Ranking the 50 Best Player Seasons in Soccer History
Football is a team sport. However, without the great individuals of the game, there is no doubt that many of the greatest club seasons in the world would not be possible.
From goal-scoring strikers and assisting midfielders to stone-cold defenders and goalkeepers, they all have had their moments in the sun.
With that thought in mind, we pay tribute to the best individual performances to conserve throughout the multiple elite ages.
Telmo Zarra 1950-51
Athletic Bilbao legend Telmo Zarra held the single-season goal-scoring record for decades in Spain.
During the 1950-51 campaign, the Basque native scored 38 league goals and 46 in total across all competitions.
Filippo Inzaghi 2002-03
Filippo Inzaghi had a host of amazing seasons during his long and successful career.
However, his best season ever was in 2002-03—when he returned 30 goals in all competitions.
Real Madrid and Spanish legend Raul rose to the occasion in 2000-01, scoring 32 goals in 50 appearances for the Whites.
Despite his best season being over a decade ago, he continues to prolong his career with more success now with Al Sadd in Qatar.
Marco Van Basten 1986-87
In his last year with Dutch Eredivisie side Ajax Amsterdam, Marco van Basten scored 45 goals in 44 appearances.
The talented Netherlands striker would move on to AC Milan and continue his success, but never reached those goal-scoring heights again.
Johan Cryuff 1966-67
Johan Cruyff reached the summit of his scoring abilities during his time with Ajax, when he scored 41 goals in 41 games during the 1966-67 season.
An attacking midfielder scoring that many goals had truly been unheard of until the days of the Dutch master.
Robin Van Persie 2011-12
Former Arsenal striker Robin van Persie (now with Manchester United) hit the prime of his career in his 2011-12 campaign for the Gunners.
The then-28-year-old striker scored 37 goals in 48 appearances for the club, but it still wasn't enough to get Arsenal to the summit of the English Premier League.
Fernando Torres 2007-08
Chelsea striker Fernando Torres has a great history of scoring goals. Unfortunately for his current club, that history came and apparently stayed at Liverpool.
His debut campaign in the English Premier League in 2007-08 saw the young Spanish hitman score 33 goals in 46 games.
Wayne Rooney 2009-10
Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney still has many years left, but he may have made his most masterful one the 2009-10 campaign for the Red Devils.
The Liverpool-born forward scored 34 goals in 44 games to nearly lead his club to another title.
Radamel Falcao 2010-11
Although last season was outstanding for the Colombian international at Atletico Madrid, his previous campaign at FC Porto in 2010-11 was even more impressive.
Falcao notched 38 goals in 42 appearances for the Dragons and earned his massive move to Spain, where he is once again threatening to have a huge season this year.
Gunnar Nordahl 1950-51
Swedish and AC Milan legend Gunnar Nordahl still holds the record for the most goals in a single season for the Milanese Reds.
He scored 38 across all competitions for the club as they went on to claim the Serie A title in 1950-51.
Didier Drogba 2009-10
Former Chelsea striker and Blues legend Didier Drogba was known for his ability to send his club to another level on the pitch.
He was also capable of doing that with own skills—as he did in 2009-10, when he scored 37 goals and provided 12 assists in 42 games en route to an English Premier League title.
Alan Shearer 1994-95
Although he is loved and remembered the most fondly as a magpie of Newcastle United, Alan Shearer's greatest season came away from St. James' Park.
Playing for the Blackburn Rovers during the 1994-95 English Premier League season, Shearer scored 37 goals in 49 total matches for the greatest haul in his history.
Giuseppe Meazza 1929-30
The namesake of the San Siro himself lit up the stadium that now bears his name during the 1929-30 campaign for Inter Milan, scoring 31 total goals in 40 showings for the club.
Gordan Banks 1966
Rated as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, English national Gordon Banks helped his country to the 1966 World Cup trophy as well as the British Home Championship.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink 1999-2000
Dutch attacker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had one of the greatest one-and-done careers that Spain has ever seen, as he scored 35 goals in 47 appearances for Atletico Madrid in his only season in La Liga.
Francesco Totti 2006-07
AS Roma and Italian international centre-forward Francesco Totti had his career year in 2006-07, scoring 32 goals in 50 matches across all competitions for the Wolves.
He remains the most complete centre-forward to have ever player for the eternal cities.
The wall of Kahn is still perhaps the greatest German goalkeeper that may ever have been. During the early 2000s there was no one better.
His greatest season was 2000-01. He was a a finalist for the Ballon d'Or and the German footballer of the year. He also led Bayern Munich to the Bundesliga title and the pinnacle of European football—winning the UEFA Champions League.
Michael Owen 2000-01
Michael Owen may be loathed by many a Liverpool fan or his time at Manchester United and for leaving the club at his peak in general, but his Ballon d'Or winning-season of 2000-01 is one of the best in history.
Owen scored 24 goals in 46 matches, but his overall play as the true second striker was a marvel for the world to watch.
Roberto Baggio 1992-93
Italian attacking master Roberto Baggio took Serie A and Europe by storm in 1992-93, scoring 30 goals in 43 games for Juventus and lifting the Ballon d'Or.
Jean-Pierre Papin 1991-92
Jean-Pierre Papin made his career at Marseille. During his six years at the club, he enjoyed great success, but none better than the 1991-92 campaign that included 36 goals in 50 games and the 1991 Ballon d'Or.
Zinedine Zidane 1997-98
French international midfielder Zinedine Zidane was the example of class during the 1997-98 campaign of Juventus.
Zidane led the Italian club to the Serie A title as well as another UEFA Champions League title for the club.
Luis Figo 2000
It is interesting that, in the best overall calendar year of his career, Luis Figo split time between the two sides of arguably the world's most fierce rivalry.
Figo moved from Barcelona to Real Madrid in the summer of 2000, but his calendar-year performance would see him lift the Ballon d'Or.
Thierry Henry 2003-04
In the 2003-04 campaign, not only did Thierry Henry score 39 goals and assist another 14, he was part of Arsenal's "Invincibles"—who finished the English Premier League undefeated for the first time since 1889, when Preston North End became the first club to ever do so.
Pavel Nedved 2003
Only one player was better than Arsenal's Thierry Henry in the eyes of the European voting-rights holders during 2003, and that was Juventus midfielder Pavel Nedved.
The players' only frustration was a failed attempt to win the UEFA Champions League.
Brazilian-born Ronaldo had several amazing seasons in his career, but his one and only season at Barcelona stands out with 47 goals in 51 appearances for the Catalan giants.
Ruud Gullit 1986-87
Ruud Gullit is another player that had one of the greatest seasons in history while in the Dutch Eredivisie.
During the 1986-86 season with PSV Eindhoven, Gullit scored 28 goals in 37 appearances, set up many other chances for his teammates and also took home the Ballon d'Or.
Oleg Blokhin 1975
Dynamo Kyiv legend Oleg Blokhin had great seasons in 1973 and 1974. However, his masterful class came to fruition in 1975 when he helped to lead his side to the UEFA Super Cup.
Michel Platini 1984-85
Michel Platini is the only player to have won three successive Ballon d'Or trophies. However, his 1984-85 season stood out, as he led the Old Lady to the European cup.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge 1980-81
German forward Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is one of only a handful of players to have won consecutive European Footballer of the Year trophies.
During the 1980-81 campaign, he reached the height of his goal-scoring accolades with 39 goals in 45 matches.
Franz Beckenbauer 1972
Franz Beckenbauer helped to lead Bayern Munich to back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 1972-73, but it was his desire to score from the back that also helped to spur his team on.
The German international scored 15 goals during the 1972 calendar year, a remarkable achievement for a defender.
Sir Bobby Charlton 1966
There is only one Bobby Charlton. Arguably the greatest player in the history of Manchester United, the English midfielder won the 1966 Ballon d'Or as well as the 1966 World Cup .
Lothar Matthaus 1990-91
German international Lothar Matthaus is one of the most prolific midfielders/defenders to have ever played.
Not only did he win the 1990 Ballon d'Or, he also would score 23 goals in 46 appearances for Inter Milan during the ensuing league campaign.
Kenny Dalglish 1982-83
Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish was at the top of his game during the 1982-83 season. He was the runner up for the Ballon d'Or, second only to Juventus' Michel Platini, who was on his way to three straight European Footballer of the Year awards.
Additionally, he was the PFA Player of the Year for England and scored 20 goals in 57 games for the Reds while creating many more for Ian Rush and those around him.
Sir Stanley Matthews 1955-56
Sir Stanley Matthews still reverberates as one of the greatest Englishmen to ever play the game. In 1955-56, he became the first player to be awarded the now-famous Ballon d'Or as the European footballer of the year.
Beyond the fact that he will forever keep Blackpool in folklore because of winning the first European individual player trophy for the club, it is of importance that he achieved the award during the 20th season of his career.
Kevin Keegan 1978-79
Kevin Keegan won back-to-back Ballon d'Or awards in 1978 and 1979, but the second one came at the height of his career in Germany with HSV Hamburg as a second striker.
He scored 17 goals in 35 appearances while leading the club to only the fourth German title in their history.
Geroge Camsell 1926-27
George Camsell is without a doubt one of Middlesbrough's greatest forwards in history.
He proved that during the 1926-27 season, when he set the English record for nine hat-tricks in a single campaign.
Louis Van Hege 1914-15
Louis Van Hege is still regarded as one of the greatest Belgians to pull on a kit.
His 1914-15 campaign with AC Milan saw him score 22 goals in 20 games, as the early days of football in Italy were still seeing the true stars rise to the hierarchy of the sport.
Ian Rush 1983-84
Liverpool will forever be in debt to Ian Rush for the phenomenal season he put in for the Reds during the 1983-84 campaign.
Rush scored 47 goals in 65 appearances for the club, as the Reds rose to the top of the English First Division as well as the top of European football.
Lev Yashin 1962-63
Legendary Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin broke the mold for his position in the 1962-63 season, becoming the only keeper to ever be awarded the Ballon d'Or.
He also was named the European Footballer of the Year for his contributions to both his club and the USSR national team.
Long time Brazilian and Santos legend Pele was making waves on the South American side of football while all eyes were on Europe.
In the absence of worldwide acclaim, Pele scored 66 goals in all competitions in 1958.
Alessandro Del Piero 1997-98
The one time that Italian and Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero broke 30 goals in a season was during 1997-98.
His 32 goals in 47 games are the best he has seen in his career and helped to lead the Old Lady to a second straight Serie A title.
Portuguese international striker Eusebio took the Portuguese Primeira Liga by storm in 1967-68 when he scored 50 goals in just 35 games for Benfica.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy 2002-03
Netherlands international striker Ruud van Nistelrooy had already made a name for himself at PSV Eindhoven before moving to the English Premier League.
There he would lead the line for Manchester United and, in the process, have the greatest season of his career with 44 goals in 2002-03.
Andriy Shevchenko 2000-01
AC Milan, Dynamo Kiev and Ukrainian legend Andriy Shevchenko announced his goal-scoring ability during the 2000-01 Serie A campaign, scoring 34 goals in 51 games for the Red Devils.
Ferenc Puskas 1959-60
Hungarian striking legend Ferenc Puskas dazzled the world with his 47-goal display in 36 appearances for Real Madrid during the 1959-60 season.
Alfredo Di Stefano 1956-57
Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano scored 43 goals in 43 appearances for the club during the 1956-57 campaign.
The famous South American remains one of the greatest in the history of the game.
Dixie Dean 1927-28
Everton legend Dixie Dean scored 60 goals in a single season during the 1927-28 campaign with the Toffees.
It was only in the early stage of his career, but it is a milestone yet to be broken in the English top flight.
Cristiano Ronaldo 2011-12
If there is one player who could have one-upped Cristiano Ronaldo's 2011-12 season, it was his biggest rival, Lionel Messi.
Ronaldo had the season of his life last year, scoring 46 Spanish La Liga goals and a total of 60 in all competitions.
However, it still was not enough to be the greatest goal scorer's season.
Gerd Muller 1972-73
Bayern Munich and German international legend Gerd Muller took the cake with his masterful performance in the 1972-73 season.
The German scored 67 goals in all competitions across 49 appearances.
Lionel Messi 2011-12
During the 2011-12 season Lionel Messi scored 73 goals for Barcelona in all competitions, breaking the Spanish single-season record.
Thirty-five of his goals were scored at the Nou Camp, another record. Additionally, he also broke the Spanish record for hat-tricks in a single campaign, with eight.