Ranking the best soccer players all time


One of the greatest debates among football fans is who has been the best player ever. The arguments will continue to rage on because there is no definitive answer, because of the changing nature of the game, and the fact that it is impossible to compare players from one era with another. 


However, in any conversation, there are a handful of players who will inevitably get mentioned. Alfredo dí Stéfano, Johan Cruyff, George Best and Ferenc Puskás are amongst those in the conversation, but there are four names often cited the most.




Pelé recently died at the age of 82, and his passing saw Brazil announce national mourning for three days, whilst his body lay in state. In fact, the grief was worldwide for a man many consider the finest of all time.


The only man to have won the World Cup three times, he had made his debut aged just 15 for Santos, the club he would play for almost his entire career. Within a year he was in the Brazil national team, and they took him to the World Cup in Sweden in 1958 as a 17 year old, where she scored six goals in the knock-out phases, including two in the final against the hosts, as Brazil won the trophy for the first time.


In 1962, he was part of the Brazil team that retained the title, although he was injured early in the tournament, and was kicked out of the World Cup in 1966. He returned in triumph four years later, part of one of the best international sides ever, and not only did he score in the final against Italy, but he also graced the tournament with some audacious individual moments of skill.


With Santos he won back to back Copa Libertadores – South America’s equivalent of the Champions League – and they arguably would have won more had they not chosen to go on lucrative European exhibition tours instead, with Pelé as the star attraction.

At the end of his career Pelé joined the North American Soccer League with the New York Cosmos and helped popularise the sport in the USSA.


He scored well over 1,000 goals in his career, although the exact number is disputed.

Even after he had retired from football, Pelé was immensely popular the world over as a global ambassador for the sport, and could still attract crowds wherever he went.

He was also an ambassador for the 2014 World Cup which Brazil hosted.


Diego Maradona


Another man whose death led to a state funeral, this time in Argentina, was Diego Maradona.

An advanced playmaker gifted with exceptional vision, dribbling ability and ball control, he had an eye for goal and for the unexpected, and was a free-kick specialist.


Twice the subject of world record transfer fees, he enjoyed his greatest club success playing for Napoli, helping them win the Scudetto for the first (and subsequently second time in their history).

He played in four World Cups with Argentina, and, in 1986, captained the side that won the trophy.


His two goals in their quarter-final with England that year emphasised the dual nature of his character. The first was a blatant hand-ball to put his side ahead, the second was brilliant mazy dribble from the halfway team in which he beat half the England team.

It was later voted in a poll as the best goal of the 20th century.

His troubled private life impinged on his football career, and he was thrown out of the 1994 World Cup after failing a drugs test.


Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

A compatriot of Maradona, Messi has just helped Argentina lift the World Cup, where he was named winner of the Golden Boot, and finished second in the scoring charts behind Kylian Mbappé.


That helped complete a trophy cabinet that had seem him win almost every domestic honour possible in his time with Barcelona, whilst he has won the Ballon d’Or a record seven times.

He has also scored more goals in a single season than any other player (73), whilst he holds the record for the most goals in a calendar year (91).


At one stage it looked like he was destined to spend his entire domestic career with Barcelona, until their financial problems meant they could not honour the contract they had promised him.

International success, though, had come comparatively late in life. He was a beaten finalist in the 2014 World Cup final and had three times been on the losing side in Copa América finals.


However, finally they beat Brazil on penalties to win the 2021 Copa América, and, now that he has won the World Cup as well, he may feel that his legacy is now complete.

However, although he will not play in the next World Cup, he will continue to play international football for a while because he wants to enjoy the feeling of being a champion.

And he has also decided to renew his contract with PSG.


Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal

For long periods the careers of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi were intertwined, especially when they were both playing in La Liga together for Real Madrid and Barcelona.


Ronaldo is a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, who won the Champions League once with Manchester United, and four times more wearing a Madrid shirt. He is the record goalscorer in international football, and the highest scorer in the history of the Champions League.


He also helped Portugal win international honours for the first time in their history, clinching the Euros in 2016, and the inaugural Nations League three years later.

Whilst for many years the debate raged as to who was the better of the tour, the events of the last few months of 2022 appeared to tilt the balance heavily in favour of the Argentine.


Whilst Messi was busy winning the Golden Ball and lifting the World Cup with Argentina, Ronaldo was tarnishing his legacy at Manchester United after giving an explosive interview to a TV journalist, and had been dropped by his national team manager after showing dissent after being substituted.


Whilst joining Saudi club Al-Nassr will do wonders for his bank balance, in truth no major European club were prepared to take him.