World Football Rankings: Counting Down the 50 Coolest Footballers of All Time

Andy Gray@@TheRealAndyGrayContributor IIFebruary 10, 2011

World Football Rankings: Counting Down the 50 Coolest Footballers of All Time

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    There aren't many young children who don't grow up wanting to be a professional footballer.

    Where you are a youngster just getting into the game that will you love for the rest of your life, the ambition is to play for your club, because that is the coolest job on earth.

    Maybe I'm exaggerating by generalising this point, but I'm fairly certain I wasn't the only young boy who dreamt of pulling on a Premier League football shirt and running out in front of thousands of adoring supporters.

    In school, the kids that were the best at football, the ones who could pull off all the crazy tricks and flicks, they were the cool ones everyone aspired to be. So multiply that by 20  when it came to the pros.

    Now maybe as we grow up, footballers start to appear less and less cool and sometimes we even start ridiculing players for the way they put themselves about, some being compared to petulant children.

    However there are still a number of big names past and present that ooze cool and class, so here's a list of who I think the best in the business are and were.

50. Dimitar Berbatov

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    The Manchester United frontman would not have made the list had it not been for his brilliant form this season.

    He plays the game with a carefree attitude and sometimes looks as if he doesn't give a monkey's about putting in any sort of effort.

    This quality has seen him compared to Cantona, and despite the apparent lack of trying, he can make a magical moment and turn a game on it's head.

49. Asamoah Gyan

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    The Ghanian forward shot to fame during last year's World Cup, when he was the catalyst behind his side's unexpected run to the quarter final, before they were heart breakingly eliminated by Uruguay on spot kicks.

    So why is Gyan on the list? One reason and one reason only, his dancing.

    Gyan's goalscoring dance has been seen many times in the Premier League already this season and the Sunderland forward loves showing off his moves.

48. Eddie Newton

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    The old saying, "A picture speaks a thousand words" is quite fitting on this occasion.

    This is just one of the many classic hair styles sported by the defender throughout his career, another being the "Pineapple on the head" look.

    The Chelsea gangsta was a pivotal part of the side that won every cup competition available to them in the '90s and even pitched in with a goal in the 1997 FA Cup final.

47. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    A lot of people might have had him a lot higher on the list, others would have ignored him altogether.

    I felt Cristiano deserved at least a mention on the list as the Real Madrid and Portugal winger does have a lot of swagger and his endorsement with Armani as well as a bottomless pit of cash mean he's always dressed to impress.

    The nonchalance with which he celebrates his goals also make him quite a cool customer.

    Unfortunately for the goal machine, his petulant behaviour and his tendancy to sulk mean he doesn't get anywhere near the top half.

46. Chris Waddle

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    Chris Waddle was one of the heroes of England's run to the 1990 World Cup semi final, despite being the man to miss the decisive penalty.

    The winger though was always a housewives' favourite and if his good looks and mullet aren't enough to earn him a place on the list, his efforts with Glen Hoddle in releasing a pop single have got to seal the deal.

45. Stan Collymore

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    Possibly a contentious choice due to his debatable past, but I think Colly's ladies man tag and the fact he was one of Livepool's Spice Boys justify it.

    Rocking the white suit at Wembley will be an image that lives forever in the memory despite his goalscoring exploits over the years.

    The bevvy of beautiful women and the brummie's swagger are enough to earn him a spot.

44. Jamie Redknapp

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    Although he's a little bit smarmy, Redknapp could well be the next face of Sky Sports after all the recent controversy, and that's pretty cool.

    Redknapp's looks and cash bagged him a beautiful wife in Louise, making him the envy of much of the male population.

    What's more, it's hard to argue he looks pretty swarve in his skinny suits and tie.

43. David James

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    There's not really much to say about David James except that he's had enough crazy haircuts to earn a spot on the list.

    Whether it's dreadlocks, corn rows, an afro or a skin head, James has done it all and fair play to the man for having his own style.

    That and the fact he's still calm as you like in between the sticks for Bristol City.

42. Luis Figo

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    The slick Portuguese star was part of the Real Madrid Galacticos which is pretty cool in itself.

    He played the game with guile and a sense of cool and calm that made him one of best players of his generation.

    Gliding around the football pitch at ease he never drew too much attention to himself and was always understated in his celebrations.

41. Billy Meredith

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    The miner come footballer with the moustache! That's enough to earn the Welshman a spot on the countdown.

    Although it was common place to have a job on the side of football in his era, the miners were considered the real men.

    Another reason he's cool is that he went from Manchester City to Manchester United and back to Manchester City again. That takes some serious testicular fortitude.

40. Garrinchia

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    The right winger is described as the second greatest Brazilian player of all time after Pele which in itself is pretty impressive.

    He also had some of the best nicknames I've ever heard for a footballer: Alegria do Povo  (Joy of the People) and Anjo de Pernas Tortas (Angel with bent legs).

    A winner of two World Cups, perhaps the best accolade is that one of the World's great stadiums, the Maracana, has named the home dressing room after him, while Pele only got the away dressing room.

    Garrinchia 1-0 Pele

39. Fabio Cannavaro

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    Fabio Cannavaro oozes cool when he plays the game of football despite the fact his career is on the way out and he's moved out to the UAE.

    The 2006 World Cup winning captain and only defender to ever be crowned World Player of the Year has played for some of the World's biggest clubs and has always been one of the first names on any team sheet.

    He marshals the defence with a calmness that rubs off on those around him. A true leader on the pitch, you can't help but admire the man.

    Not only that, he's spent much of his career as Italian football's playboy, regularly being seen modelling pants a la David Beckham.

38. Andriy Shevchenko

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    Despite the fact that he went miles off the boil when he changed his cushy life as AC Milan's top dog to become one of Chelski's big money signings, he will still go down as one of the best strikers of his generation.

    In fact, I give him credit for stepping out of his comfort zone and moving to England. It would have been very easy to stay put, even if the move was probably for more money.

    He's still a cool customer, very underspoken and keen to just get on with scoring goals.

37. Alfredo Di Stefano

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    I'm going to put this out there. Even as an old man he dresses to impress. I'm pretty sure I saw David Beckham in a similar outfit this week.

    Di Stefano is widely regarded as one of the best players who ever lived and was an instrumental member of the Real Madrid side who won five consecutive European Cups in the 1950s.

    The blond arrow is the fourth top scorer in the history of the Spanish League and Real Madrid's second top scorer.

    376 goals in 520 games. That's pretty cool if you ask me

36. Gianluca Vialli

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    Gianluca Vialli enjoyed success at every club he went, whether it was Juventus in Serie A or Chelsea in the Premier League. He even enjoyed a successful spell in charge of the London club, which saw him win the League Cup, FA Cup, Cup Winners Cup and Super Cup.

    He was successful as a player as well, winning the Champions League with Juventus in 1996.

    Despite all this, he is perhaps best known for a certain practical joke on serial whinger Graeme Souness, which has earned him a place on this list.

    After Souness thought it was funny to push Vialli into a lake while he was looking suave in a suit, the Italian retaliated by by cutting the legs off Souness’s favourite trousers, leaving itching powder in his underwear.

    “I’ve never seen him move around so fast,” giggled the Italian.

35. Socrates

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    The Lionel Richie look-a-like was one of the stars of Brazil's team during the 1980's.

    Socrates was a playmaker, described as one of the toughest players of his generation. Not only that, he had a beautiful perm and beard combo as well as often sporting a white headband when he took to the pitch.

    Perhaps the coolest thing about Socrates though was in 2004 when he became player-manager of Garforth Town at the age of 50.

    Although he only made one appearance for the club, it was enough to please the fans and a cheeky little publicity stunt for the English amateur side.

34. Ian Wright

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    Look at the picture and tell me this man is not cool!

    Part of me thinks that maybe Ian Wright became more cool after his career ended although he is very much a love him or hate him character.

    Very opinionated and very in your face but definitely one of the top characters in the footballing world.

    One of the better memories was watching his reaction to Micheal Owen's wonder goal against Argentina at France 1998.

    Despite not getting in the squad, you could tell Wrighty loved every minute of it as he bounced around the BBC studio.

33. Franco Baresi

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    Nicknamed "Little One," Baresi is regarded as one of the greatest defenders of all time and it's hard to argue against the man who played the game with an assured head and led the line every time he stepped onto the pitch.

    Baresi only played for one club in his career - AC Milan - playing a monster 791 games in a 20-year career.

    He was also part of the Italy squad that won the tournament in 1982 and finished runners-up in 1994.

    Not to mention three Champions Leagues and six Scudettas with his club, you can't argue the man's got class.

32. Edgar Davids

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    Now I know it's because he had glaucoma but those goggles along with the dreadlocks made him one of the most recognisable faces in the world of football.

    He had the skill to thrill and played for some of the best clubs on the planet.

    Playing for Crystal Palace dropped him in my estimation a little. It was like a Brett Favre style refusal to give up the game.

31. Hristo Stoichkov

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    The former Barcelona front man was one of the best strikers of his time and probably the best Bulgarian footballer of all time.

    Not only that, he won the World Footballer of the Year prize in 1994, becoming the first Bulgarian to do so and he contributed to perhaps the country's greatest achievement. A semi final performance at the 1994 World Cup, beating Mexico and Germany before losing to Italy.

    His demeanor and poise in front of goal were key reasons to his success and his inclusion on the list.

30. Pep Guardiola

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    He always looks the part when he steps onto the touchline to lead out his Barcelona team who play the coolest football on the planet.

    In managerial form he is second only to Jose Mourinho in terms of coaching suave, but even as a player he fit the bill.

    Six La Liga titles and a Champions League with Barcelona as well as 47 caps for his country.

29. Nemanja Vidic

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    The Manchester United captain talks like a gentle giant but looks and plays like a mad man on a rampage.

    Vidic is well known for his hard hitting style and has become a fan favourite at Old Trafford due to his never say die attitude.

    I am convinced this man could put his head in front of a speeding train and come out victorius with the train pleading for a free-kick.

    In his short Manchester United career he has gone from relative obscurity to one of the biggest names on the planet and one of the most sought after defenders around. 

28. Carlos Valderrama

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    There is one reason and one reason only why the Columbian is on this list and I think it's obvious from the photograph!

    His hair was famous the world over and everyone with any knowledge of football during his career knew who he was, despite the fact he was never that great a player and never played for a big club.

27. Rene Higuita

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    Another outlandish Columbian with a hairstyle to match.

    Higuita was famous for a number of things, including wearing a series of flamboyant goalkeeping jerseys, making some high profile errors and scoring goals from free kicks and penalties.

    However, the most memorable moment of his career was his famous scorpion kick save during an International friendly at Wembley.

    Jamie Redknapp lofted the ball over the goalkeeper and he produced one of the most bizarre saves of all time.

26. Freddie Ljungberg

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    Freddie Ljungberg made his name playing for Arsenal in the English Premier League between 1998 and 2007.

    The Swede has since gone on to play in America and now Scotland, but perhaps is most famous for his time spent as a model.

    A number of racy underwear adverts had young women swooning and he was often seen about town smoozing with a bevvy of beautiful women and was linked with some of the hottest women in the world.

    Not only that, he sported a funky red faux hawk during his Arsenal pomp.

25. Johan Cruyff

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    Johan Cruyff makes it onto the list for three key reasons.

    Not only did he win the Balon D'or an equal record three times, but he invented a famous turn which remains named after him and was part of the creation of Total Football.

    The Cruyff turn is used all over the world, while Total Football - a process which sees all 10 outfield payers capable of swapping positions and covering eachother - got Holland to consecutive World Cup finals in the 1970s.

24. Xavi

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    One of the best players on the planet right now but his modesty is an admirable quality of his.

    For years he has marshaled the Barcelona midfield and along with Andres Iniesta he has formed the best central midfield partnership of the last decade.

    He goes about his job without causing a fuss and is capable of some of the slickest passing moves you are likely to see.

23. Alessandro Del Piero

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    Senor Del Piero joined Juventus in 1993 and has been there ever since despite being courted on a number of occasions by Alex Ferguson and Manchester United.

    Sticking with the club he loves through thick and thin, including the match fixing scandal and subsequent relegation embarrassment has seen him affirm his status as a Juve legend. His touch and guile along with penchant for scoring important goals gets him on the list.

    Still competing at the highest level and looking to build on the plethora of titles he's already won.

22. Jimmy Bullard

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    His inclusion might surprise some, but the cheeky chappy of English footballer is definitely cool.

    The man has become a fan favourite due to his fun loving attitude and approach to the game, while his pranks have become synonomous.

    A quick YouTube search brings up a number of amusing videos of the player, including being pushed around in the kit hamper at Wigan, taking the mickey during filming for profiles with Sky Sports and mocking former boss Phil Brown celebrating a goal.

21. Henrik Larsson

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    I had to go back to pictures from 2000 to find an image of Larsson with the dreadlocks which are part of the reason he appears on the list of cool footballers.

    He also approached the game with a fun loving attitude that inspired those around him and made him one of the most sought after strikers in Europe.

20. Paulo Di Canio

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    After his earlier temper tantrums, which included pushing over a referee, he cooled and matured into a West Ham United legend and one of the quirkiest players to grace the Premier League.

    Di Canio scored a number of memorable goals and was part of some incredible moments.

    Perhaps the greatest moment though, which earns him a spot on the list, was during a game with Everton when goalkeeper Paul Gerrard went down injured outside his box and Di Canio caught the ball rather than put it into the empty net, earning him the FIFA Fair Play Award.

19. Paolo Maldini

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    Spending all 25 years of your playing career at AC Milan is amazing in itself, but the fact he was a starter pretty much throughout is exceptional.

    Maldini had a poise and swagger on the pitch which made him the jewell in the Milan crown and had managers across Europe wishing they had him.

    He is the second most capped player for Italy with 126 appearances and holds the record for the most appearances as captain with 74.

18. Neil Ruddock

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    The cockney gangster bad boy was a key figure in the Liverpool defence in the early 1990s.

    Ruddock was a prankster of the highest order and was always game for a laugh despite still having a very serious side while on the football pitch.

    He has featured numerous times on Sky Sport's flagship show 'Soccer Am' and has always come across as a very likeable chap, but when he was in his pomp he was considered a fearsome defender.

    Having attackers running scared of you is a pretty sweet deal.

17. David Ginola

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    Despite the dodgy L'oreal adverts (Because I'm worth it) Monsieur Ginola was a pretty cool customer. 

    The ladies loved him because of his silky smooth french tones and the men all secretly wanted to be him for both his footballing talents and his way with the opposite sex.

    Even in his old age he has become a bit of a silver fox!

    Don't forget as well that he was a top class footballer who sauntered around the pitch with a delicate touch and the ability to ghost past defenders and score incredible goals.

16. Roberto Baggio

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    Even though it may look a bit silly now, Roberto Baggio's hair was cool.

    He will always be remembered for that missed penalty in the 1994 World Cup final which handed the trophy to the Brazilians. Thundered over the bar as if he was trying to convert for three points.

    What many forget though is that Baggio single handedly led Italy to that final and his superb skills and goalscoring ability made him one of the best finishers in Europe.

15. Marco Van Basten

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    There is something naturally cool about the Dutch.

    Van Basten, one of the greatest players Holland has ever produced, is a suave customer but to be honest, makes the list mainly because of that incredible volley.

    In the final of Euro 1988, Van Basten produced an unbelievable volley against the Soviet Union to win the championship for Holland and it is remembered as one of the best goals of all time.

    What makes it even cooler though is his subsequent interviews in which he plays down the goal saying he needed a lot of luck. Modesty is endearing and this man has it in abundance.

14. Rio Ferdinand

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    He may not be the most popular man outside of Manchester United but it's hard to deny he's pretty swell!

    The Twitter loving central defender seems to have his finger in every pie at the moment, running an online men's magazine and running his own fashion label as well as trying to conquer the music business.

    Not only that Ferdinand is so unflappable on the pitch, he has defined the modern centre back.

    Able to take his time on the ball and bring it forward from the back, going round players in the process, he never seems rushed yet always produces.

13. Ruud Gullit

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    Look at that photograph and tell me that is not a cool man! Bear in mind it was the 1980s.

    Ruud Gullit is the first player I ever encountered that was known as a defender/midfielder/striker and his versatility is what made him one of the best.

    Throughout his career he played at a high level and even had some success in management with Newcastle and Chelsea.

    Now working as a pundit for Sky Sports he brings a levelheaded and serene quality that you could watch for hours.

12. Vinnie Jones

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    The former Wimbledon captain is now a Hollywood star. Is that not enough in one sentence?

    Although many would have hated him when their team played Wimbledon, there is no denying that the majority loved watching his antics.

    Whether it was screaming at referees or grabbing Gazza's testicals, there was also something amusing going on.

    He is now one of Hollywood's resident hardmen and even appeared in one of the X Men films!

11. Dennis Bergkamp

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    In terms of the way he conducted himself on the pitch, Dennis Bergkamp was as cool as they come.

    Due to his laid back nature, reserved attitude and the way he just got on with the game, he is never mentioned in conversations about the greatest players ever, but he should be.

    He had calm and poise on the ball and could turn something into nothing before you could blink.

    His goal against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup and his sublime touch and turn against Newcastle in 2002 will never be forgotten.

10. Glenn Hoddle

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    The attacking midfield maestro with the talented feet and impressive mullet.

    He may not be everybody's cup of tea, and his comments regarding the disabled during his tenure as England manager were vulgar and stupid, even if he didn't intend it.

    There was even a great arrogance about Hoddle, but sometimes that is necessary to make it to the top and he was one of the few Englishmen who attempted to ply their trade abroad when he joined AS Monaco.

    Also, who could forget his two man salvo with Chris Waddle and their assault on the pop charts.

9. Ricky Villa

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    Ricardo Julio 'Ricky' Villa came to the Premier League after impressing during Argentina's 1978 World Cup win.

    Part of an Argentinian double act, Villa was the swagger while Ossie Ardilles was the brains.

    Although he didn't score mountains of goals for Spurs, the midfielder did score on his debut and managed a spectacular solo effort in the FA Cup final against Manchester City.

    That goal, which won Wembley's goal of the century, along with his impressive footwork, earn him a spot.

8. Franz Beckenbaur

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    To coin a phrase I heard recently, Franz Beckenbauer had "mad swagger."

    The German centreback was nicknamed The Kaiser due to his dominance at the back and the elegance with which he played the beautiful game.

    He is also credited with having invented the position of 'Sweeper,' which is pretty impressive.

    The twice footballer of the year also remains the only man in history to captain and manage his country to a World Cup victory.

7. Bobby Moore

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    It was hard to decide who should go higher in the list between Bobby Moore and Franz Beckenbauer and in the end I let my patriotism win and selected England's only World Cup Winning Captain.

    Never one to spout arrogance and self love, Bobby Moore always got on with the job in hand and is easily the best centre half England has ever produced.

    He was tough tackling and unforgiving but a true gentleman off the pitch.

    When the great man died of bowel cancer, the Bobby Moore fund was set up in his honour and continues to do an amazing job raising money for the cause.

    A brilliant legacy for a brilliant man.

6. Thierry Henry

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    So he may have had a bit of a fall from grace in recent years but Thierry Henry is still one of the best players of the last decade.

    Arsenal's top scorer of all time burst onto the Premier League scene when he signed from Juventus and he never looked back.

    He made a mockery of the Manchester United scouts who said he had no touch and wasn't worth signing, banging in goal after goal against the Old Trafford Club.

    Henry was also softly spoken and if my mum's opinion is worth anything then apparently his looks and accompanying french tones are "gawjus."

    The man has definitely got Va Va Voom!

5. Zinedine Zidane

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    The French wizard went out of the game in a blaze of madness at the 2006 World Cup when he was sent off for headbutting Italian slimeball Marco Materazzi.

    Despite that, he had a glittering career playing for Juventus and most notably Real Madrid, where he was part of the Galacticos era at the Spanish club.

    He had guile and poise, that inspired his teammates and fans alike. He was always likely to do something brilliant and he proved that time and time again.

    Looking back at his career will see you treated to a host of spectacular goals that set him apart from the rest.

    Everyone wanted to be as good as him and that's pretty cool.

4. David Beckham

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    The most capped outfield England player of all time definitely deserves a mention despite having the voice of a teenage girl.

    Becks has always dressed to impress and he married a Spice Girl. Let's be honest, in their heyday, that was every man's dream. As Ali G once put it, "Every boy wants to be in his boots, and every man wants to be in his missus."

    The Leytonstone born midfielder was never strikingly brilliant as a player. He didn't have skills and pace.

    However, his set piece brilliance, his crossing talents and goalscoring ability made him one of the best players around.

    There is never an arrogance about David Beckham, despite the fact he would be more than forgiven for having an inflated ego.

    He plays football for the love of the game and has come back from adversity more times than I can count.

    David Beckham is a superb role model for the next generation of superstars.

3. Robin Friday

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    I'll be completely honest. Before writing this list I had never heard of Robin Friday before I started doing my research for this list.

    However, as soon as I read a quite famous story about the man, I decided I had to put him straight in towards the top.

    One time, when playing for Cardiff City, Friday came up against Mark Lawrenson in a game against Brighton.

    After a heated encounter with the future BBC pundit, Friday was sent off.

    On his way to the dressing room he snuck into the opposition training room and defecated in Lawrenson's kit bag.

    Although quite childish, I can't stand Lawrenson, and this made me laugh a lot.

2. George Best

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    One of the first celebrity footballers, George Best led an extravagant lifetsyle which ultimately caused his demise.

    Best lit up Old Trafford with tantalising displays of silky football and was almost unplayable when on top of his game.

    He won the title of European Footballer of the Year in 1968, a year in which he also won the European Cup with Manchester United.

    George Best will perhaps be best known for his famous quote, "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cards. The rest I just squandered."

1. Eric Cantona

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    There could only be one winner really couldn't there?

    King Cantona is widely regarded by Manchester United fans as the greatest player to have ever graced the hallowed Old Trafford turf. Quite an accolade when you consider some of the great players the club have had.

    If ever there was a time to describe someone as having a certain 'je ne sais quoi' this is it.

    He was simply sublime in everything he did during his heyday. He was brilliant on the ball, played the game with swagger and class and scored buckets of goals.

    His rush of blood to the head at Crystal Palace apart, Cantona was a superb example of a premier footballer.

    His goal against Sunderland at Old Trafford in 1996 summed him up perfectly.

    A superb interchange of passes with Brian McClair and a beautiful chip over the stranded Sunderland goalkeeper, followed by an audavious celebration.

    Cantona stood there without reacting, chest out, looked around the stadium and raised his arms in triumph.