11 years with Real Madrid from 1953-1964 and led the team to eight La Liga titles and five European Cups over that span. He was also a manager.
12. Michelle Akers – United States
Michelle Akers is one of the greatest female soccer players to ever play and helped spring the United States into dominance during the 1990s. She not only helped lead her country to a World Cup title in 1991 and 1999, but brought home a Gold Medal in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, GA.
Her 10 goals in six matches during the 1991 World Cup was the most of any player in that tournament, earning herself the Golden Shoe. In 2002, she was named FIFA Female Player of the Century and she was eventually inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2004.
11. Roberto Baggio – Italy
Roberto Baggio enjoyed an incredible 22-year career from 1982-2004. He was a key contributor for a number of different teams, including Vicenza, Florentina, Juventus, AC Milan, Bologna, Inter Milan, and Brescia. In 490 career club matches, Baggio scored 220 total goals.
He won the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1993, the same year he won the Ballon d’Or award, after scoring 21 goals in 27 matches with Juventus. Baggio also scored 27 goals in 56 national matches for Italy, making him the fourth-highest goal scorer in the history of the country.
10. Ronaldo – Brazil
Commonly known as ‘O Fenômeno,’ which translates to ‘The Phenomenon,’ Ronaldo is easily one of the best soccer players of all-time. He’s a big reason why Brazil was so dominant from 1994-2011, scoring 62 goals in 98 national matches and winning two World Cups with Brazil.
Ronaldo also won two La Liga titles with Real Madrid in 2002-03 and 2006-07. He scored 247 goals in 343 club matches, winning the Ballon d’Or award twice and being named the FIFA World Player of the Year three times. To this day, he’s the youngest recipient of both awards.
9. Johan Cruyff – Netherlands
Johan Cruyff was as much of an innovator as he was a contributor on the field. He invented his own football philosophy, which became known as Total Football. Under this philosophy, he helped AFC Ajax win three European Cups and won the Ballon d’Or award twice in the process.
After spending nine years with Ajax, Cruyff made the move to Barcelona. Using the Total Football philosophy, he helped lead them to a La Liga title and won his third Ballon d’Or award. Later that year, he led the Netherlands to the World Cup Finals, but lost to West Germany.
8. Abby Wambach – United States
If it weren’t for Abby Wambach’s talent and leadership, the United States wouldn’t have won two Olympic Gold Medals and a World Cup title between 2001 and 2015. Wambach scored 184 goals for the United States in 255 national matches — the second most behind Christine Sinclair.
Wambach also scored 75 goals in 119 career club matches, but never spent more than two years with a club. She won six USSF Female Athlete of the Year awards, was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2019, and won the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year award.
7. Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal
Not many players have had a bigger impact on modern-day soccer than Cristiano Ronaldo. He emerged as one of the most unique, interesting, and talented soccer players in the world in 2003 when he signed with Manchester United. He has 483 goals in 621 club matches (and counting).
Ronaldo also has 115 goals in 184 career National matches for Portugal. He’s a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, three-time FIFA World Player of the Year winner, seven-time Domestic League Champion, five-time Champions League Champion, and 32 total trophies in his 20-year career.
6. Zinedine Zidane – France
No one was more dedicated to mastering the fundamentals of the game than Zinedine Zidane. He knew how to control the tempo, maintain possession, and utilize his vision to get his teammates involved. His magic touch is something people still try to imitate to this day.
Zidane scored 95 goals in 506 Club matches and 31 goals in 108 National matches. He led France to a World Cup title in 1998 and European Championship in 2000. He also helped lead Juventus and Real Madrid to a flurry of titles from 1996-2006. He’s a true legend in the sport.
5. Mia Hamm – United States
Mia Hamm was the face of the United States soccer team from 1987-2004, helping lead her country to two Olympic Gold Medals and two World Cup titles in her time with the team. She scored 158 career goals in 276 national matches — third-most among women soccer players.
Not only that, but Mia Hamm recorded the most assists by any United States female soccer player and ranks third in career matches for the US national team. She was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002, and was named USSF Athlete of the Year five times.
4. Marta – Brazil
No male or female player has scored more international goals for Brazil than Marta. She has scored 113 goals in 167 national matches and holds the record for most goals scored in the World Cup with 17 goals. No male or female has ever scored more goals at the World Cup.
Marta has been named FIFA World Player of the Year six times, including five-straight from 2006-2010. She also won two Olympic Silver Medals and holds a record for scoring a goal in five different Olympic games. She has received a great deal of praise from Pelé throughout her career.
3. Pelé – Brazil
When you think of the best soccer players of all-time, Pelé is one of the first players that comes to mind — no matter who you are. His name is one of the most recognizable in the entire sport and he left an enormous impact on the growth and development of the sport in the 1960s.
Pelé spent 18 years with Santos FC, finishing his career with the New York Cosmos. He was a goal-scoring machine, recording 650 goals in 694 Club matches and 77 goals in 92 National matches. He helped lead Brazil to three World Cup titles and scored 92 career hat tricks.
2. Diego Maradona – Argentina
Frequently known as El Pibe de Oro, Diego Maradona is undoubtedly one of the top-three male soccer players of all-time and easily lands in the top-five best soccer players of all-time. In 1981, he led Boca Juniors to a Primera Division title after scoring 28 goals in 40 Club matches.
Over his 21-year career, he scored 259 goals in 491 Club matches and 34 goals in 91 National matches. He helped lead Argentina to their first ever World Cup title and (from 1976-1997) spent time with Napoli, Barcelona, Sevilla, Boca Juniors, Argentinos Juniors, and Newell’s Old Boys.
1. Lionel Messi – Argentina
No soccer player — male or female — has the impressive resume that Lionel Messi has. He has dominated the sport ever since 2004 at both a club and national level. He scored 474 goals in 520 club matches with Barcelona and 80 goals in 157 national matches with Argentina.
He’s a six-time Ballon d’Or winner, two-time FIFA World Player of the Year winner, two-time UEFA Men’s Player of the Year winner, eight-time La Liga Best Player winner, 10-time La Liga Champion, and four-time Champions League Champion. He’s a one-of-a-kind soccer player.
We Salute the Best Soccer Players of All-Time!
The best soccer players of all-time are the reason many of us have tuned into what the sport has to offer — especially during the World Cup and Olympic Games. Seeing the best soccer players of all-time represent their country and respective teams is nothing short of poetry.
While Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are widely regarded as two of the best soccer players in the sport right now, they’re not the only ones that make the sport look good. There are plenty of other players — both young and old — that are making a name for themselves in the sport.
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For example, some of the best soccer players right now include Robert Lewandowski, Kevin De Bruyne, Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Sam Kerr, and Vivianne Miedema. Who knows, maybe they’ll one day be considered some of the best soccer players of all-time!
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