50 Greatest Dribblers in World Football History
Here are the 50 of the great dribblers to have ever graced the beautiful game.
Household names from the past such as Pele and Diego Maradona join the new blood in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as we look back through history to find the finest.
They're not ranked, more randomly placed, as everyone's No. 1 is subjective—we're not going to try and change your mind!
Harold Cunningham/Getty Images
We've seen so many fantastic dribblers over the past century or so and not every great can make the list. There are a few who've been left out and honoured here, but if I've missed anyone altogether don't hesitate to drop them in the comments below!
Paul Gacoigne was one of England's greatest players ever and was unfortunate not to gain international stardom.
He had the nation on his shoulders during the 1990 FIFA World Cup and the 1996 European Championships, but could only muster fourth place in both competitions.
Jairzinho was absolutely electric on the ball, combing speed and precision to devastating effect in the wide areas.
He played a relatively free role on the right side of Brazil's 4-2-4 formation in 1970, scoring in every World Cup game on the way to lifting the trophy.
Magico Gonzalez is the most famous player ever to surface from El Salvador, and what a creation they bestowed up on us.
It's arguable that if he had played for a more reputable club and country, he'd have received worldwide recognition, but instead stayed where he felt at home with Cadiz.
Marc Overmars had the full set of skills at his disposal.
A calm presence of mind, a sublime first touch, and top-notch athleticism made him a threat from just about anywhere on the pitch.
His ability to drag defenders all over the place was amazing to watch.
Luis Figo was so great that even when he'd lost his pace, he was still terrorising defences with his clever play.
He made a controversial switch in Spain that resulted in one fan base despising him, but he'll always be seen as a global icon for football.
World football is still trying to work out how Ciro Blazevic managed to get Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki and Aljosa Asanovic into the same successful midfield, as none of them fancied defending too much.
Prosinecki was the pick the of the bunch, and as the video highlights, he took pleasure on beating players over and over again.
Roberto Rivelino is a bit of an anomaly—he's one of the best dribblers to have ever played centrally, whereas most play in a wider role or up front.
The mustache rocks. He and Andrea Pirlo are the start of a wonderful facial-haired XI.
Bolton Wanderers were the lucky club to benefit from Jay-Jay Okocha's services, and by the end of his tenure in Lancashire Sam Allardyce didn't even look surprised by what Okocha could do.
He regularly flummoxed the opposition with his outrageously quick decision-making process and acrobatic stunts, making him tough to tackle and almost impossible to fully stop.
Sir Tom Finney
Sir Tom Finney is a wonderful man.
He stayed loyal to Preston North End his entire career, excelled for England and fought in World War II—all while working as a plumber.
How many modern day footballers would consider that as an option?
If Alvaro Recoba had put the effort in, he could well have been the best player we've ever seen.
Instead, he belongs on the list with those who never fulfilled their huge potential, but at least we've got the highlight reels to remind us of his individual moments of brilliance.
Whatever you think of his character, you can't deny Arjen Robben is supremely gifted with the ball at his feet.
He might be one-footed, but he puts that leftie to excellent use, consistently ripping defensive strategies apart and rarely losing the ball.
If Romania could produce five world-class players in the same generation, they'd be a force in world football, but they keep popping up every other decade.
Gheorghe Hagi is one of the greatest attacking midfielders to play the game and racked up trophies with ease at Steaua Bucuresti, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
I bet Dejan Savicevic was an absolute nightmare to play football with at school.
Most kids are greedy and want to the ball to themselves, but this borders on the ridiculous. Astounding perseverance, core strength and natural talent on show here.
Growing up, Denilson was my favourite footballer.
He never justified his price tag and flopped massively in Europe's top leagues, but back in Brazil he showed his ability on the ball. Then again, he does have a World Cup winner's medal. Who are we to argue?
Pierre Littbarski has three FIFA World Cup medals—two silver, one gold—from when he and West Germany rocked the world during the 1980s.
Aside from his obvious dribbling prowess, he was also a long-range threat. He scored from outside the box with frequency and even netted directly from a corner against England.
One half of a simply majestic forward pairing for Brazil, Romario wasn't just a phenomenal mover and finisher.
He also possessed wonderful creative ability and consistently weaved his way out of trouble and into scoring positions.
Ever wondered who Zinedine Zidane idolised? Well now you know.
He even named his son (Enzo Zidane) after him and admits to watching him from the stands and remaining desperate to meet him in person. The deft touch, the spacial awareness and the passing range are all superb in Enzo Francescoli's game.
Georgi Kinkladze lit up the blue side of Manchester for a while with some absolutely stunning pieces of play, showing it's not just stepovers and cuts that make a great dribbler.
Equally good is an intelligent player who shapes to do one thing then does another, and Kinkladze had an unbelievable burst in his first few steps to help him rinse markers.
Franck Ribery has incredibly quick feet and a very ambitious mind: He sees a small hole and becomes determined to squeeze himself and the ball through it.
He's recently enjoyed a renaissance at Bayern Munich having discovered a defensive touch to add to his attacking array of skills. He's now an all-round player, making the German outfit as dangerous as ever in the past decade or two.
Everything Gianfranco Zola did looked easy.
Watching the video, the first clip shows the Italian wizard making Jamie Carragher look like a Sunday league player—he was that quick on his feet.
Matt Le Tissier
You could never tell what Matt Le Tissier was going to do because his body shape never changed.
He played the game in a consistently relaxed fashion and never lost his composure while his long, loping legs were remarkably quick when changing direction.
Despite the evidence presented in video form, John Barnes was never a truly greedy player.
He was phenomenal with the ball at his feet, but he also possessed a fantastic left-footed cross, delivering goal after goal to the likes of Ian Rush and John Aldridge.
His goal against Brazil is many an Englishman's finest international memory.
Zico is one of the greatest players ever not to win a World Cup—the furthest he got was third place in 1978.
Nevertheless, he was a creative genius, scoring a remarkable 52 goals for Brazil from a midfield position.
In 1995, George Weah was named European Footballer of the Year, African Footballer of the Year, and FIFA World Player of the Year.
That year saw him split playing time between Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan, but a change in league and country clearly had no adverse effect on his game.
Jimmy Johnstone played as a right forward in Jock Stein's ambitious 4-2-4 formation at Celtic, playing a key role in dismantling Helenio Herrera's famous catenaccio at Internazionale.
He has subsequently been named in Celtic's best ever XI, then honoured individually as the greatest player ever to have pulled on the famous green and white hoops.
David Ginola was more than just a long-range goal expert.
His playing style had shades of Matt Le Tissier's expert laziness, but his ability to shift the ball quickly saw him evade rash challenges with ease.
Players who succeeded the way the Frenchman did during the 1990s had a much tougher time of it than they do now.
Omar Sivori scored over 100 goals in a very successful Juventus side, then went on to win the European Footballer of the Year Award in 1961.
He has been retroactively labelled the "Diego Maradona of the sixties" due to his similar playing style and short stature.
Sir Stanley Matthews
Sir Stanley Matthews spent the large majority of his career at Stoke City and became their best ever player; He originally signed for the club as a junior for just £1-per-week.
He played until he was 50—an absolutely incredible achievement given the time of his success—then went on to coach in Africa.
One third of the Holy Trinity, George Best was a truly brilliant footballer.
In the end, defenders were simply scared to lunge in and try to take the ball from him—in the video, he even has time to take his shoe off before passing the ball to a teammate.
Faas Wilkes—Johan Cruyff's favourite ever player (via Sky Sports News).
Not many talk about where one of the greatest footballers and managers in history found his inspiration, and this is the divine source.
Alfredo Di Stefano
In an incredible 10-year spell with Real Madrid, Alfredo Di Stefano netted over 300 goals.
He's also one of international football's anomalies, having accrued caps for Spain, Mexico and Colombia.
In 1962, Benfica lifted the European Cup at the expense of the much-fancied Real Madrid.
Their saviour that day was a 20-year-old Portuguese-Mozambique sensation named Eusebio, who went onto enjoy 15 incredible years at the club while also helping his nation to a third-placed finish at the 1966 World Cup.
It makes you wonder how quickly Andres Iniesta's brain works when he can shift the ball so rapidly out of a defender's reach.
No matter how many times you pin this guy in the corner, you're still very unlikely to get the ball off him. It borders on unfair.
It's a while since Michael Laudrup graced the turf rather than the sideline, but his ability to weave his way through a defence will never be forgotten.
The Dane was able to create for himself and create for others in abundance. It's amazing to think his nation won the European Championships without him.
If both Pele and Eusebio believe Nicolae Dobrin is the greatest dribbler ever (via Sky Sports News), then that's good enough for me.
Dobrin was a Romanian national treasure, and because of his value to the country he was not allowed to make the switch to Real Madrid when los Blancos came calling.
Johan Cruyff has been a great servant to football, enlightening us with his playing skills and then, subsequently, his coaching skills.
He and Rinus Michels led Ajax to glory in the 1970s, then both took their philosophies to Barcelona where the former became a true legend.
Laszlo Kubala is still regarded as one of Barcelona's greatest ever players despite the influx of unbelievable talent they've had over the past two decades.
The Hungarian fled communism and drifted from country to country until he arrived at the Camp Nou, and 200 goals later he's a certified hero.
While he may not have lived up to his sky-high potential, the king of stepovers has at least provided us with a certifiable gold mine of highlights.
He struggled in England where the defenders got fed up and simply pushed him over, but on the continent—particularly with Real Madrid—he was a formidable foe.
How is this man still playing?
His love for the game has seen Ryan Giggs adapt his style of play to accommodate an aging pair of legs, but that just shows how good he is to convert from left wing to central midfield.
In his prime, he was a menace on the left touchline and paired with David Beckham on the right, you had to feel sorry for defences in the Premier League.
Going bald at 25? Doesn't matter if you're this good.
Zinedine Zidane led France, Juventus and Real Madrid to glory in every way shape and form, cementing his place in the footballing hall of fame.
The thing is, he's more likely to be remembered for his headbutt on Marco Materazzi than anything else.
Honestly, just watch the video.
Is there a player in the world who had better close control? Some of the things Ariel Ortega did were jaw-dropping to say the very, very least.
Roberto Baggio will always be remembered for his missed World Cup penalty, but what he should be remembered for is his dazzling ability on the ball.
The Italian maestro shone internationally, but it's arguable he was even better in Serie A—mightily impressive considering the standard of Italian defences during the 1990s.
The irritating thing about Pele's career is that the large majority of it was never filmed due the era he played in.
If he'd have weaved his magic in the 21st century, we'd be able to watch every glorious second of this genius on the ball.
When "Dinho" was in his prime, there was no better sight in football.
His searing pace and unbelievable close control was just a joy to watch and his greatest years at Barcelona saw him almost single-handedly carry the team at times.
He's scored some truly sensational goals, including one in an El Clasico that lives long in the memories of Cules.
You could watch him all day long and simply fail to understand how he manages to keep his balance.
He gets kicked, elbowed and punched from one end of the pitch to another, but still maintains possession of the ball.
The mazy goal he scored against Real Madrid—in which he flummoxed five players—will be talked about for decades, but perhaps the greatest example of his abilities is his taking down of Getafe at just 20 years of age.
The confidence Cristiano Ronaldo exudes on the ball is incredible and it shows in his game.
He used to be a little flimsy so his elaborate tricks would simply win him a shoving to the ground, but he improved his figure and became a strong, lean, dribbling machine.
Ronaldo was known as a wonderful finisher, and after totaling more than 400 domestic and 67 international goals, that's the very least you'd expect.
But his dribbling ability is right up there with the best there's ever been, combining quick feet, pace, power and skill to give the opposition absolutely no chance.
If you're English, cover your eyes.
Diego Maradona is considered one of the greatest players to play for Barcelona despite totaling just two seasons at the Camp Nou, but his legacy as the greatest Argentine is under serious threat.
Garrincha made everything look easy despite the quality of the pitch he played on, and his Brazilian side relied on him to instil fear into the opposition.
During the 1958 World Cup, Vicente Feola was concerned about the Soviet Union's fitness levels, so he decided to intimidate them with superior skill.
As per Jonathan Wilson in Inverting the Pyramid:
"Remember," he said to Didi just before he left the dressing room, "the first pass goes to Garrincha."
It took a little under 20 seconds for the ball to reach the winger. Boris Kuznetsov, the experienced Soviet left-back, moved to close him down.
Garrincha feinted left and went right; Kuznetsov was left on the ground. Garrincha paused, and beat him again. And again. And then once again put him on the ground.