Soccer: Diego Maradona, Pele and The Greatest Footballers From A To Z
The list of the world's greatest footballers is a well-trodden path. The problem with such assessment is it is solely based on one’s subjective opinion and is therefore as conclusive as asking Emmeline Pankhurst to judge "The Apprentice".
I myself have gone off on a slight tangent with this particular ranking system, splitting the prospectus into alphabetical and talent-based stratospheres. For example, neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo is featured on this list simply because there is superior competition in their respective letter of the alphabet.
The following list is not who I believe to be the 26 greatest players the world has ever seen, it is the 26 greatest within the parameters I set myself.
Some of you may possibly refute elements of this list, so feel free to react to this circumstance as you see fit. Comment and like away people; here for your viewing pleasure is my A-to-Z list of the greatest footballers of all time.
A: Carlos Alberto (Brazil)
Carlos Alberto had the unique luxury of captaining what many regard to be the greatest football team the world has ever seen, the 1970 Brazilian World Cup team.
A goal-scoring right back, Alberto also scored "that goal" in the tournament the same year.
B: Franz Beckenbauer (Germany)
His nickname "Der Kaiser" ("The Emperor"), in essence sums up the man.
A pillar of empirical resonance, Franz Beckenbauer is commonly regarded as the greatest footballer Germany has ever produced. Twice winner of the coveted European Player of the Year award, a unique feat amongst defenders, Beckenbauer has since shifted his focus to management and punditry after retiring in 1983.
Other Notable "B" Mentions:
- George Best (Ireland)
- David Beckham (England)
- Dennis Bergkamp (Holland)
- Roberto Baggio (Italy)
- Gordon Banks (England)
- Gabriel Batistuta (Argentina)
- Franco Baresi (Italy)
- Gianluca Buffon (Italy
C: Johan Cruyff (Holland)
The man who became the embodiment of the mantra for "total football" and patented his own turn at the very least deserves his place in those oh-so-humble of lists.
Other Notable "C" Mentions:
- Cafu (Brazil)
- Bobby Charlton (England)
- Eric Cantona (France)
- Roberto Carlos (Brazil)
- Alessandro Costacurta (Italy)
- Iker Cassilas (Spain)
D: Alfredo Di Stefano (Argentina)
Alfredo Di Stefano was a man from the land time forgot; an era when playing football was not about the pursuit of monetary gain, but simply loving the game.
He was one of the first Madrid "Galacticos" during the 1950’s and still holds the honor of the club's second all-time goal scorer. Interestingly enough, Di Stefano actually plied his trade in the service of three different nations, Argentina (6 caps), Columbia (4 caps) and Spain (31 caps). Lionel Messi for Spain anyone?
Other Notable "D" Mentions:
- Dixie Dean (England)
- Kenny Dalglish (Scotland)
- Ali Daei (Iran)
- Didier Deschamps (France)
- Frank de Boer (Holland)
- Alessandro del Piero (Italy)
- Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)
- Edgar Davids (Holland)
- Yuri Djorkaeff (France)
E: Eusebio da Silva Ferreira (Portugal)
Eusebio’s coach Antonio Simoes said of the Black Panther, "With Eusebio maybe we could be tri-European champions, without him maybe we could win the league."
I couldn't possibly conjure any literary jargon or flowery prose to better serve justice to Portugal’s greatest ever player.
Other Notable "E" Mentions:
- Duncan Edwards (England)
F: Just Fontaine (France)
Just Fontaine scored 13 goals in one World Cup, 30 in 21 French national team appearances and 165 in 200 club appearances.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that lad enjoyed the odd goal or two. A promising career was cruelly cut short at the age of 28, when a recurring injury robbed him of the chance for a second World Cup.
Other Notable "F" Mentions:
- Luis Figo (Portugal)
- Francesc Fabregas (Spain)
- Enzo Francescoli (Uruguay)
G: Garrincha (Brazil)
Garrincha, which means "wren" in Portuguese, seemed to have a penchant for inspiring his people to great joy.
A member of the Brazilian World Cup-winning sides of 1958 and 1962, Garrincha is commonly regarded as the best dribbler of all time and the second best Brazilian player ever, behind only Pele.
In fact, the home dressing room in the Estadio do Maracana is named after him (the away room is named after Pele).
Other Notable "G" Mentions:
- Paul Gascoigne (England)
- Ruud Gullit (Holland)
- Ryan Giggs (Wales)
- Josep Guardiola (Spain)
H: Thierry Henry (France)
Thierry Henry sums up everything that is good about Arsenal and Arsene Wenger.
Henry was a foreign player sourced from relative obscurity who became the figurehead of the team, one of the greatest players to have ever played in England and one of the best players of his generation.
England was a sadder place the day Henry left for Barcelona.
Other Notable "H" Mentions:
- Glenn Hoddle (England)
- Georgi Hagi (Romania)
I: Fillippo Inzaghi (Italy)
The archetypal goal poacher—in and around the box—Fillippo Inzaghi was gold dust.
His career may be waning, but his instincts never die, as Inzaghi became the oldest goal scorer in champion's league history this season with a goal against Real Madrid back in November.
Other Notable "I" Mentions:
- Andres Iniesta (Spain)
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)
J: Jairzinho (Brazil)
Due to the parameters governing the movement of South American players out of the continent, the world never really witnessed the magic of Jairzinho, as he was forced to ply his trade in his native Brazil.
However, he was a member of the 1970 Brazilian World Cup team that swept all before it, scoring in every game of the tournament (a feat only two other players—Just Fontaine and Alcides Ghiggia—have matched). Not bad for a winger!
Jairzinho is commonly mentioned in discussions of the world's best players and was recently featured at No. 27 in "World Soccer" magazine's list of the 100 greatest players of all time.
K: Jurgen Klinsmann (Germany)
A player who oversaw the transition phase of the German national team, Jurgen Klinsmann was featured on both the West Germany team that won the 1990 World Cup and the Germany team that won the European Championship six years later.
Klinsmann has since become one of the most recognizable faces in football, not just from his playing, but also from a series of high-profile management jobs such as Germany and Bayern Munich. Klinsmann is acknowledged alongside the likes of Miroslav Klose, Gerd Muller and Rudi Voller as one of the best goals scorers Germany has ever produced.
Other Notable "K" Mentions:
- Patrick Kluivert (Holland)
- Kaka (Brazil)
- Roy Keane (Ireland)
- Kevin Keegan (England)
- Oliver Kahn (Germany)
L: Michael Laudrup (Denmark)
Michael Laudrup and his brother Brian were Denmark’s answer to Gary and Phil Neville in the 1990's.
Like Gary and Phil Neville, there was a more successful sibling, and Michael was that man. He was captain of the Danish national football team and, along with Peter Schmiechel, is one of the most decorated Danish players in history. After retiring in 1998, Michael has since made the transition into management and is the current manager of the La Liga side of RCD Mallorca.
Other Notable "L" Mentions:
- Dennis Law (Scotland)
- Gary Lineker (England)
- Jari Litmanen (Finland)
- Matt Le Tissier (England)
M: Diego Maradona (Argentina)
Lunatic? Most certainly.
Cheat? Quite possibly, but a better player, there is but one.
Other Notable "M" Mentions:
- Lothar Matthaus (Germany)
- Lionel Messi (Argentina)
- Gerd Muller (Germany)
- Paolo Maldini (Italy)
- Sir Stanley Matthews (England)
- Bobby Moore (England)
- Claude Makelele (France)
- Sepp Maier (Germany)
N: Gary Neville (England)
Gary Neville…..really? (this isn’t my opinion or he wouldn’t be in the list). As a faithful servant and patron to the shirt Neville is cut from the Paolo Maldini ilk. His ‘us against them’ mentality has found resonance with legions of united fans who recently witnessed Neville Neville’s oldest son reach his landmark 400th United appearance.
Other Notable "N" Mentions:
- Pavel Nedved (Czech Republic)
- Johan Neeskens (Holland)
- Gunnar Nordahl (Sweden)
- Alessandro Nesta (Italy)
O: Jay-Jay Okocha (Nigeria)
The man "so good they named him twice", Augustine "Jay-Jay" Okocha was the original flair player of my generation growing up.
The rapport between the ball and Okocha’s boot was, at times, a joy to behold. In the fairly innocuous setting of Bolton’s Reebok Arena, Okocha lit up my childhood view of the Premier League, and for that I thank him.
Other Notable "O" Mentions:
- Michael Owen (England)
P: Pele (Brazil)
Um, is any real explanation needed here?
Other Notable "P" Mentions:
- Ferenc Puskas (Hungary)
- Michel Platini (France)
- Jean-Pierre Papin (France)
- Carlos Puyol (Spain)
- Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
Q: Niall Quinn (Ireland)
Sunderland’s chairman was actually a very decent player in his day.
This 6-foot-4 Irish international played for Arsenal, Manchester City and Sunderland before moving "upstairs". The striker is commonly regarded as one of the best footballing talents Ireland has ever produced.
R: Luis Ronaldo (Brazil)
Fat he may be, but my God, can the boy score goals.
The World Cup's all-time leading scorer was the modern day Pele, the poster boy of the Brazilian people. Luis Ronaldo scored goals, and at his discipline of choice, he had no equal.
He was the icon of my youth, the player legions of young boys aspired to be (diet plan excluded). Despite his indiscretions, Ronaldo is and was a true legend of football.
Other Notable "R" Mentions:
- Raul (Spain)
- Romario (Brazil)
- Karl-Heinze Rummenigge (Germany)
- Rivaldo (Brazil)
- Ronaldinho (Brazil)
- Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
- Wayne Rooney (England)
- Frank Rijkaard (Holland)
- Paolo Rossi (Italy)
S: Peter Schmeichel (Denmark)
Having never had the honor of witnessing the majesty of Lev Yashin, Peter Schmeichel was the closest I have came to witnessing goalkeeping perfection.
"The Great Dane" set the precedent for United’s future goalkeepers, a level none have come close to matching to date. Schmeichel's legacy lives on in the sport through the gloves of his son Kasper, Leeds' goalkeeper, but to me, Kasper will not quite be his father.
Other Notable "S" Mentions:
- Alan Shearer (England)
- Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria)
- Andrey Shevchenko (Ukraine)
- David Suker (Croatia)
- Hugo Sanchez (Mexico)
- Paul Scholes (England)
- Clarence Seedorf (Holland)
T: David Trezeguet (France)
Along with Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet formed one of the greatest all-time striking partnerships for France during the early and mid-21st century. At club level, Trezeguet was just as successful notching 138 goals in 245 appearances.
His iconic status was exacerbated after the team's relegation from the Serie A on match fixing charges. Instead of jumping the sinking ship, Trezeguet stayed to fire the Old Lady to instant promotion. A tall and wiry striker, Trezeguet now plies his trade in his wife’s hometown of Alicante, in the strip of Spanish First Division side Hercules CF.
Other Notable "T" Mentions:
- Lilian Thuram (France)
- Fernando Torres (Spain)
- Carlos Tevez (Argentina)
- Francesco Totti (Italy)
U: Javier Urruticoechea (Spain)
I’ll hold my hands up (much like the man in this picture, who isn't Urruticoechea by the way): before doing this this, I had never heard of him.
This isn’t to say he doesn’t deserve his place, just that my faux pas in not knowing him is even greater. Urruticoechea was a Spanish international who became a Barcelona cult hero and fan favorite in his time as the club’s goalkeeper during the 1980’s.
A life that had much yet to give was cut short in May 2001 as Urruticoechea’s car hit the central reservation of a ring road in Barcelona, killing him instantly.
V: Marco van Basten
Marco van Basten’s career holds haunting similarities to that of another prolific goalscorer on this list. Just like Fontaine, van Basten was forced to retire through injury, and also like Fontaine, the Dutchman’s scoring ratio was nothing short of ludicrous.
Unlike Fontaine though, van Basten’s goals helped his country to international success, winning the Euro 1988 championship, where he was named top scorer. Interestingly enough though, van Basten failed to register a single goal in a World Cup tournament.
Other Notable "V" Mentions:
- Ruddi Voller (Germany)
- Ruud van Nistelrooy (Holland)
- Carlos Valderama (Columbia)
- David Villa (Spain)
- Nemanja Vidic (Serbia)
- Patrick Viera (France)
W: George Weah (Liberia)
One of two Africans on this list, Liberia’s greatest export had the unique treble of World, European and African Player of the Year in the same 1995 season.
George Weah has since gone into politics in his native Liberia, a path Wayne Rooney is said to be interested in exploring when he retires.
Other Notable "W" Mentions:
- Ian Wright (England)
X: Xavi (Spain)
Xavi (or Xavi Hernandez) is the puppeteer of the Catalan attack.
With a muscularity on the ball that belies his small stature, witnessing Xavi losing the ball is like witnessing a solar eclipse.
Other Notable "X" Mentions:
- Xabi Alonso (Spain)
Y: Lev Yashin (Russia)
Nicknamed "The Black Spider", Lev Yashin strung his web across the heart of the Soviet goal line and into footballing folklore throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Yashin trod the furrow of today's "one club men", staying at boyhood club Dynamo Moscow throughout his 22-year career. He is also credited as the forefather of the idea of goalkeeper "sweeping".
Z: Zinedine Zidane (France)
My favorite player of all time, without any question.
Zinedine Zidane is a man who possessed the ability to bewitch both ball and man alike on an idle whim.
Even when getting confused during a game of charades with Marco Matterazzi (Zidane was trying to do Bambi) ultimately lost his country the World Cup, his aura went undiminished. This is the true hallmark of the man and the people love him.
Other Notable "Z" Mentions:
- Zico (Brazil)
- Gianfanco Zola (Italy)
- Dino Zoff (Italy)