The best 25 players in the last 25 years have been ranked


'Who is the greatest player of all-time?'

It's a question that every football fan has attempted to answer at some point.

Younger fans simply won't look beyond Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, who have won 11 Ballon d'Ors between them since 2008.

But those a little older may claim Messi and Ronaldo simply don't compare to legendary players like Diego Maradona, Pele or Johan Cruyff.

In truth, it's hard to compare players from different era because football has changed so much.

Therefore, FourFourTwo have decided to only rank players from the last 25 years. 

The football magazine created a countdown of the 25 greatest players in the last 25 years - and it's bound to cause some arguments.

Let's take a look at what they came up with:

25. Gianluigi Buffon

The only player in this list to have played in every single of the 25 years - starting his professional career for Parma in the 1995/96 season. Buffon will go down as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all-time, playing more than 650 times for Juventus and receiving 176 caps for Italy - who he helped win the World Cup in 2006.


24. Sergio Ramos

Perhaps not the most liked footballer of all-time but one of the best defenders the game has ever seen. He’s led Real Madrid to four La Ligas and four Champions Leagues, as well as being part of that all-conquering Spanish side, who won the European Championship in 2008 and 2018 and the World Cup in 2010.


23. Romario

With only performances in the last 25 years counting, Romario’s best days are discounted. Like helping Brazil win the World Cup in 1994 or scoring 30 goals in 33 La Liga matches for Barcelona during the 1993/94 campaign. But post 1995, he still had successful spells at Flamengo, Vasco da Gama, Fluminense in his native country - as well as a return to Spain with Valencia.


22. Paul Scholes

Scholes perhaps didn’t get the credit he deserves in England as he competed with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard for the national side. But he’s the only one of the three who make this list after leading Manchester United to 11 Premier League titles and two Champions League titles.


21. Raul

Talking of the Champions League…

Before Messi and Ronaldo came along, Raul was the king of the Champions League, becoming the first player to hit 50 goals in the competition. He made a record 741 appearances for Real Madrid, scoring 323 goals.


20. Sergio Busquets

For much of his career, Busquets was overshadowed by the brilliant Andres Iniesta and Xavi (more on them later). But when you actually sit and watch Busquets, you’ll realise that he’s a quite incredible footballer.

In almost 600 appearances for Barcelona and 115 games for Spain, the midfielder has won eight La Ligas, three Champions Leagues, a European Championship and a World Cup - plus many more.


19. Luka Modric

Modric will always be remembered as the player that interrupted Messi and Ronaldo’s 10-year Ballon d’Or dominance, with the Croat winning the accolade in 2018.

He earned that with a brilliant performance for Real Madrid as he won fourth Champions League and led Croatia to the World Cup final.


18. Eric Cantona

Half of Cantona’s spell at Manchester United was more than 25 years ago but the fact he still makes No.18 in this list shows just how good he was.

Taking the 1994/95 season into account, Cantona scored 48 goals in three seasons, winning two Premier League titles in that time. He did also land a kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace fan…


17. Gabriel Batistuta


The Argentine striker is a bit of a cult hero for football hipsters with an incredible goalscoring record of 203 in 331 matches for Fiorentina. Fifty-four goals in 77 games for his own country is only bettered by Messi.


16. Luis Figo

Figo did the unthinkable and swapped Barcelona for Real Madrid for a world-record €62 million fee in 2000.

It didn’t go down well and a pigs head being thrown at him during El Clasico illustrates that.

But the Portuguese won two La Liga with each side before going on to win another four league titles with Inter Milan.


15. Wayne Rooney

Manchester United and England’s record goalscorer. He perhaps didn’t take the world by storm like everyone thought he would when he emerged on the scene as a 16-year-old. But he still had one hell of a career.


14. Kaka

For a decade, Kaka was the last player to win a Ballon d’Or before Messi and Ronaldo. Quite simply, the Brazilian was a joy to watch.

Kaka didn’t run, he glided around the pitch as he supplied his teammates with chances - scoring his fair share too. He probably didn’t win the trophies his career deserved - although league titles for AC Milan and Real Madrid a Champions League with Real and a World Cup isn’t bad.


13. Ryan Giggs

Just the 13 Premier League titles (plus two Champions Leagues, four FA Cups and three League Cups) for Giggs. To play almost 1000 times in all competitions for the best side in England at the time is extraordinary.

And Giggs was extraordinary. The Welshman was an old-fashioned winger who would assist his teammates for fun.


12. Fabio Cannavaro

At just 5 ft 9 in and not blessed with blistering pace, Cannavaro shouldn’t have made it at the very top level. But he’s one of the best defenders we’ve ever seen.

Another player who perhaps didn’t quite win the trophies he deserved, despite playing for Napoli, Parma, Inter, Juventus and Real Madrid - with just two league titles with Real to show for it.

Cannavaro’s finest hour came in 2006 when he captained Italy to the World Cup before becoming just the third defender to win the Ballon d’Or.


11. Rivaldo

At one point during his spell at Barcelona, Rivaldo was probably the best player in the world. During his five years at the Camp Nou, the Brazilian wowed us all with 130 goals in 235 matches.

At the end of his Barca spell, he helped his country win the World Cup before winning the Champions League with AC Milan the following season.


10. Roberto Baggio

The legendary Italian will sadly be remembered for smashing his penalty over the bar during the 1994 World Cup Final, handing the trophy to Brazil.

But he was one of the best players of all-time - even after that. He was an attacking midfielder who was a No.10 before that role even existed.

Following that World Cup, he joined AC Milan for two seasons, before an incredible campaign for Bologna saw him move back to Milan with Inter. He finished with four seasons with Brescia.


9. Paolo Maldini

The last defensive player to feature in the list.

Maldini made more than 900 appearances for his one and only club - AC Milan.

The Italian just oozed class whether it was at left-back or centre-back. Just the seven league titles and five Champions leagues during his career - although he had nothing to show for his 126 international caps.


8. Andres Iniesta

What a player Iniesta was.

The Spaniard epitomised Barcelona’s style of play during his 16 seasons for the club. He could dribble, he could pass and he could score.

He also lifted plenty of trophies along the way - nine La Ligas, four Champions Leagues, two European Championships and a World Cup - where he scored the winner in the final in extra-time against the Netherlands.


7. Xavi

It’s poetic that Xavi places alongside Iniesta in this list - although perhaps controversially he’s rated higher than his compatriot.

Xavi lasted at Barcelona for one more season than Iniesta and often set the tempo in every match he played.

He won everything there is to win but had to settle for three consecutive third places in the Ballon d'Or ranking between 2009-2011.


6. Thierry Henry

We recently revealed that Henry was voted as the greatest player in Premier League history. When Arsenal signed him from Juventus for £11 million in 1999, they couldn’t have predicted the Frenchman would go on to become the club’s greatest ever player.

But 226 goals later, Henry will go down in the club’s history as their record goalscorer, beating Ian Wright’s record.


5. Ronaldinho

If there was an award for the player who was the most fun to watch, Ronaldinho would have won it every single year. The Brazilian just wanted to express himself on the pitch and that toothy grin was beautiful to see.

And he could play. Probably the most skilful players ever, Ronaldinho was incredible during his five seasons at Barcelona and claimed the Ballon d’Or in 2005. He also played a big role in Brazil winning the 2002 World Cup.


4. Ronaldo

That 2002 World Cup belonged to one man - Ronaldo. El Fenomeno scored twice in the final as Brazil beat Germany 2-0.

Twenty five years ago, Ronaldo was scoring 54 goals in 57 appearances for PSV, which earned him a move to Barcelona. He only lasted one year at the Camp Nou, managing 47 goals in 49 matches.

He then conquered Italy with Inter Milan before his move to Real Madrid, where he scored more than 100 goals in four seasons.

If it wasn’t for some serious knee injuries, Ronaldo would have won far more than the two Ballon d’Ors he picked up.


3. Zinedine Zidane

Zidane was so graceful on the pitch and had probably the best first touch in football history.

During five seasons in Italy with Juventus, he helped the club to two Serie A titles - as well as his brace in the 1998 World Cup final.

Real Madrid spent a world-record fee to make him a Galactico in 2001 and it was money very well spent.

Who can forget THAT goal in the 2002 Champions League final?

He bowed out of the game in pretty legendary style, too.


2. Cristiano Ronaldo

How can someone who won five Ballon d’Ors, five Champions Leagues, scored 451 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid, won international trophies and dominated the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A only be second in this list?

Actually, you probably all know the answer to that one….


1. Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer in the last 25 years, according to FourFourTwo.

You can’t exactly argue with it, can you?

Just the 603 goals in 687 games for Barcelona but the Argentine is far more than just goals.

He’s probably the best dribbler, passer, free-kick taker and finisher the world has ever seen as he’s led his club to 10 La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues.


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