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Europe’s Greatest Footballers of All Time

Europe's Greatest Footballers Ever
Europe’s Greatest Footballers Ever

We assess individual footballers through the prism of our standards and perceptions of what we want a footballer to be able to do; what skills they should possess and what they look like. ‘What they look like’ represents not just their physical attributes, but significantly, the race and nationality of footballers play a key part in how we assess them and whether we identify with them or not.

In compiling our list of greats, we have taken into account attributes that we believe are fundamental to being a good footballer and those facts that place a footballer above his peers. Of course there are other useful qualities such as a player’s commitment and teamwork, and some footballers and commentators even talk about qualities like ‘being lethal in the box’, ‘being a great finisher’, ‘having a footballing brain’ or being a great leader/motivator on the field; but these qualities do not make a player great.

Furthermore, so-called ‘poachers’ – strikers who have the uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time may be prolific scorers, but in our books are not great footballers. Such qualities are just fractions and elements of the greater attributes that are necessary for a footballer to be called great.

Note that there are 4 classes of footballers: the journeymen; the good; the world class; and the great. And being world class does not mean you are a great footballer.

You want the complete (or almost complete) package in a footballer; having all or most of the attributes listed below, which we believe make an individual player great. They are attributes that turn a game around or win matches just through the individual brilliance of a player:

1. Ball control and poise on the ball

2. Ability to dribble or get around and past opponents

3. Vision and passing ability

4. Shooting ability and quality of freekicks and other deadball situations

5. Played in World Cup or continental championships – UEFA European Championship and Champions League

6. As a striker; goal-scoring statistics and ability to create chances for himself and others

7. As an attacking player; ability to create space, make effective forward passes and score goals

8. As a defensive player; effectiveness in defending and distributing the ball

9. As a goalkeeper; decision-making and ability to make saves

The list is in alphabetical order:

BULGARIA

Hristo Stoichkov


Born 08/02/1966 in Plovdiv in Bulgaria; was a creative an highly skillful and technically gifted forward player. He was primarily a midfielder but mostly played as a creative second striker. He was able to drop deep to pick up the ball and with grerat bursts of speed he would dribble and go past opponents, make incisive passes, and unleash powerful shots at goal with his left foot. Ballon d’Or European Player of the Year 1994.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Pavel Nedvěd


B
orn 30/08/1972 in Cheb in then Czechoslovakia; was a fine example of the complete package. He was a two-footed midfielder and could play centrally as a playmaker, on the left side as well as on the right of midfield. His also had great defensive capabilities and worked tirelessly for his teams. Could shoot and score from great distances and scored several goals for club and country. Ballon d’Or European Player of the Year 2003

DENMARK

Brian Laudrup


Born 22/02/1969 in Vienna in Austria and brother of Michael Laudrop; winger, had amazing poise and ball control, and he definitely one of best dribblers Europe has produced. He was a very creative player who loved to take on opponents at speed before making incisive passes to other team mates. UEFA European Championship 1992 winners’ medal and FIFA Confederations Cup 1995 winners’ medal.

Michael Laudrup


Born 15/06/1964 in Frederiksberg in Denmark and brother of Brian Laudrop; midfielder known for his ball control and technical ability, as well as dribbling and passing abilities, making him one of the best play-makers of his generation. UEFA European Championship 1992 winners’ medal and FIFA Confederations Cup 1995 winners’ medal.

Peter Schmeichel (Peter Bolesław Schmeichel)


Born 18/11/1963 in Gladsaxe in Denmark; was voted the world’s best goalkeeper two years in a row in 1992 and 1993. UEFA European Championship winners’ medal in 1992 and FIFA Confederations Cup winners’ medal in 1995, as well as UEFA Champions League winners’ medal in 1999 with Manchester United.

ENGLAND

Gordon Banks


Born 30/12/1937 in Sheffield in England, UK; voted the 2nd best goalkeeper of the 20th Century behind Lev Yashin by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics. He was named Fotball Writers Association Footballer of the Year in 1972, and was named FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year on six occasions. FIFA World Cup winners’ medal in 1966.

Bobby Charlton


Born 11/10/1937 in Ashington in England, UK; midfielder who worked tirelessly and known for his passing ability as well as attacking instincts. He could shoot from long range and he core several goals for England as well as his club Manchester United. FIFA World Cup winners’ medal in 1966.

Stanley Matthews


Born 01/02/1915 in Stoke-on-Trent in England, UK was known for his great dribbling skills, because of that he gained the nickname “the wizard of dribble”. Matthews had a great balance and sense of timing, he could suddenly accelerate on a moment the defender would not suspect it. Pelé once described Stanley Matthews as the person who showed how football should be played.

FRANCE

Marcel Desailly


Born Odenke Abbey on 07/09/1968 in Accra in Ghana and relocated to France as a four-year-old; was a defensive midfielder and defender, arguably one of France’s best defenders ever, nicknamed the ‘The Rock’ for his solid performances in defence and leadership on the pitch. He was very astute at reading the game, was very confident and comfortable on the ball and was known for his stamina and powerful runs with the ball. World Cup 1998 winners’ medal, UEFA European Championship 2000 winners’ medal, FIFA Confederations Cup 2001, 2003 winners’ medals, UEFA Champions League winners medal 1994, and league titles.

Just Fontaine


Born 18/08/1933 in Marrakech in Morocco; striker, best known for being the record holder for most goals scored in a single edition of the FIFA World Cup, with 13 in six games in 1958 winning FIFA’s World Cup Golden Boot, and he is one of the Worl Cup’s all-time leading scorers, was European Cup Top Goalscorer 1958-59, French Division 1 Top Goalscorer 1957-58 and 1959-60. He scored career total of 259 goals in 283 appearances.

Thierry Henry


Born 17/08/1977 in Les Ulis in France; striker, known for his preference to operate primarily outside the box, usually from the wings, had considerable speed, balance and dribbling ability that allowed him to run at opponents and go past them with ease. Was technically gifted and a prolific in the English League and was all-time top scorer for Arsenal. He has a World Cup 1998 winners’ medal, UEFA European Championship 2000 winners’ medal, FIFA Confederations Cup 2003 winners’ medal, UEFA Champions League winners medal 2009, and league titles.

Raymond Kopa


Born 13/10/1931 in Nœux-les-Mines in France; midfielder and playmaker, fast skillful, with great dribbling ability and he scored several goals for France and his club. Won the Ballon d’Or European Footballer of the Year 1958.

Michel Platini

 


Born 21/06/1955 in Jœuf in France; midfielder, versatile playmaker known for his control, technical ability, and vision, regarded as one of the best passers in football history, and one of the best penalty kick and free kick specialists. Primarily a creative midfielder, he also was a prolific goalscorer, known for his accurate finishing ability. UEFA European Championship 1984 winners’ medal, European Cup 1985 winners’ medal, European Cup Winners’ Cup 1984 winners’ medal, Intercontinental Cup 1985 winners’ medal, UEFA Super Cup 1984 winners’ medal, and league titles.

Lilian Thuram (Ruddy Lilian Thuram-Ulien)


Born 01/01/1972 in Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe;  defender, dominant, consistent and versatile, known for strength, pace, stamina, technical abilities, reading the game, marking and tackling; could play on either flank as fullback and as centreback, as well as midfield. World Cup 1998 winners’ medal, UEFA European Championship 2000 winners’ medal, FIFA Conferderations Cup 2003 winners’ medal.

Patrick Vieira


Born 23/06/1976 in Dakar in Senegal; midfielder, complete package – powerful, tenacious and aggressive, highly technical, good tackler, and a tactically intelligent midfielder, gifted with good ball skills, distribution, and vision as well as attacking instincts; was also very good in the air. World Cup 1998 winners’ medal, UEFA European Championship 2000 winners’ medal, FIFA Conferderations Cup 2001, and league titles.

Zinedine Zidane


Born in Marseille in France, Zidane probably had the best ball control ever; he was able to get out of the tightest of defensive situations with ease and finesse, sometimes using his trade mark ‘Zidane Roulette’ with a spin and turn leaving opponents standing. World Cup 1998 winners’ medal, UEFA European Championship 2000 winners’ medal, Ballon d’Or European Footballer of the Year 1998, FIFA World Player of the Year 1998, 2000, 2003, UEFA Champions League 2002 winners medal, and league titles.

GERMANY

Franz Beckenbauer


Born 11/09/1945 in Munich in Germany Beckenbauer was a versatile player, who started out as a midfielder, but made his name as a defender. He is often credited as having invented the role of the modern sweeper or libero – a defensive player who intervenes proactively in the offensive game of his team. Nicknamed Der Kaiser – The Emperor because of his elegant style, leadership and his dominance on the football pitch. FIFA World Cup 1974 winners’ medal, UEFA European Championship 1972 winners’ medal, Ballon d’Or European Footballer of the Year 1972, 1976, and league titles.

Lothar Matthäus


Born 21/03/1961 in Erlangen in then West Germany; midfielder and sweeper, versatile and complete player, known for perceptive passing, positional sense, well-timed tackling, as well as powerful shooting. Mostly played as a midfielder, but later played as a sweeper. World Cup 1990 winners’ medal, UEFA European Championship 1980, FIFA World Player of the Year 1991, and several league titles.

Uwe Seeler


Born 05/11/1936 in Hamburg in Germany; striker, gifted, powerful, and prolific,  who, among other things, known for overhead kicks, aerial ability, leadership and consistency. Scored 137 times in 239 Bundesliga games, 43 times in 72 international games for the German national team, and 21 times in 29 European club tournament games. Captained club team and national team for many years.

HUNGARY

Ferenc Puskás


Born 02/04/1927 in Budapest in Hungary; striker, he scored 84 goals in 85 international matches for Hungary and 514 goals in 529 matches in the Hungarian and Spanish leagues. He became Olympic champion in 1952 and led his nation to the final of the 1954 World Cup where he was named the tournament’s best player. He won three European Cups (1959, 1960, 1966. Olympic Champions 1952 winners’ medal and several European titles with Real Madrid.

ITALY

Roberto Baggio


Born 18/02/1967 in Caldogno in Italy; a technically gifted and creative playermaker with an eye for goal, he was known for his vision, creativity, and passing ability, but usually played as a second forward throughout his career, as he was known for scoring goals as well as creating them technically gifted, creative playmaker and a set piece specialist renowned for his curling free kicks, he scored 204 goals in 452 Serie A appearances and 27 in 56 internationals. Ballon d’Or European Footballer of the Year 1993 and FIFA World Player of the Year 1993.

Franco Baresi


Born 08/07/1960 in Travagliato in Italy; defender, complete and consistent, combining power with elegance, had pace, strength, tenacity, concentration and stamina, and effective in the air. Capable of playing anywhere in defence, but mostly played as centreback and as sweeper, with intelligence and vision, technique, and ball distribution skills enabling him to function as a secondary playmaker for his team, and also play as a defensive or central midfielder when necessary. FIFA World Cup 1982 winners’ medal.

Gianluigi Buffon


Born 28/01/1978 in Carrara in Italy; often considered to be the prototype for the modern goalkeeper, described as an agile, strong, and commanding shot-stopper, who is hugely experienced at the highest level and accomplished with an excellent positional sense, courage, charisma, power, and class. Praised for his leadership as Juventus’s and Italy’s captain, and has been described as a vocal organizer of the defence. FIFA World Cup 2006 winners’ medal, UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year 2002-03, UEFA Club Footballer of the Year 2002-03, and league titles.

Paolo Maldini


Born 26/06/1968 in Milan in Italy; defender, was tactically versatile and ability with both feet allowing him to play anywhere along the backline. Known for technical ability, athleticism, stamina, and fast energetic forward runs as a left-back. Also excellent crosser of the ball, and was an effective attacking threat, scoring and assisting several goals throughout his career for club and country.

Alessandro Nesta


Born 19/03/1976 in Rome in Italy; was a complete athletic and dominant defender, but was also an extremely elegant player, with excellent ball skills, vision technical and passing ability. Very quick versatile centreback sometimes deployed also as a fullback. FIFA World Cup 2006 winners’ medal.

Gianni Rivera


Born 18/08/1943 in Alessandria in Italy; was an elegant, graceful, creative, technical, and efficient offensive midfield playmaker, who possessed footballing intelligence, and class, known for his ball control, quick feet, acceleration, agility, balance, dribbling skills, and technique, which allowed him to dribble past players with ease. Highly regarded for his vision and sublime range of passing, also was an accurate finisher from both inside and outside the area. UEFA European Championship 1968 winners’ medal, Ballon d’Or European Footballer of the Year 1969.

Francesco Totti


Born 27/09/1976 in Rome in Italy; forward, mostly played as attacking-midfield playmaker, or as a supporting or deep-lying forward, behind the main striker. Later deployed as main striker by Roma but capable of playing any front-line position, is an accurate finisher and the sixth highest goal-scoring Italian in club competition, knowned for creativity and ability to provide assists for teammates. FIFA World Cup 2006 winners’ medal and club titles.

Dino Zoff


As a keeper, Zoff was particularly known for his outstanding positioning, handling, reactions, leadership, and organisational skills, as well as concentration, consistency, and calm mindset. FIFA World Cup 1982 winners’ medal, UEFA European Championship 1968.

NETHERLANDS

Marco van Basten (Marcel “Marco” Van Basten


Born 31/10/1964 in Utrecht in The Netherlands; known for technical ability, clinical finishing, spectacular goals and being good in the air, powerful and accurate shot, was capable of scoring goals with both feet from inside or outside the penalty area, and he was also an accurate penalty kick taker. Had great vision and distribution, meaning that he sometimes played in deeper positions and provide assists to his teammates. UEFA European Championship 1988 winners’ medal, Ballon d’Or European Footballer of the Year 1988, 1989, 1992, FIFA World Player of the Year 1992.

Johan Cruyff (Hendrik Johannes Cruijff)


Cruyff born in Amsterdam in The Netherlands, had great balance and poise on the ball and the ability to go past opponents with ease. His trademark move was ‘the Cruyff turn’; he feigned passing the ball to his teammate but then dragged the ball behind his planted foot with the inside of his other foot, peeling away and leaving his opponent in his wake. Although he was a striker, Cruyff unusually during his era could come from deep or from the wings to score. This was the advent of The Netherlands ‘total football.’ Ballon d’Or European Footballer of the Year 1971, 1973, 1974, FIFA World Cup Golden Ball 1974.

Ruud Gullit


Born 16/09/1962 in Amsterdam in The Netherlands; Normally an attacking midifielder, a complete and versatile player, epitomised the ethos of Total Football being adept in several positions, capable of aiding his team defensively as well as offensively. Known for his athleticism, strength, speed and aerial abilities.       he was a versatile player, playing in numerous positions during his career, Ballon d’Or European Player of the Year 1987, UEFA European Championship 1988 winners’ medal and club titles.

Frank Rijkaard


A complete, tenacious, and consistent midfielder, throughout his career he was praised by pundits for his physical and athletic attributes, his work rate, positioning, his acute tactical intelligence and decision making, as well as his outstanding ability to read the game. Rijkaard was also a strong tackler, who was adept at starting attacking plays once he won back possession. He also possessed a powerful shot. He is regarded as one of the best defensive midfielders in footballing history and one of the best players of his generation. UEFA European Championship 1988 winners’ medal.

NORTHERN IRELAND

George Best


Born 22/05/1946 in Belfast in Northern Ireland; one of the greatest dribblers of all time, his playing style combined pace, skill, balance, feints, goalscoring and the ability to beat defenders, was a fantastic and naturally gifted winger – undoubtedly Manchester United’s greatest ever player. He used only his right foot but had incredible control and dribbling ability. Known for using the inside and outside of his foot and a rapid change of direction. Ballon d’Or European Player of the Year 1968.

PORTUGAL

Eusebio (Eusébio da Silva Ferreira)


Born 25/02/1942 in Lourenço Marques, Portuguese Mozambique then brought to Benfica in 1961; known for his skill, speed and power and he did not usually rely on supply from others to score goals, difficult to mark and his speed and power made it difficult to stop him. Was a goal-scoring machine in the Portuguese league where in 313 appearances he score 319 goals, helping Benfica to win 10 Portuguese league titles. Was six times the top scorer in the Portuguese league, won the European top scorer Golden Boot two times in 1968 and 1973, top scorer in the 1966 World Cup in England. Ballon d’Or European Player of the Year in 1965.

Luis Figo (Luís Filipe Madeira Caeiro Figo)


Born 04/11/1972 in Almada in Portugal; attacking winger and midfielder, quick, highly skilful, excellent dribbler and could take on and beat defenders in one on one situations. Known for his feints to beat opponents, such as stepovers, was usually deployed as a winger in his early career, where he was capable of providing several assists, due to his ability to provide curling crosses to team-mates. Ballon d’Or European Footballer of the Year 2000

Cristiano Ronaldo (Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro)

cristiano ronaldo
Born 05/02/1985 in Funcahal, Madeira in Portugal; stands out for his dedication and athleticism; what he may lack in natural ability that his great rival Lionel Messi posses, he more than makes up in other aspects of his game. He has speed and power, and this is complemented by his ability to jump higher than others in order to head in fantastic goals. He can also strike the ball with both feet and he has the technical ability to score freekicks from great distances. FIFA World Player of the Year 2008, 2013, 2014, Ballon d’Or European Player of the Year 2008.

RUSSIA

Lev Ivanovich Yashin


Born 22/10/1929 in Moscow in Russia; nicknamed “The Black Spider” or “The Black Panther”, considered by many to be the greatest goalkeeper in the history of the game, known for his athleticism in goal, imposing stature and reflex saves, revolutionized the goalkeeping position by stamping his authority on the entire defence. He shouted orders at his defenders, came off his line to intercept crosses and also ran out to meet onrushing attackers, done at a time when goalkeepers spent the 90 minutes standing in the goal waiting to be called into action. Ballon d’Or European Player of the Year 1963.

SPAIN

Andres Iniesta (Andrés Iniesta Luján)

Andrés_Iniesta
Born 11/05/1984 in Fuentealbilla in Spain; originally started as a defensive midfielder but switched to attacking midfielder. Known for his balance, ball control agility and skill, he can attack and defend, he creates and scores, his vision, direct style and quick feet with the ball seeming glued to his feet as he races into threatening positions. FIFA World Cup 2010 winners’ medal, UEFA European Football Championship 2008, 2012 winners’ medals.

Alfredo di Stefano (Alfredo Stéfano Di Stéfano Laulhé)

alfredo di stefano
Born 04/07/1926 in Buenos Aires in Argentina was a powerful forward with great stamina, tactical versatility, and vision, and a complete footballer who could also play almost anywhere on the pitch.  Ballon d’Or European Player of the Year 1957, 1959.

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