In putting together my top five soccer players of all-time my only criteria was that the player had to be retired. That is why someone like Ronaldinho or Messi are not on the list.
The players are in order of who I think was the best.
Known simply as The King, Brazilian legend Pele represented the beautiful game at its best. He took the 1958 FIFA World Cup by storm aged 17, and with his enduring brilliance, did it all over again two decades later in 1970. Pele won three World Cups and scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 games.
In his four World Cup appearances Brazil went 12-1-1. Pelé is rated by many as the greatest footballer of all time. Pelé played as an inside forward, striker, and what later became known as the playmaker position.
Pelé’s technique and natural athleticism have been universally praised; he was renowned for his unstoppable dribbling and visionary passing, as well as his pace, powerful shot, and an exceptional heading ability, but above all he was an exceptionally prolific goalscorer.
He is the all-time top scorer in the history of the Brazil national team and is the only footballer to be a part of three World Cup-winning teams. It should be noted that though he was named part of the 1962 squad, he was injured and did not receive a winner’s medal. During November 2007, FIFA announced that he would however be awarded the 1962 medal, making him the only player in the world to have three World Cup gold medals.
When I saw Pele play it was in the NASL, when he was past his prime, but it was still a thrill to see the greatest player ever live.
George Best was simply the greatest player to have ever come from Britain. I once read a quote attributed to Pele, that said if Best had been born ugly that you would never have heard about me. In a painfully short career Best was named the European Footballer of the Year in 1968 when he led Manchester United to its first European Cup victory.
Best was a winger whose game combined pace, acceleration, balance, two-footedness, goalscoring and the ability to beat defenders. In his native Northern Ireland the admiration for him is summed up by the local saying: “Maradona good; Pelé better.”
100,000 people turned out on a rainy day for his funeral in East Belfast.
I was lucky enough to see Best several times in his prime when he played with Man Utd. He was by far the most exciting player I have ever seen play.
To some Maradona is the best player ever to come from Latin America. With Argentina Maradona won the world cup in 1986 and was a runner-up in 1990. Maradona’s second goal against England in the 1986 FIFA World Cup was voted "Goal of the Century" in a poll of FIFAworldcup.com users. His first goal “The Hand of God” will never be forgotten by England supporters.
Maradona won many trophies with Boca Juniors, FC Barcelona and SSC Napoli over the course of his career. During an international career that included 91 caps and 34 goals, he played in four FIFA World Cup tournaments, leading the Argentina national team to its victory over West Germany in 1986 World Cup, in which he collected the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player.
His second goal against England in the quarter-finals of the 1986 tournament—a spectacular 60-meter weave through six England players—is commonly referred to as “The Goal of the Century” or, in Argentina, “The Cosmic Kite” (Spanish: El barrilete cósmico).
I saw Maradona play in the 1994 World Cup in Boston before he got thrown out of the tournament for failing a drug test.
A three-time European Footballer of the Year, Johan Cruyff was brains and beauty rolled into one. His vision and masterful technique made him the perfect leader for the Netherlands’ "Total Football" generation who thrilled the watching world at Germany 1974 when Holland finished runners-up to Germany. He won the European Cup three times (1971, 1972, 1973).
Johan Cruff was the most famous exponent of the football philosophy known as Total Football, developed by Rinus Michels. After his retirement from playing in 1984, Cruyff became highly successful as manager of Ajax and later FC Barcelona; he remains an influential advisor to both clubs.
In 1999, Cruff was voted European Player of the Century in an election held by the IFFHS, and came second, behind Pelé in their World Player of the Century poll. He came third, behind Pelé and Diego Maradona, in a vote organised by the French weekly magazine France Football consulting their former Ballon d’Or winners to elect their Football Player of the Century.
Cruyff was someone else that I saw play in the NASL. However, growing pup in Europe I was able to watch Cruyff on TV in the early 1970’s when he was in his prime.
Beckenbauer was the best defender in history and he led Bayern Munich to three European Cup’s (1974, 1975, 1976). He was a versatile player, who started out as midfielder but adapted to different roles on the pitch, and he is often credited as having invented the role of the modern sweeper or libero.
Twice selected the European Footballer of the Year, he appeared 103 times for West Germany and played in three World Cups. He lifted the World Cup trophy as captain in 1974, and repeated the feat as a manager in 1990.
With Bayern Munich, he won three consecutive European Cups from 1974 to 1976, and the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1967.
I saw Beckenbauer play for Bayern Munich in the early 1970’s when he was at his prime, as well as when he later played in the NASL.
Others that I considered but did make the list were Zidane, Stanley Matthews, Bobby Charlton, and Puskás.