Totti, Pirlo, Best, Zidane and the 40 Coolest Footballers Ever

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

Totti, Pirlo, Best, Zidane and the 40 Coolest Footballers Ever

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    Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are widely recognised as the greatest footballers on the planet right now, but they're not very cool are they?

    Messi doesn't really look like a footballer and he turns up to awards shows in red tuxedos, whilst Ronaldo shaves patterns into the side of his head and spends all his time in the Real Madrid changing room staring at himself in the mirror.

    Despite the examples set by these two extraordinary humans though, it is possible to be both excellent at football and pretty cool too. How do we know? Well football history is littered with such players.

    We're bound to have missed off one of your favourites from this list, so feel free to add them in the comments below but for now here are 40 of the coolest men to have ever played the game:

Francesco Totti

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    Mr Roma is now in his 22nd season in the first team of his one and only club, having made his debut as a 16-year-old back in 1993.

    What's more, Francesco Totti is still vitally important to his team in what is his 38th year, per @Paolo_Bandini

    Whilst that is very cool on its own, the 58-times capped Italy international still exudes class and style on the pitch with the manner in which he plays.

    A star of the European game, it will be tough to imagine Roma without him.

Andrea Pirlo

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    It isn't just the beard. Alright, it is mainly the beard.

    Andrea Pirlo is just cool, there is no getting away from that. What's more though, he's an absolutely fantastic player too, often mixing impudence and brilliance with equal measure. Witness his dinked penalty in the most pressurised of situations against England at Euro 2012, right down to the stunning last-minute free-kick, which earned Juventus a victory at Genoa last Sunday night.

    Plus, y'know, there's the beard too.

George Best

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    Pele? Good. Maradona? Better. George? Best.

    That was the mantra often repeated by Manchester United fans both during and after the Northern Irishman's stellar career at Old Trafford, during which he became recognised in the same manner as the pop stars of the day, with some even considering him "the fifth Beatle."

    The excesses of Best's life and the trappings of his fame could often catch up with him though and after a long battle with alcoholism he sadly died in 2005 at the age of 59.

Zinedine Zidane

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    Zinedine Zidane wasn't cool when he was leading France to World Cup glory in 1998. He was very good, yes, but cool? Remember that bald patch?

    No, the coolness only came as the Frenchman advanced in years, probably kicking in when he scored that sublime winning goal for Real Madrid in the 2002 Champions League final and then peaking with his last headline acts on a football pitch at the 2006 World Cup final.

    His deftly chipped penalty gave France the lead against Italy, before his last act on a football pitch saw him headbutt Marco Materazzi and depart the stage before France's loss on penalties.

    Reckless? Yes, but very cool.

Thierry Henry

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    The master of all that he surveyed at Highbury for seven years, and then one injury-hit campaign at the Emirates, Thierry Henry was seen as a hero by Arsenal fans and just a pretty cool guy by the rest of us.

    Alright, those "Va va voom" adverts carried more than a hint of cheese but for the early part of the noughties Henry was The Man when it came to Premier League football. Everybody wanted him in their team but only Gunners fans could have him.

    Part of the all-conquering France team of the time too, there was a period when Henry could do no wrong. 

Robert Pires

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    The other likeable Frenchman in that Arsenal team of the time, Robert Pires was arguably underrated as a footballer given that he was playing in a team dominated by Henry and Dennis Bergkamp.

    Formerly at Metz and Marseille and a winner of both the World Cup and European Championships, the wide midfielder used to specialise in spectacular strikes and important goals for the trophy-chasing Gunners, even if this attempt at a penalty with Henry against Manchester City went drastically and comically wrong.

    Having the confidence to even try that is pretty cool though, isn't it? So we'll let them off.

David Ginola

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    In the mid-1990s foreign players in England were still considered something of a rarity and so when Newcastle brought in David Ginola from Paris Saint-Germain in 1995 the whole country was watching.

    The marriage of Kevin Keegan's exciting, attack-minded team with this dashing Frenchman was seemingly one made in heaven and suddenly Ginola's face was staring back at us from newspaper pages and billboards, even more so when he moved to Tottenham and the bright lights of London in 1997.

    Perhaps history remembers him as a better player than he actually was, but like Oasis, Blur and at one point bleaching your hair bright blond, Ginola was as "90s cool" as it was possible to be.

Frank Worthington

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    The long hair, the wild lifestyle and the liberal attitude towards enjoying himself, former England international Frank Worthington could almost be regarded as your typical 1970s footballer.

    And looking like a budget Elvis impersonator was cool back then, honestly.

    Worthington once failed a medical at Bill Shankly's Liverpool because of the high blood pressure brought on by his drinking and partying, per ESPN FC, but given that he called his autobiography One Hump or Two you get the feeling that he enjoyed himself.


Stan Bowles

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    Capped five times by England, Stan Bowles is a club legend at QPR for whom he played over 300 league games.

    Bowles replaced another folk hero in Rodney Marsh when he joined the Rs in 1972, and his infectious character impressed all at Loftus Road who immediately took him to their hearts.

    There is even a tale about how he once knocked over the FA Cup when Sunderland were presenting it to their fans, per the Guardian, as well as numerous other tales that Rangers supporters still recite to this day.

Graeme Souness

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    Being hard is cool and in the late 1970s and early '80s no-one in British football was harder than Liverpool's Graeme Souness.

    The Scot used to patrol the midfield at Anfield and all across the continent as he helped the Reds to win five league championships and three European Cups during his six years at the club, getting his curly hair and menacing moustache in the faces of anyone who dared threaten Liverpool's dominance as he did so.

    Souness was a winner who commanded respect and if he asked for it you were certainly going to give it to him.

Alessandro Del Piero

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    So it appears that these days Alessandro Del Piero is in Australia taking selfies, but we can overlook that because of his 19 years of excellence with Juventus.

    The Italian international was a fine, fine player and one perhaps not given enough respect outside of his homeland.

    He is Juventus' all-time leading goalscorer, he won everything there was to win with the club and he was a key player when Italy lifted the World Cup in 2006. All very cool achievements for a player to whom such coolness seemed to come naturally.

Juan Roman Riquelme

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    Give Juan Roman Riquelme the ball and you might not see it back for several days.

    For years the Argentina international was a name that featured heavily on the shopping lists of plenty a Premier League fan who craved some more style and flair at their club, but the midfielder never once made the move to England.

    Indeed, he only played in Europe for five years with Barcelona and Villarreal, preferring instead to remain loyal to his boyhood club Boca Juniors, whom he's still playing for now aged 35. That's pretty cool isn't it?

Dimitar Berbatov

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    Dimitar Berbatov, seen here running at full pace, is a man who plays football in the same manner that he treats life.

    To say that the Bulgarian international is laid back would be an understatement on par with suggesting that David Moyes is currently doing a less than stellar job at Manchester United, one of the clubs that have employed Berbatov during what has been a hugely successful career.

    He's currently to be seen living in up in Monaco, the home of fast cars, gambling, expensive tastes and an incredibly relaxed and affluent lifestyle.

    However will he fit in?

John Barnes

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    Ask a Liverpool fan of a certain age about the exciting nature of the Reds' current team, and they are likely to tell you that it reminds them of their 1987-88 vintage.

    In amongst a team packed with questionable facial hair, the coolest member of that entertaining side was winger John Barnes, an arrival from Watford whose presence on the Reds' wing brought pace, flair, goals and excitement.

    Oh, and he could rap too. Sort of.

Freddie Ljungberg

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    Wow, that Arsenal team of the early 2000s was cool wasn't it? As joining Henry and Pires in our list we now have the Swedish international Freddie Ljungberg.

    A reliable box-to-box midfielder, Ljungberg's goals were what powered the Gunners to the Premier League title in 2001-02 as they strung together a series of wins at the end of the season to see off the challenges of Liverpool and Manchester United. He was more famous in other quarters for his modelling career and desire to wear the least amount of clothes he could get away with (just Google it).

    Throw in the ever-changing hairstyles and you've got a bit of a maverick, and they are always welcome around here.

Eric Cantona

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    Back in the early to mid-1990s, all you had to do to be considered cool was turn your collar up. It was a simpler time and we were simpler people.

    Eric Cantona's footballing ability went a long way towards adding to his cool factor though, and although the kung-fu kick assault on a Crystal Palace fan left a huge stain on his character and career, it did add another element to the story of a fascinating man and player.

    The Frenchman was certainly his own man who seemingly played by his own rules and as one of the sparks of what would become over a generation of Manchester United success, he was and still is considered an icon.

Gabriel Batistuta

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    The Machine Gun celebration! Which schoolkid of the 1990s didn't do that after blasting one in on the playground?

    Gabriel Batistuta had long hair, liked to hit the ball really, really hard and loved to score goals, all three of which are on show here with this stunning strike for Fiorentina against Manchester United in the Champions League, something else which endeared him to watching British children.

    The Argentinean is still the top goalscorer for his country with a staggering 56 strikes in 78 games, a tally which Lionel Messi will probably beat one day. Batistuta will always have the edge over Leo in the coolness stakes though.

Paolo Maldini

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    Paolo Maldini has won five European Cups. That's the same amount as Bayern Munich and Liverpool.

    That fact alone is enough to get him into our cool gang but he also makes it is because of his seemingly effortless displays of quality over a staggering career at AC Milan that produced 902 appearances over 25 seasons.

    Equally at home at either left-back or centre-back, Maldini was an expert reader of the game and never really got caught out, even toward the end of his career when he'd frequently be the oldest player on the pitch.

Roberto Baggio

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    If ponytails alone made you cool, then Andy Carroll and Martin Demichelis would make it onto this list (sorry, boys) but when you've got a divine ponytail then you're alright by us.

    Sadly Roberto Baggio is forever destined to be remembered for the penalty miss which handed Brazil the World Cup in the US in 1994, and we've even used that picture of him here. However, he was also a fantastic player who performed with great skill for the likes of Fiorentina, Juventus, Milan, Inter and of course Italy.

    The ponytail may not have saved him on that hot day in Pasadena but a man who scored 27 goals in 56 games for his country is still cool enough to be accepted by us.

    Welcome, Roberto, don't cut your hair.





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    Look at him. Just look at that man. Need we say any more?

    Socrates was the entertaining, elegant and yes, cool midfield playmaker in the 1982 Brazil team which promised so much at the World Cup but failed to deliver.

    Often running from deep he'd get on the end of flowing moves that he himself had started, ensuring that he didn't just look the part in the cool stakes but also played the part too.

    Socrates sadly died in December 2011, prompting this video tribute to a magical player.

Franz Beckenbauer

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    Franz Beckenbauer simply was West German football in the 1960s and '70s, standing as a beacon and a symbol of the side which won the 1972 European Championships and then the 1974 World Cup.

    A legend at Bayern Munich, Beckenbauer won two Ballon d'Or awards, as well as numerous other personal prizes during what was a glittering playing career, which then led to him becoming a manager and lifting the World Cup again as West Germany boss in 1990.

    It was his era-defining performances as a sweeper, a tough position to master, which get him on this list though.

Luis Figo

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    When you're one of Barcelona's best players, making the decision to move from there to Real Madrid requires a fair amount of character.

    Luis Figo had that in spades though and whilst the Barca fans might have met that 2000 defection by introducing the Portuguese to a pig's head, the midfielder simply took it all in his stride and ended up winning the Champions League and two La Liga titles at the Bernabeu.

    Stylish and as strong as an ox on the ball, Figo was a performer who oozed class as he carried the baton of Portuguese expectation right up to the emergence of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Javier Zanetti

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    Having apparently discovered the secret to eternal youth some time ago, Javier Zanetti is still an Inter Milan player some 19 years after he joined.

    Now 40 years old, Zanetti's versatility is what has marked him out as a fine player over the last two decades, so much so that it is almost impossible to pigeonhole him in one position.

    The 145-times capped Argentinean, a record, is simply a great footballer wherever he plays and having recovered from injury this season he remains a vital part of the Inter squad.


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    The word "Garrincha" means wren and so when this extremely talented Brazilian was given the nickname it was due to the fact that he was small in stature yet could still fly around the pitch and cause all teams problems on the wings.

    Part of the Brazil squads which won both the 1958 and 1962 World Cups, Garrincha used to inspire chants of "ole" from the crowds watching him, as he would show opponents the ball and then knock it away from them in the manner that a bullfighter would do with a red cape.

    A big drinker, he was something of a party animal, something which led to his death from cirrhosis of the liver when aged just 49 in 1983.

Diego Maradona

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    Proving that you can be one of the greatest footballers to ever play the game and also be crazy, troubled and undoubtedly very cool is Diego Maradona, a man worshipped in Argentina and elsewhere.

    A player whose career was defined by World Cups, Maradona was sent off as Argentina exited the 1982 tournament in Brazil, scored two of the most memorable goals of all-time against England in 1986 before going on to lift the trophy. He then lost in the final in 1990 and was then sent home in disgrace in 1994 having failed a drugs test.

    All pretty eventful, and, whilst the last event left a pretty sour taste in the mouth, all pretty cool too.

Franco Baresi

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    You name it, and Franco Baresi has won it. Italy could even have entered him in the Eurovision Song Contest and he'd probably have won that, too.

    Except he was too cool for that. The sweeper presided over the Milan team for 20 years, winning three European Cups, six Serie A titles and 82 Italy caps along the way.

    Like Roberto Baggio, he is remembered for a penalty miss in the shootout at the end of the disappointing World Cup final defeat to Brazil in 1994, but also like Baggio, he gave the Italian game so many great memories that you can easily overlook the one regrettable one.

Pep Guardiola

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    These days a cool manager, Pep Guardiola was also a pretty cool midfield player in his day.

    Those days consisted of 11 years at Barcelona, which included six La Liga titles and the European Cup, with the Catalan's Barca career taking off when manager Johan Cruyff converted him from a right-sided midfielder into a central defensive one, the team's pivot.

    Much of what Guardiola learned in his playing days can now be seen in his managerial style, with his target now to conquer Europe with Bayern Munich having done so successfully with his former club.

Marco Van Basten

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    Go on, imagine doing that in a European Championship final. You've got a smile on your face just thinking about it haven't you?

    Marco van Basten was the inspiration for many a footballer, young and old, to try and copy, but few could ever wish to emulate his genius.

    The Dutch forward was a prolific goalscorer at Ajax in his homeland and then he moved onto AC Milan a year before this stunning strike as the Netherlands won the Euro 88 tournament in West Germany.

    More goals flowed in Italy, before his career was sadly cut short through injury in 1995.

Carlos Valderrama

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    Yeah alright, it's the hair and possibly a little bit of the moustache too.

    Having said that, Carlos Valderrama was also a pretty good player. He was twice South American footballer of the year, an MLS All-Star and the division's MVP in 1996 and he captained Colombia at the 1994 World Cup.

    In recognition of his displays, a distinctive 22-foot statue of Valderrama, complete with colourful hair, was erected in his birth place of Santa Marta in 2006. As you'd expect, it's pretty cool.

Johan Cruyff

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    You only have to look as far back as last weekend to see that Johan Cruyff still has a lasting impact on the modern game.

    The flick into Chelsea's net from the Aston Villa midfielder Fabian Delph was almost instantly called "a Cruyff moment" by everyone who witnessed it, with Villa's official site following suit.

    It is pretty cool to have one movement, or one action in football forever associated with your name, and although Cruyff was so, so much more than just that one famous turn, that alone is enough to get you on this list.



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    There are two games of football going on whenever Xavi is on the pitch. There's the one that he is playing and then there's the one that the other 21 players are playing.

    Barcelona and Spain's outstanding performances and success over recent years has seen the midfield general receive widespread praise from all quarters for his clever, incisive and often destructive way of playing, with footballers worldwide undoubtedly viewing the Catalan as a huge influence on their own game.

    Now 34, this summer might well see Xavi performing on the global stage for the final time as he lines up at the World Cup, and we should all savour the chance to see him before its too late.

Bruce Grobbelaar

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    Liverpool were a winning machine throughout the 1980s and what made them even more watchable was the antics of their Zimbabwean goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar.

    With a seemingly gymnastic-like ability to fly through the air and make the most remarkable saves, Grobbelaar won six league titles and the European Cup whilst at Anfield, where he also won plenty of friends too.

    He even inspired the next generation of Liverpool players, with his "wobbly legs" routine performed in the penalty shootout at that 1984 European Cup final copied by Jerzy Dudek in Istanbul 21 years later.

Ruud Gullit

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    The swaggering heartbeat of the Dutch team which won Euro 88, Ruud Gullit was a star most noted for his time at AC Milan, Sampdoria and Chelsea.

    An incredibly versatile player, Gullit won the Ballon d'Or in 1987 before his move to Milan, where he picked up three Serie A titles and two European Cups in 1989 and 1990.

    With his trademark dreadlocks bouncing around, Gullit would often give the impression that he was about a foot taller than everyone else on the pitch and in a footballing sense he often was.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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    The Swede's marketing men may have got hold of @Ibra_official recently, but there is plenty about Zlatan Ibrahimovic that still exudes cool.

    Holding a seemingly unshakable belief in his own ability, the forward has trotted around Europe throughout his career and picked up plenty of trophies along the way.

    Those trophies have usually come about as a result of his seemingly endless supply of goals, and the World Cup will be a poorer place without the Paris Saint-Germain provocateur this summer.

Ricky Villa

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    Although he came as part of a pair with Ossie Ardiles, Argentinean Ricky Villa was the cooler half of the duo which caused a stir when landing at Tottenham in 1978.

    Again it was the hair and the beard which marked him out as someone different, but it was also the fact that he scored arguably the most famous goal in Spurs history, this remarkable solo effort, which won the 1981 FA Cup Final replay against Manchester City, his second goal of the game.

    It earned him a place in the hearts of Tottenham fans, which has never gone away.

David Beckham

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    Okay, so he tried a little bit too hard to be cool at times, and that in itself cannot be regarded as cool, but David Beckham has to make the list.

    Still a world-renowned figure due to the popularity and longevity of "Brand Beckham", if coolness is all about getting people to follow you and copy you then he certainly had coolness in spades.

    The sarong, the Mohawk, the corn rows and many others. We were all there throughout his endless appearances on both front and back pages, so much so that we felt like we were there living through these moments with him.

    It was real, Becks. And let's be honest, we all miss it a little bit, don't we?

Bobby Moore

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    Lifting the World Cup as captain is surely the coolest thing you can ever do as a footballer, and there should be no surprise that plenty of men who have done just that have found their way onto our list.

    Bobby Moore lifted the trophy as England captain at Wembley in 1966, ensuring that this iconic image will forever remain a crucial part of English sporting history.

    These days immortalised in a statue outside the new Wembley stadium, elegant centre-back Moore is still revered as an England and West Ham legend 21 years after his untimely death from bowel and liver cancer aged just 51.

Robin Friday

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    The accompanying video from the BBC's Late Kick-Off series explains everything you need to know about Robin Friday, a man who became the subject of the book The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw in 1998.

    Despite leading a lifestyle more suited to a rock star than a footballer, Friday was loved on the terraces at both Reading and Cardiff City, becoming regarded as a cult hero at both clubs before he retired from football aged 25 in 1977.

    Friday's hedonistic lifestyle caught up with him in 1990, when he died of a heart attack aged 38.

Jay-Jay Okocha

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    Sometimes peripheral but occasionally brilliant, Jay-Jay Okocha sparkled at Paris Saint-Germain before Sam Allardyce pulled a masterstroke by bringing him to Bolton Wanderers in 2002.

    His stunning skills and moments of brilliance frequently lit up the Reebok Stadium and as captain he led the Trotters to a first cup final in nine years when they took on Middlesbrough in the League Cup final in Cardiff in 2004.

    The Nigerian won 74 caps for his country, with his four years in the Premier League seeing him taken into the hearts of more than just Bolton fans.

Rene Higuita

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    You know what's coming, right? Well here it is.

    Colombia goalkeeper Rene Higuita's remarkable "Scorpion Kick" against England at Wembley in 1995 still both delights and amuses in equal measure but perhaps what is less known is that it came less than two years after he'd been in jail for seven months for his part in a kidnapping.

    Frequently a madcap presence before the Colombia defence, Higuita later tested positive for cocaine use, appeared on reality TV and almost completely changed his appearance by undergoing plastic surgery, per the Guardian.

    He's certainly not dull.