World Soccer: The 25 Biggest Winners in Football History
Many great teams, coaches, and players have won countless medals and trophies, but many other greats have not been able to do so. This list compiles one opinion of the 25 biggest winners in football history, and I welcome others' opinions!
Unfortunately, there was not enough room to include women, club or national teams, younger players, or goalkeepers. I chose to not include any active player under 27 because although he might be great now people may look at him differently at the end of his career.
The main criteria I used for determining this list is quantity and quality of success at both club and international level.
These few are great, but they did not quite make the cut:
- Bobby Charlton
- Ruud Gullit
- Dennis Bergkamp
- Bob Paisley
- Samuel Eto’o
25: Didier Deschamps
Deschamps led France to win the World Cup in 1998 and the European Cup in 2000. Before this, he led Marseille to its only European Cup victory in 1993. Deschamps left Marseille for Juventus, where he won another European Cup in 1996.
As a manager, Deschamps coached Monaco to finish as runner-up in the Champions League in 2004. Since then, Deschamps coached Marseille to its first league title (2009-2010) in almost 20 years.
24: Alex Ferguson
Ferguson has been one of the most successful managers in football history. His early success at Aberdeen saw him win a few Scottish League Titles and a UEFA Super Cup. He took his abilities to Manchester United in 1986 and the rest is history.
Ferguson has overtaken Liverpool in terms of domestic titles, by earning 12 titles since he has been there. He has also won two UEFA Champions League titles in his 25 seasons as Manchester United manager.
23: Diego Maradona
Up until the past year or two, Maradona has been undoubtedly Argentina's best player ever. In a country that has such a rich history of football success, that is really saying something.
Messi has played superbly, and if he keeps it up, then Maradona and Messi will both be the kings of football in Argentina.
For how amazing Maradona was as a footballer, he did not win as many trophies as one would expect. He carried Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup, and almost continued that in 1990.
However, he did not win much while playing at the club level, and he has not been very successful as a coach.
Eusebio is one of the best, if not the best, Portuguese player. He led Benfica to 11 league titles, 5 domestic cups, 1 European Cup, and 3 European Cup finals.
Eusebio averaged over a goal per game during his 15 years at Benfica, so it is pretty obvious how Benfica was so dominant during his time there.
Eusebio also had a magnificent World Cup in 1966, where he was the top goal-scorer of the tournament with nine goals. He led his team to a third-place finish in the tournament.
21: Ryan Giggs
Giggs is easily the most successful player in Premier League history, and one of the most successful British players ever.
The Welsh winger has played for the first team at Manchester United since 1990. Since then, he has won 12 Premier League titles and 2 UEFA Champions League titles.
If only Giggs was English instead of Welsh! Had he played for England, then he would have had a successful international career as well.
Unfortunately, Wales just did not have enough quality pieces around him to make a significant run in any international competition.
If Giggs had played for England, his career would probably be considerably shorter because he would not have as much time to recover during the summer.
20: Marco Van Basten
Marco van Basten had a short, but very successful, career playing for Ajax and A.C. Milan. While at Ajax he won three league titles, and averaged nearly a goal per league appearance.
A.C. Milan snapped him up in 1987, where he went on to win two European Cups in his six years at Milan.
Had his career not been cut short by an ankle injury, he would have won the 1994 European Cup with Milan and would have been a more important player in the 1993 European Cup final where Milan lost to Marseille.
He will always be remembered for his brilliance during the 1988 European Championship. He led his team to win the tournament, but he was unable to replicate his form in any World Cup competition.
Injury cut his career short in 1993, and he was not able to play in the 1994 World Cup.
19: Roberto Carlos
During Carlos' 11 years with Real Madrid, he won 4 league titles and 3 UEFA Champions League titles.
Carlos did have great players around him, but it's no easy feat to make over 500 appearances for Real Madrid and hold down a starting place for over a decade.
Carlos continued his success at the international level, where he helped Brazil win the 2002 World Cup. Even with all of his success, Carlos will always be remembered for his ridiculous free kick in 1997.
18: Ferenc Puskas
The Hungarian Puskas was a truly amazing player. He led Hungary to the World Cup finals in 1954, where Hungary lost 3-2 to West Germany.
Before this, though, Puskas led Hungary to win the gold medal in the 1952 Olympics. Amazingly, he scored 84 goals in his 85 appearances for Hungary.
His heroics did not go unnoticed. Real Madrid, which was undoubtedly the powerhouse of European football during this time brought Puskas to Madrid in 1958.
He stayed there for 8 seasons and won 3 European Cups (runner-up 2 times) and won 5 straight league titles.
17: Andres Iniesta/Xavi/Carlos Puyol
I know it seems unfair to lump these three magnificent players together, but their paths to success have coincided so much that it would just be redundant to separate them.
These three have surged to the highest level of success for both club and country, and there is no sign of them slowing down.
Since 2004, these players have turned Barcelona into a great team that has always rivaled Real Madrid for titles into becoming one of the best teams ever in their own right.
They have won five league titles and three Champions League titles over the past seven seasons.
These three have been able to repeat this success at the international level too. They led Spain to win the European Championship in 2008 before winning Spain's first World Cup in 2010. These three have been truly spectacular.
Zito and Garrincha played an important part of Brazil's success in the 1950's and 60's. Both won the 1958 and 1962 World Cups, but they missed out on the victories in 1950 and 1970.
While they linked up at the international level, they both had long spells for different Brazilian teams.
These two clubs were great during this time, but Santos is a regional powerhouse in Sao Paulo while Botafogo is a powerhouse in Rio de Janeiro. These two clubs met a few times during the early 1960's and exchanged titles.
15: Jose Mourinho
To be called 'The Special One' and actually live up to that reputation really means something. Mourinho certainly has not disappointed over his magnificent career as a football coach.
He has succeeded in Portugal, England, Italy, and Spain. His unbelievable streak of winning home league matches is enough to make any coach jealous, but couple that with his domestic and European success, and you have one of the greatest coaches ever.
He broke onto the scene with his heroics at Porto, before moving onto a new challenge with Chelsea. He put Chelsea on the map, but Abromovich is so desperate to win the Champions League that he let Mourinho go after he did not win it in his few seasons there.
Mourinho moved onto Inter Milan where his squad completely dominated Italy and finally won the Champions League.
He moved onto Real Madrid in 2010, and he already won the domestic cup in Spain. Mourinho is creating a team that will finally challenge Barcelona.
Cafu has played for clubs from all around the world, but he has succeeded everywhere. He won a number of trophies while in Brazil playing for Sao Paulo.
He made his move to Europe after a very successful year in 1994. After a few brief stints (one of which taking him back to Brazil) at a few clubs he ended up at Roma.
He only won one Serie A title while playing for Roma, but A.C. Milan saw his talent and snapped him up in 2003. Two years later he finished as a runner-up in the Champions League final to Liverpool, but he and A.C. Milan got their revenge two years after that by winning the Champions League over Liverpool.
Cafu's success at the club level pales in comparison to his two World Cup medals for Brazil (1994 and 2002). He was the only player who played in both finals.
13: Pep Guardiola
Guardiola is one the rare footballers who has been very successful as a player and a manager. He won six league titles and one European Cup in his 11 years as a player for Barcelona. After leaving in 2001, he returned back to Barcelona as a coach in 2007.
Guardiola started by coaching Barcelona's B team, but only one year later he took over as first-team coach. In three years Guardiola has already won three league titles and two UEFA Champions League titles.
He could quit right now, and he would already go down as an amazing coach, but at only 40, he has so many years of great coaching ahead of him.
12: Lothar Matthaus
Matthaus had an incredibly long and successful career as a footballer. He played at the top level for both club and country for 20 years.
He is the only outfield player to play in 5 World Cups, where he won once and finished as runner-up twice. Matthaus also helped Germany to win the 1980 European Championship.
Matthaus had a successful spell at Inter Milan, which was sandwiched between two immensely successful stints at Bayern Munich. He won one league title with Inter, but he won 7 league titles with Bayern. He also finished runner-up twice in the UEFA Champions League.
He was very unlucky to lose the 1999 final against Manchester United, where United scored two very late goals after Matthaus was substituted off the field.
Still, the amount he accomplished over his career as well as his individual awards (1990 Ballon d'Or and 1991 FIFA World Player of the Year) ensure he is one of the biggest winners in football history.
11: Michel Platini
Platini won nearly every individual and team award as a player. The only one that escaped him was winning the World Cup. He did lead his team to a European Championship victory, though.
At the club level, Platini led St. Etienne to a league title before leaving for Juventus, where was very successful. He had an immediate impact at Juventus, leading them to a runner-up finish for the European Cup. Two seasons later, he led them to win the European Cup, though.
Unfortunately, the horrible events at Heysel Stadium distracted from Platini's winning goal. Platini went on to win two league titles with Juventus. He also won three straight Ballon d'Or trophies from 1983-85.
Platini has gone on to become a very influential figure in football. He is currently the UEFA President.
10: Zinedine Zidane
Easily one the best players of his generation, and arguably one of the best players ever Zidane has won about every award a footballer could win. He is one of the most iconic and enigmatic players ever.
From breaking the world transfer record to nearly breaking Materazzi's sternum, there are so many legendary stories surrounding Zidane.
Zidane had a spectacular club career with two successful spells at Juventus and Real Madrid. He won three league titles and 3 UEFA Champions League trophies while at those two clubs.
At the same time, he won the World Cup for France in 1998 (finishing runner-up in 2006) and the European Championship in 2000.
Since his retirement from football, Zidane has worked diligently at Real Madrid, and I would not be surprised to see him either become a manager or follow in Platini's steps to become an football administrator.
9: Gerd Muller
Prolific goal-scorer is the best way to describe Muller. He still holds many domestic and international goal-scoring records that he set over 30 years ago.
One of his most amazing accomplishments was scoring 68 international goals for Germany in only 62 appearances. On the international level, he helped guide Germany to a European Championship in 1972 and a World Cup victory in 1974.
Muller teamed up with Franz Beckenbauer and Sepp Maier to bring Bayern Munich three European Cup titles in three seasons (1974-76). In addition, Muller helped Munich win four league titles during Bayern's golden era.
8: Paco Gento
One of Real Madrid's early legends, Gento teamed up with Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo di Stefano to establish Madrid as the best team in Europe during the 1950s.
Gento won an amazing six European Cups, while also finishing as runner-up in two more! Real Madrid won 12 league titles during his 18 years at the club.
Unfortunately, Gento was not quite able to transfer his club success when playing for Spain. He did not win any major championships at the national level, but he did make over 40 appearances for Spain.
7: Kenny Dalglish
Isn't it fitting at Dalglish ended up at 7? Liverpool's iconic No. 7 led the Reds to new levels of success during his time playing, playing/coaching, and just coaching for the club.
Like many of the top players on this list, Dalglish is almost entirely tied to one club, Liverpool. As a player, he won four league titles with Celtic before moving to Liverpool, where he won six more league titles and 3 European Cups.
As a manager Dalglish has won three more league titles with Liverpool and Blackburn. Dalglish took a 10-year break from coaching before returning to Liverpool in 2011.
He has been with Liverpool through some of the best and some of the worst times. His return in 2011 saw a struggling side turn everything around and show signs of being a title contender once again.
6: Alfredo Di Stefano
Like Gento, di Stefano is a true Real Madrid legend. Although he has one fewer European Cup victory than Gento, I think 5 is still pretty good (by the way they were consecutive victories).
He won 8 league titles with Real, but before this he had already won 2 league titles with River Plate and 3 league titles with Millonarios (Colombia).
While di Stefano travelled to play for different clubs he also played for three different national teams: Argentina, Colombia, and Spain.
While at Real Madrid, di Stefano won 2 Ballon d'Or trophies (1957, 1959). After he retired from playing football, di Stefano went on to have a successful coaching career.
He managed both Boca Juniors and River Plate to league titles before coaching Valencia to another league title.
5: Paolo Maldini
The heart and soul of A.C. Milan. Maldini played for Milan for nearly 25 years. During his time there, he helped Milan win 7 league titles and 5 UEFA Champions League trophies. Maldini helped Milan reach another three Champions League finals.
Maldini's international career was successful, but his 16-year spell with Italy fell in between Italy's World Cup victories in 1982 and 2006.
Had Maldini not retired after the 2002 World Cup, he would have most likely captained his side to victory in 2006. Maldini was captain of Italy for over half of his 16 years playing for the Azzurri.
'Il Fenomeno' played for four of the most successful clubs in the world: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, and A.C. Milan. It isn't common for players to play for rival teams, let alone twice.
He collected many individual awards such as FIFA World Player of the Year in 1996, 1997, and 2002. He also won the Ballon d'Or in 1997 and 2002.
Ronaldo's success at the international level is what makes him truly great. He is currently the all-time leading goal-scorer in the World Cup with 15 goals.
Ronaldo also played for Brazil when it won the 1994 and 2002 World Cups.
3: Franz Beckenbauer
Beckenbauer played for Bayern Munich for 13 seasons, and during his time there he was extremely successful. He was voted European Footballer of the Year two times (1972, 1976) and he won 3 European Cups.
He also won 4 league titles with Bayern, one with Hamburg, and 3 with the New York Cosmos. Beckenbauer also helped Germany to win a European Championship (1972) and a World Cup (1974).
As a manager, he guided Germany to another World Cup victory (1990) and two league titles. Since then, Beckenbauer has gone on to become an extremely influential figure for Bayern Munich and German football in general.
Pele had a magnificent career playing for Santos, Brazil and briefly the New York Cosmos. He has made an immense contribution to football since his retirement, but even while he was playing, he was amazing.
He helped Santos win 2 Copa Libertadores (1962, 1963) while also helping Santos to win 10 league titles.
Most significantly, Pele helped Brazil win 3 World Cups (1958, 1962, 1970). He is the only player to ever accomplish this feat, and combined with his club success, he is certainly one of the greatest footballers ever. Instead of ever coaching, Pele has been an ambassador to the game.
He has made incredible contributions to football ever since his retirement, but not in the form of trophies, which is why he is not No. 1.
1: Johan Cruyff
The master of 'Total Football,' Cruyff has had massive impact on football since he first broke onto the scene in 1964. He led his team to eight league titles with Ajax while also winning 3 consecutive European Cups from 1971-73.
Cruyff's contributions solidified Ajax as an international powerhouse. Afterwards, Cruyff moved to Barcelona where he won one league title, and he finished his playing career by winning one more league title with Feyenoord.
Cruyff was not finished with football though. He took over as manager of Ajax in 1985, but only spent three years there. His impact was felt though.
Cruyff coached Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten, while also bringing Dennis Bergkamp into the first team. These three have gone on to become Dutch football legends.
Cuyff then left to coach Barcelona for 8 seasons. During this time he won 4 league titles and one European Cup, but he made much more of an impact than that. He established one of the finest academies in the world, and coached Pep Guardiola during his time at Barcelona.
Guardiola has taken the reins from Cruyff with respect to "tiki-taka" football, which has been used by Barcelona to dominate the past few seasons and by Spain to help win the European Championship in 2008 and later the World Cup in 2010.
Cruyff's success as a player and a coach cannot simply be measured by his trophies (although that alone would put him in contention for one of the best ever), but Cruyff's contribution to the game can be seen through much of Barcelona and Spain's success today.