We’ve been lucky to witness some phenomenal footballers during the 21st century so far.
Ronaldinho. Zidane. Henry. Messi. Ronaldo.
Some truly extraordinary talents have graced the stage and long may it continue.
Who sits on the throne as the best of the lot, though?
Fans on Ranker have been making their choices and we’ve gathered the top 50.
Six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi is the obvious choice but Ranker works with a simple upvote/downvote option, so it serves as much as a popularity contest as an honest ranking.
So, without further ado, let’s get into it…
50. John Terry
Terry was a brilliant leader for Chelsea, winning five Premier League titles with the Blues.
49. Robin van Persie
Won the Premier League with Manchester United in a move that devastated Arsenal fans.
48. Fernando Torres
There was a period where Torres was the best striker on the planet. Unstoppable on his day.
47. Petr Cech
The man between the sticks for Chelsea’s ferocious defence under Jose Mourinho.
46. Sergio Ramos
One of the finest centre-backs in history. Forty-six seems slightly harsh.
45. Michael Ballack
Won trophies with Bayern Munich and Chelsea. Ballack was a complete midfielder.
44. Philipp Lahm
Versatile, intelligent and technically astute, Lahm was fantastic. Deserved to win the 2014 World Cup with Germany.
43. Patrick Vieira
Arsenal miss him to this day.
42. Manuel Neuer
The man who reinvented goalkeeping. Take away his skills with the ball at his feet and Neuer still remains a world-class ‘keeper.
41. David Villa
Villa’s goalscoring record was brilliant and he has an enviable trophy collection which includes the World Cup, European Championship and Champions League.
40. Ruud van Nistelrooy
One of the best strikers to ever play in the Premier League.
39. Clarence Seedorf
Seedorf’s career spanned two decades and what a joy it was to watch him. He could do it all.
38. Ryan Giggs
English football’s most-decorated player. A legend of the game.
37. Xabi Alonso
Alonso played for three clubs after leaving Real Sociedad in 2004: Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
That tells you everything you need to know about how good he was.
The best full-back of all-time? Quite possibly.
35. Oliver Kahn
Kahn is the only goalkeeper in history to win the World Cup Golden Ball.
He was a ferocious leader for Germany and Bayern Munich.
34. Dennis Bergkamp
Bergkamp was a true artist and remains revered by Arsenal supporters to this day.
33. Pavel Nedved
Juventus signed Nedved in 2001 to replace Zinedine Zidane and he did just that, winning the Ballon d’Or two years later.
32. Arjen Robben
Everyone knew what Robben was going to do but they still couldn’t stop him.
Part of the famed Brazil attacking trio that won the 2002 World Cup.
30. Frank Lampard
Goalscoring midfielders don’t come any better than Lampard, who scored 274 club goals in his distinguished career.
29. Carles Puyol
Barcelona could feel confident that they wouldn’t ship many goals with Puyol at the heart of their defence.
The Spaniard would do whatever it took to win.
28. Samuel Eto’o
We should never forget how good Eto’o was. He scored 130 goals in 199 games for Barcelona and was one of the best strikers in the world at his prime.
27. Alessandro Nesta
Nesta had all the attributes you want in a centre-back, from being excellent in the air to being strong and imposing.
26. Wayne Rooney
Manchester United and England’s all-time leading goalscoring had to be in the top 50.
Rooney was incredible at his peak. It’s a shame that peak didn’t last as long as some of his contemporaries.
25. Paul Scholes
Scholes was appreciated by everyone he played with - and many of those he played against.
24. Fabio Cannavaro
Remains the only defender to win the Ballon d’Or.
His performance for Italy against Germany at the 2006 World Cup was sensational.
A striker who knew where the back of the net was.
Raul was Real Madrid’s all-time leading goalscorer before Cristiano Ronaldo came along.
22. Alessandro Del Piero
Italy has produced so many technically-gifted players and Del Piero ranks as one of the very best.
21. Andriy Shevchenko
A seriously prolific forward who won the Champions League in 2003 and the Ballon d’Or a year later.
20. Luis Figo
In a one-on-one situation, you’d always bet on Figo beating his marker.
He possessed quality dribbling skills and a varied passing range, making him one of the finest Portuguese players ever.
19. Didier Drogba
Many centre-backs wilted when coming up against Drogba.
He was a man for the big occasion, as his performance for Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich showed.
18. Iker Casillas
A terrific goalkeeper who won everything there is to win, including the World Cup, multiple European Championships and three Champions Leagues.
17. David Beckham
Beckham’s celebrity status may have affected how well he’s remembered as a footballer, but we shouldn’t forget how good he was.
He played for Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain. That says it all.
16. Francesco Totti
It was only Totti’s loyalty to AS Roma that prevented him from signing for Real Madrid, where he would have won several more trophies.
15. Steven Gerrard
Few players could put the team on their back and inspire them to glory as well as Gerrard could.
He turned down moves to Real Madrid and Chelsea in order to cement his status as a Liverpool legend.
14. Roberto Carlos
Carlos helped to bring through a wave of offensive-minded full-backs.
13. Andrea Pirlo
A true artist with the ball at his feet, Pirlo was a straight up baller.
12. Gianluigi Buffon
The best goalkeeper of the 2000s and it’s not much of a debate.
They say that Lionel Messi wouldn’t have scored all the goals he did if not for Xavi.
Few players could pick out a pass as well as the Spanish midfielder could.
Kaka for AC Milan in 2007 was out of this world.
It’s a shame things didn’t work out at Real Madrid as well as the Brazilian will have hoped it would, but Kaka is definitely deserving of his place in the top 10.
9. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
The Swedish striker scores goals wherever he goes. Not only that but he does it with the kind of graceful technique you wouldn’t associate with a 6 ft 5 in forward.
8. Paolo Maldini
Maldini isn’t just one of the best defenders of his generation but one of the best defenders of all-time.
He was world-class all throughout his AC Milan career.
7. Andres Iniesta
Give Iniesta the ball and watch him work his magic.
A true wonder.
6. Thierry Henry
Widely considered to be the best player in Premier League history, former Arsenal and Barcelona striker Henry was capable of the seemingly impossible.
5. Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo at number 5 is a huge shock.
The Portuguese is widely considered to be one of the two best footballers of all-time, so to not make the top three in a list that only takes into account the past 20 years is stunning.
4. Zinedine Zidane
Show us a player with a better first touch than Zidane. We’ll wait.
If not for injuries, we could be talking about Ronaldo Nazario as the GOAT.
The man who brought so much joy to millions of people around the world.
Ronaldinho always played the game with a smile on his face.
And with those dazzling skills, why wouldn’t he?
1. Lionel Messi
Messi has more Ballons d’Or than any other player in football history and will set records that will never be broken.
The number of moments that have left us speechless has reached the hundreds, and long may Messi continue to marvel.
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