Ranking 20 of the most technical footballers who made the game look like an art form

  • Kat Lucas

Who’s the greatest footballer of all time?

That’s not necessarily the same question as ‘who’s the most technically gifted?’ 

When it comes to control, sheer skill, and the potential to mesmerise, it’s easy to reel off a few names that spring to mind.

Not those who perhaps rely on other attributes, such as power, to get past their opponents, but those who have been blessed with a gloriously light touch, the ability to contort their bodies beyond recognition, and a vision to see things most players simply aren’t aware of going on around them. 

Since the turn of the century, as football fans we’ve been blessed with countless great technicians. 

Many of them have graced La Liga, with Real Madrid and Barcelona arguably boasting the most technically gifted players of the last 20 years. 

Yet we’ve gone a step further here at GIVEMESPORT, with a by-no-means definitive, highly subjective list of the most genetically blessed footballers of all time. 

20. Arjen Robben

Robben’s trademark move was of course his cutting inside and curling the ball into the net with his left foot. The Dutchman caused havoc down the wing and were it not for injuries, he’d arguably have had an even more spectacular career.

19. Roberto Baggio

When Serie A was at its peak in the 1990s, Baggio was a set-piece specialist but maintained that accuracy in almost everything he did. Despite a devastating knee injury before he’d even really got going, he mesmerised opponents to such an extent that they couldn’t help hauling down time and again. And who can forget *that* World Cup goal? 

18. Juan Roman Riquelme

It’s one of the great mysteries of the game why Riquelme spent three years at Barcelona, but then much of his career at Villarreal and Boca Juniors. The Argentine was powerful and could shrug opponents off with ease, but he was more inclined to resort to a drag-back to himself or some fancy footwork to beat his man. 

17. Ferenc Puskas

Puskas scored 84 goals in 85 matches and excelled for Hungary throughout their golden era of the 1950s. There’s a reason the award was named after him. 

16. Ronaldo Nazario

El Fenomeno only ranks so low because he arguably had other attributes that made him one of the all-time greats, not least his power and pace before injuries got the better of him. 

15. Alfredo Di Stefano

The Real Madrid legend spent the 1950s and 60s delivering perfectly weighted balls, blasting in scissor kicks and performing skills way ahead of his time. Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Raul scored more for Los Blancos. 

14. Pele

Younger generations arguably don’t give Pele the respect he deserves. His 1000 goals came in all different shapes and sizes. Even if some of his opponents were arguably of a lower standard, he could still nutmeg, nestle and nuance his way through defences like he was unpicking a lock. 

13. Cristiano Ronaldo

At the age of 35, Ronaldo has now changed his game and relies more heavily on his movement without the ball, transforming into more of an out-and-out goalscorer. Yet he’s never lost his skill, even if he’s no longer the dribbler he once was. The Portuguese is undoubtedly technical, but he’s got to the top of his game as much due to his work ethic. 

12. Neymar

Neymar’s skills and tricks have never been to everyone’s liking, not least since he moved to Ligue 1. However, as one of Brazil’s greatest ever goalscorer – and one who also shone in La Liga, at that, his technical ability simply can’t be overlooked. Even if he gets a *little* more time on the ball over in France.

11. Paul Scholes

Scholes was one of the finest examples of a player not needing fancy tricks or footwork to prove their technical gifts. The Manchester United midfielder had unbelievable control and his passing was so accurate he could have pinged the ball onto a postage stamp on the moon.

10. Xavi

Xavi set the pace in midfield for some of the great Barcelona sides of the modern era. A man who made ‘keeping it simple’ into an art form. One or two touches were all it took, but they were always sublime and his laid-back style was all the more notable in Barca’s high-tempo sides. 

9. Andrea Pirlo

“You play football with your mind, your feet are just the tools,” Pirlo once said. The Italian was grace personified on a football pitch, a metronome in midfield for AC Milan and Juventus. 

8. Andres Iniesta

Much like Xavi, Iniesta wasn’t particularly flash. Yet there was something truly adhesive about those little feet when they came into contact with the ball and he could draw three or four players out of position with one pass.

7. Thierry Henry

Henry had tricks up his sleeve, like his infamous fake pass, that most players couldn’t even imagine. The Arsenal legend played with such Va Va Voom, he was one of the finest ever to grace the Premier League before slotting seamlessly into one of Barcelona’s great sides. 

6. George Best

Best could play in at least four different positions and the Manchester United legend was rapid, creative and stood out even in a team featuring the legendary Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Law.

5. Lionel Messi

Among the best dribblers the game has ever seen, there is no stopping Messi once his shoulder has dropped. For every spectacular Messi goal, he’s also the master of the mind-boggling assist with his pinpoint through balls cutting defences open for more than a decade.

4. Zinedine Zidane

Zizou’s first touch was unrivalled. The Frenchman’s imagination was top notch and he played with such panache that there was never any doubt who was on the ball. 

3. Johan Cryuff

The Cruyff turn was just one weapon in his armoury. The Dutchman said his playing style reflected his upbringing in Amsterdam. The king and architect of ‘total football’ who would go on to instil the same principles at Barcelona as a manager. 

2. Ronaldinho

Ronaldinho was a joy to watch. Plain and simple. Close your eyes and you can still be hypnotised by the thought of the Brazilian’s hips swaying from side to side. He was enchantingly creative and played with a beguiling charm that was every bit worthy of a world champion. 

1. Diego Maradona

Maradona is arguably the greatest of all time, not least because of his ability to waltz through several players at a time. Just rewatch some of the footage from his years at Napoli, or from his World Cup triumph with Argentina. Even all these years later, the legendary Argentine captures the imagination like no other thanks to his divine gifts. 

We’ve gone for players based on their control of the ball in every aspect of the game, their touch, and the skills in their locker – though honourable mentions go to the likes of Xabi Alonso, Franz Beckanbaeur and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

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