20 Most Influential Players in Football History

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterDecember 10, 2013

20 Most Influential Players in Football History

0 of 20

    Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

    We've leafed through the history books to bring you 20 of the most influential players in world footballing history.

    Be it Lev Yashin's complete goalkeeping performances, the wondrous Pele, Eusebio's influence in Portuguese football or David Beckham's transcending of talents into business, we've checked in on the many legacies football has been left with.

    Read on, enjoy and add your suggestions in the comments below if you feel we've missed anyone.

Jean-Marc Bosman

1 of 20


    He changed the way contracts work in football

    When Robert Lewandowski joins Bayern Munich for free next summer, Karl-Heinze Rummenigge should thank Jean-Marc Bosman for doing the hard yards.

    The Belgian's judicial case in 1995 transformed the way football transfers worked. At the time, despite Bosman's contract expiring at current club Standard Liege, any new suitors were still forced to pay a transfer fee to release him.

    No club met the asking price and as a result, Bosman failed to depart, had his wages reduced and got booted from the first team. The court later ruled in his favour, preaching free movement of workers across the continent.


Vasyl Turyanchyk and Co.

2 of 20

    Makelele in the "Makelele role"
    Makelele in the "Makelele role"Firo Foto/Getty Images

    He did the "Makelele role" before Claude Makelele

    The holding midfield position is a staple in many managers' tactical setups, with the importance of a dedicated anchor in front of the defence impossible to understate.

    Makelele brought this role to prominence while excelling in it for Real Madrid and Chelsea, but the fact that it's named after him is a disgrace to the hundreds who did it before him.

    It is not 100 percent clear who first played it, but Vasyl Turyanchyk was certainly the first anchor in early Soviet football—a strong place to start in your search.

Hidetoshi Nakata

3 of 20

    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    He was the first true Asian footballing star

    Hidetoshi Nakata was the most famous Japanese player of his generation and really opened the Western world's eyes to Asian footballing culture.

    He moved to Europe with Perugia of Serie A, but Roma quickly saw his potential and snapped him up for a whopping €21 million in 2000. He played a single season for the Giallorossi, won the Scudetto and then transferred to high-flying Parma for €28 million.

    No Asian player had ever been the subject of such lavish sums, and as a result, he was adored by most corners of the globe.

Trevor Francis

4 of 20

    Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

    He was the first £1 million player in English football

    Trevor Francis excelled for Birmingham City over the course of eight years, scoring 119 goals in all competitions for the Midlands club.

    Then-Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough liked what he saw, and his endeavours to recruit Francis breached the £1 million mark for the first time in English transfer history.

    It was an astonishing move at the time, a serious landmark, and from there values have simply spiraled onward and upward.

    The previous record had been less than half of Francis' fee, and Cloughie set a ruthless, irreparable tone.

David Beckham

5 of 20

    Nicky Loh/Getty Images

    He showed us football is more than a game

    David Beckham's empire, estimated by Goal.com (via Sky) to be worth around £175 million, has not come solely from playing football.

    He's been an international icon for the best part of 15 years, and he's used his fame and good looks to breach the market and sell himself as a business, a brand.

    He has perfume lines and clothing lines, runs charities and is considering buying an MLS franchise. He has set the precedent for what to do once you've retired from the beautiful game and bridged the gap between the U.S. and soccer.

Antonin Panenka

6 of 20

    Pirlo converts a "panenka" penalty at Euro 2012
    Pirlo converts a "panenka" penalty at Euro 2012Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    He revolutionised the penalty kick

    As Antonin Panenka trotted up to take the winning penalty in the 1976 European Championship final, he did the unthinkable: struck the ball softly and watched it loop calmly into the net.

    The Czechoslovakia international had done what no other had on the international footballing stage, and that "style" of penalty has since been dubbed the "Panenka penalty."

    The likes of Lionel Messi, Andrea Pirlo and Zinedine Zidane have since replicated the technique.

Nandor Hidegkuti

7 of 20


    He revolutionised the centre-forward position

    We often talk about Lionel Messi's use of the false-nine position, and more recently how Pep Guardiola is using an interchanging forward system at Bayern Munich, but where did it start?

    The answer is Matthias Sindelar, who played as a withdrawn striker for Austria's 1930 "Wunderteam," but it was Nandor Hidegkuti, one of the "Magical Magyars," who opened our eyes to the revolutionary role.

    Hungary's famous 6-3 and 7-0 victories over England in the 1950s shocked the foundations of football, and Hidegkuti's deep-lying forward role was something the "home of football" had never come across before.

    It caused the defence fits, with England conceding 13 over two games, and now this role is used worldwide.

Johan Cruyff

8 of 20

    David Ramos/Getty Images

    What didn't he influence?

    Johan Cruyff was a marvellous footballer who created the "Cruyff turn." His quick feet, mazy dribbling ability and incredible finishing skills have allowed him to assume the mantle of one of the best players ever to play the game.

    The Netherlands' "total football" approach was spearheaded by Cruyff and his colleagues, and after retiring, the grand master played a pivotal role in shaping the future success of Barcelona.

    He is La Blaugrana's second-most-successful manager in terms of trophy haul and laid down passing foundations for years to come.

Kalusha Bwalya

9 of 20

    Simon Bruty/Getty Images

    He revitalised Zambian (and African?) football

    The most famous Zambian footballer to many will be Godfrey Chitalu, the man who has claimed to have scored 107 goals in one calendar year—a would-be world record.

    But it was Kalusha Bwalya who spearheaded a revivial for his nation's footballing prospects after its darkest hour: a plane crash that killed the entire playing and managerial staff in 1993.

    He took up the mantle and led his team to second- and third-placed finishes in the Africa Cup of Nations, re-establishing his country as a footballing force just two short years after the tragedy occurred.


10 of 20

    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    He put Portuguese football on the map

    Eusebio is the man almost single-handedly responsible for bringing Portuguese football into relevancy.

    We've had numerous mercurial talents emerge from the Iberian region in recent years, but perhaps none would have prospered had the great man not laid the foundations first.

    He spearheaded a wildly successful Benfica side in the 1960s that won two European Cups and finished runners-up a further three times in the same decade.



11 of 20

    Buda Mendes/Getty Images

    One of the greatest players ever to have played

    Pele was a phenomenal forward who led his native Brazil to three FIFA World Cup wins and scored more than 1,000 goals across the span of his career.

    He was an integral part of the 1970 side, believed by many to be the greatest team ever to have played the game, and scored the opener in the final against Italy.

    Since retiring, he has been an ambassador for football all over the world.

Andres Iniesta

12 of 20

    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Changed the state of play for central midfielders

    Andres Iniesta is inexplicably small, yet in a game geared toward physicality and brute force, he shines above all others.

    It's a testament to the technical talent, football instincts and vision he has, and he's forever changed the playing field for aspiring top-class central midfielders.

    In 2013, everyone wants to be like Don Andres; he's sparked the evolution of a new tilt on hybrid central midfield/No. 10s, and his quick feet will never cease to be admired.

Viv Anderson

13 of 20

    Simon Bruty/Getty Images

    He was the first black player to represent England

    Racism has always been, and continues to be, a massive problem in football.

    Viv Anderson, the first black player to play for the English national team, endured horrendous abuse at the hands of the stands and was regularly pelted with bananas, pears and racial slurs.

    Despite the Nottingham Forest man's early struggles, it was a big step forward in progressing attitudes within the game. The FA set their stall out and stuck to it.

Giacinto Facchetti

14 of 20


    One of the first attacking full-backs

    Giacinto Facchetti's use of the left-back role is directly responsible for the roaming full-backs and wing-backs we have today.

    He was a one-club man, making more than 450 appearances for his beloved Internazionale, and scored an astonishing 75 goals from his defensive position.

    We laud the likes of Roberto Carlos and Jordi Alba now, but Facchetti was the man who built the first few blocks.

Franz Beckenbauer

15 of 20

    Bob Martin/Getty Images

    The first libero?

    Franz Beckenbauer, often credited as the first-ever "libero," changed the role of defenders for decades to come.

    Having started his career as a midfielder, he would feel comfortable bringing the ball out of defence, taking on markers and dribbling forward to start attacks. It soon became a fulcrum of some of the most high-powered attacks, with the Dutch in particular taking a real shine to it.

    He was dubbed "Der Kaiser" (The Emperor) due to his dominance in the pitch.

George Weah

16 of 20

    Getty Images/Getty Images

    He was the first African to be named FIFA World Player of the Year

    In 1995, George Weah set a marker in history by hauling in FIFA's top individual award.

    In winning the now-Ballon d'Or, he beat off competition from Paolo Maldini and Jurgen Klinsmann, such was his brilliance on the pitch throughout his career.

    Weah was one of the first African footballers to chance his luck in Europe and enjoy wild success—a blueprint that is being followed more and more in the current footballing climate.

Lev Yashin

17 of 20


    He moved the goalposts for 'keepers

    Lev Yashin, nicknamed "the black spider" due to his ominous all-black kit and seemingly inhuman wingspan—giving the illusion he possessed eight arms—is estimated to have saved 150 penalties in his career.

    You'd think that, or perhaps the numerous top-class saves he made on the international stage, would be his claim to fame, but there were yet more layers to his game.

    He was one of the first to embrace the notion of the sweeper 'keeper, commanding his area in full, rushing off his line with regularity and confident playing with the ball at his feet.

    Much of the "modern" goalkeeping we see today from the likes of Manuel Neuer could be see in Yashin's game.

Gianfranco Zola

18 of 20

    Ben Radford/Getty Images

    He sparked a foreign revolution in the Premier League

    The Premier League was once a hard-hitting, typically English affair with the stands dreaming of a team of Julian Dicks.

    Now, it's a place where mercurial talent thrives and technically supreme players are adored; the influx of foreign talent has led to a more skillful spectacle, and it all started with the first few foreign arrivals.

    Gianfranco Zola was one of the those, and if he wasn't the very first, he is certainly the most memorable. Some fans of Chelsea Football Club admit today they were drawn to the Blues due to Zola's wizardry on the ball, and he set the tone for more clubs to look abroad for exotic talent.

Diego Maradona

19 of 20

    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Those goals

    Diego Maradona is a rare breed of player; one you can both love and hate at the same time.

    In the space of five minutes against England while playing for Argentina in 1978, he showed both his immense, unrivaled talent and the dark side that has made him such a controversial figure in recent years.

    The mazy dribble, starting from inside his own half and culminating in rounding the 'keeper to score, was one of the greatest goals this sport will ever see; the one scored with his hands four minutes previous was one of the most villanous.

George Best

20 of 20

    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    A genius on the pitch, a lesson to others off it

    George Best is, without doubt, one of the finest players ever to have played the beautiful game.

    His silky skills led Manchester United to a plethora of trophy hauls, and he remains the finest technician to play for Northern Ireland on the international stage.

    Such was his talent and the era in which he emerged, however, that he became one of football's first "celebrities" and quickly fell victim to alcohol-induced health problems.

    He remains a warning to the many millionaire footballers emerging in the current climate, and a role model for those still plying their trade.