After some discussion on Twitter, it got me thinking of the best players I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. I say in my lifetime because although I’ve seen the clips and the videos, I can’t possibly comment on legends of the game like Pele, Di Stefano and Zico. The fact I haven’t seen these greats live means I cannot reasonably argue for their inclusion or indeed exclusion from this list. That is the major problem when making “Greatest Ever Player” lists, how can I possibly compare Platini to Zidane or Maradona to Messi when I’ve only seen Zidane and Messi in action.
For that reason this list is the greatest players I’ve seen in my lifetime. The difficulty of this shouldn’t be overlooked when considering Roberto Baggio, Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Lothar Matthaus all truly greats in the game and all played in my lifetime, yet none appear on this list as they all played when I was very young. I suppose for that reason this list should technically be called “The Greatest Players In My Lifetime that I can remember!”
I’ve also excluded goalkeepers as I find it impossible comparing Buffon to Totti or Casillas to Xavi although I will say those two I’ve just mentioned are the best two goalies I’ve seen in my life, with a honourable mention to German Oliver Kahn.
So here it is the top 25 players I’ve seen in my lifetime in reverse order. Please let me know your thoughts and tweet us @euroleaguenews
25 Ryan Giggs Wales & Manchester United
Ryan Giggs has had a truly remarkable career spanning over 20 years. He has won everything and still turns out for Man United despite being 39 years old. He has won an incredible 12 premier league titles, 4 FA Cups & 2 Champions Leagues.
24. Steven Gerrard England & Liverpool
Liverpools star attraction for well over a decade, Gerrard is one of the finest players England has ever produced, strong with a great range of passing and a fantastic ability to score world class goals at the most crucial times. A player Zinedine Zidane once described as the best in the world. He has won the Champions League & UEFA Cup as well as 2 FA Cups and has over 100 England caps.
23 Carles Puyol Spain & Barcelona
A tenacious defender who has become the symbol of Barcelona’s recent domination in Europe and in Spain. Puyol is fearless and is known for his commitment but he can still play and is without doubt one of the best defenders in recent years. He has won 3 champions leagues, 5 la ligas, the world cup and European championships in a career that has done it all.
22 Lilian Thuram France & Monaco, Parma, Juventus & Barcelona
Picture the scene, France are a goal down in a home world cup semi final versus Croatia, step forward Right Back Thuram who fires on not one bit two great goals to send his country into the World Cup final. Thuram is Frances all time most capped player and has won 2 Serie A titles and a UEFA Cup alongside his French world and European championships.
21 Kaka Brazil & Sao Paulo, AC Milan & Real Madrid
Although he may be a bit part player at Madrid these days, we must not forget the Kaka who was the world’s best player while at Milan. He won the FIFA World Player Of The Year award and the champions league in 2007 when he was practically untouchable.
20 Cafu Brazil & Sao Paulo, Real Zaragoza, Palmeiras, Roma & AC Milan.
Cafu didn’t just play right back, he redefined the position, bombing forward and always helping out in attack, he was more a winger than defender. In a long career he won everything, literally. The world cup was his pinnacle, and its easier to say the only major trophy he didn’t win was the UEFA Cup.
19 Paul Scholes England & Manchester United.
Sure he can’t tackle, but the things he can do outweigh anything he can’t. In my opinion England’s most talented footballer ever, a player the national team never fully utilised. What England missed out on Man United gained from 10 league titles, 2 European cups, 3 FA Cups and a world club cup suggesting Man United used him somewhat better than England ever did.
18 Francesco Totti Italy & Roma
Loyalty. If ever one word sums up a player it would be Totti and the word loyalty. He has spent his whole career at his beloved Roma despite several links to the biggest clubs in the world. He has won Serie A with Roma and the world cup with Italy. He has just became the 2nd highest goalscorer in Serie A history a tremendous achievement for a player who is not a traditional number 9.
17 Theirry Henry France & Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal & Barcelona
At his peak during Arsenals invincibles era, Henry was breathtaking. A world and European champion with France. Henry also won the champions league with Barcelona, as well as domestic titles in France, Spain and England.
16 Clarence Seedorf The Netherlands & Ajax, Sampdoria, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, AC Milan.
A vastly underrated player which is ridiculous when you look at his trophy cabinet. 2 dutch leagues, 1 dutch cup, 1 spanish league, 2 Serie A, 1 world club cup, 1 intercontinental cup, 87 Holland caps and of course 4 Champions League titles with 3 different clubs. An Incredible haul of trophies surely unrivalled in world football.
15 Andrea Pirlo Italy & Inter Milan, AC Milan & Juventus
One of the greatest deep lying playmakers on the history of the game. Pirlo has 95 caps for Italy and was instrumental in winning the world cup in 2006. He has won three league titles and 2 European cups and is looking to add to that haul with Juventus this year.
14 Roberto Carlos Brazil & Inter Milan, Real Madrid & Fenerbahce
The man who had thighs like most men’s waist and a shot so powerful it made you fear for the wall everytime he stood over a free kick. An attacking full back is an understatement, Carlos is best known for his incredible goal in 1997 game against France. But it should be remembered he won 3 champions leagues, 4 spanish titles and a world cup alongside 2 copa Americas in a hugely successful career.
13 Zlatan Ibrahimovic Sweden & Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, AC Milan & PSG
Zlatan is an enigma. His amazing run of league title victories 2004-2011 spanning Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barca and Milan will probably never be matched yet Zlatan remains a controversial figure. He only lasted one season at Barcelona and questions are always asked about his temperment, but as a neutral fan…who cares, he is one of the most talented men to ever play the game. And he seems to be settled in Paris where he looks like adding yet another league title to his sensational honours list.
12 Luis Figo Portugal Barcelona, Real Madrid & Inter Milan
The mercurial Figo was a hero at Barcelona and was on his way to going down as one of the clubs greats….until he signed for Real Madrid in a shock move in 2000. It was worth it though as he picked up a champions league winners medal at the bernabeu. In total he won 4 league titles in Spain (2 Barca 2 Madrid) and another 4 in Italy with Inter Milan.
11 Raul Spain & Real Madrid & Schalke
Spain’s sweetheart for years, and the darling of the bernabeu. Once described by Sir Alex Ferguson as the best player in the world, Rauls finishing ability was incredible and he remains the top goalscorer in the champions league. He won 3 champions league trophies and countless domestic trophies with Real Madrid.
10. Paolo Maldini Italy & AC Milan
Quite simply one of the greatest defenders to ever play the game. He spent an astonishing 2 and a half DECADES at the very highest level. Playing his entire career for Milan. To put into perspective Maldinis fabulous career his personal collection of five champions league wins is more than Barcelona or Manchester United have won, that really says it all.
9 Rivaldo Brazil Barcelona, AC Milan & Olympiacos
A superb talent who admittedly let himself down with his disgraceful play acting at the world cup in 2002, but that shouldnt take away from his ability. If ever there was a testament to his talent it was Barcelona vs Valencia with Barca needing a win for European qualification. Rivaldos hat trick that day remains the finest performance I’ve seen on a football pitch. I highly recommend watching the highlights on youtube.
8 Fabio Cannavaro Italy & Parma, Juventus & Real Madrid
The only defender to win the FIFA World Player Of The Year award, Cannavaros positional sense, interceptions, tackling and leadership make him stand out as the highest ranked defender on this list. World Cup winner in 2006, Cannavaro won two league titles in his two years in Spain and a UEFA Cup with Parma.
7 Ronaldinho Brazil & PSG, Barcelona & AC Milan
The Brazilian genius affectionately known as Ronnie, during his time at Barcelona he produced a level of football rarely seen before. His exquisite skills, pace, power and technique were devastating during his Barca years. He won 2 league titles and a champions league in Spain and added a Serie A title with Milan. Ronaldinho was a member of the Brazil team that swept all before them on route to winning the 2002 world cup.
6 & 5 Xavi and Andres Iniesta Spain & Barcelona
The reason this is a joint entry is simple, I can’t separate them. Both players have spent the majority of their careers together although Xavi is older. They are the main driving force (Messi aside) behind Barcelonas all conquering team and the same can be said for the Spanish national team. Over the last six seasons these two have both won every trophy available to them. Both have been unfairly overlooked for the Ballon D’or although its hard to argue when its Messi that wins it.
4 Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal & Sporting, Manchester United & Real Madrid
Arguably the most complete footballer to ever play the game, his physical attributes every bit as impressive as his technical attributes. His goals to game ratio for Real Madrid is truly unbelievable, a former FIFA World Player of The Year, and a champions league winner with Man United. He has won leagues in Spain and England.
3 Ronaldo Brazil & PSV, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid & AC Milan.
In my opinion had injury not robbed him of his best years, he would of went down as the greatest player of all time. That’s how good he was. His Barcelona years he was truly the phenomenon. As it happened, injuries dogged his career, but despite that he didn’t exactly do too badly. The all time top scorer in world cup history. Its just a shame he may be remembered more for his weight problems towards the end of his career than his goals at the beginning.
2 Zinedine Zidane France & Bordeaux, Juventus & Real Madrid.
If ever a player dominated a major tournament it was Zidane at Euro 2000. He was simply breathtaking. His style and grace on the ball, his touch and of course his famous goals including his great champions league final winner against Bayer Leverkusen. Zidane scored 2 goals in the 98 world cup final victory, and he calmly chipped a penalty down the middle in the 2006 final. He did have a temper on him and was known to lose his cool more than once. But for a player as good as he was we can make allowances.
1 Lionel Messi Argentina & Barcelona
Its very difficult to write something new about the little Argentinean magician. Messi has done and won it all for Barcelona and is still incredibly only 25 years old. He will almost certainly go down as footballs greatest ever player and you really dont get higher praise than that.
What do you think of the list? Tweet us at @cloudie86