Maradona, Messi, Ronaldo: Who is the greatest player in football history?

  • Rob Swan

Happy birthday, Diego Maradona!

The Argentine legend, still regarded by many as the greatest footballer of all time, turned 60 years old on Friday.

And what an extraordinary life El Diego has lived.

On the pitch, Maradona is best known for inspiring Argentina to glory at the 1986 World Cup finals.

There has never been a better series of performances from one player than Maradona in Mexico 34 years ago.

Maradona, whose natural talent was obvious from a very young age, scored five goals and registered five assists at the 1986 World Cup.

And this two-minute video of his tournament highlights shows just how unbelievably good he was…

But where does Maradona rank on the list of all-time greats?

FourFourTwo had a go at ranking the 50 best players of all time. In their eyes, Maradona falls just short of GOAT status.

Let’s take a closer look at the list…

50. Xavi

A wonderfully talented midfielder who helped Barcelona and Spain dominate between 2008-2012.


49. Nilton Santos

The Brazilian, who won the World Cup in 1958 and 1962, pioneered the way for the modern day full-back.

48. Michael Laudrup

The best player in history, according to Andres Iniesta. The Dane was a top-class attacking midfielder.

47. Rivellino

Part of the Brazil team that won the 1970 World Cup, Rivellino scored 26 goals in 92 games for his country.


46. Juan Alberto Schiaffino

A star with AC Milan between 1954-1960, Schiaffino represented both Uruguay and Italy at international level.

45. Oleg Blokhin

Winner of the Ballon d’Or in 1975 thanks to his performances with Dynamo Kiev and the Soviet Union.

44. Didi

Another icon of Brazilian football, Didi lifted the World Cup in 1958 and 1962.

43. Fritz Walter

A goal machine, West Germany forward Fritz Walter spent his entire career with Kaiserslautern between 1937-1959 and netted 357 times in 364 games.

42. Matthias Sindelar

Born in 1903, Sindelar was prolific for Austria Vienna and the Austria national team during the 1920s and 30s.

41. Gianluigi Buffon

One of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, Buffon is still going strong at the age of 42.


40. Kenny Dalglish

Arguably the greatest player in Liverpool’s history, Kenny Dalglish won six league titles and three European Cups with the Reds.

39. Nandor Hidegkuti

Scorer of a hat-trick in Hungary’s famous 6-3 win over England at Wembley in November 1952.

38. Gianni Rivera

Rivera spent almost all of his career with AC Milan and won the Ballon d’Or in 1969.

37. Ruud Gullit

The gifted Dutch midfielder, who enjoyed the best years of his career with Milan, was the 1987 Ballon d’Or winner.


36. Paco Gento

Part of the legendary Real Madrid side that dominated Spanish and European football during the 1950s and 60s.

35. Luis Suarez

No, not that one. Although this Luis Suarez was also a star for Barcelona – albeit in the 1950s.

34. Stanley Matthews

A historic icon of English football, Sir Stanley Matthews famously produced a masterclass in the 1953 FA Cup final as Blackpool beat Bolton 4-3 at Wembley.

33. Gunter Netzer

The attacking midfielder starred for West Germany at the 1972 European Championship.

32. Paolo Rossi

Rossi inspired Italy to glory at the 1982 World Cup, scoring six goals and winning the Golden Boot in the process.

31. Juan Manuel Moreno

Moreno led Argentina to two Copa America titles in the 1940s and was the first player to win a league title in four different countries.

30. Lothar Matthaus

All-action midfielder who won the Ballon d’Or in 1990 and lifted the World Cup with Germany.

29. Raymond Kopa

Winner of the Ballon d’Or in 1958, Kopa won titles with both Reims and Real Madrid in the 50s.

28. Socrates

Classy midfielder and captain of Brazil’s much-loved 1982 side.

27. Bobby Moore

Another classy operator, the defender captained the England side that won the 1966 World Cup.


26. Valentino Mazzola

Captain of the Grande Torino side tragically wiped out during the 1949 Superga air disaster, Mazzola scored over 100 goals for the Italians side before his untimely death aged 30.

25. Carlos Alberto

Winner of the World Cup in 1970, Carlos Alberto finished off arguably the best team goal ever scored at that tournament.

24. Ronaldinho

One of the most naturally talented footballers of all time, Ronaldinho brought joy to millions of football fans with his extraordinary skill while playing for Barcelona in the mid-2000s.


23. Eusebio

Legendary striker who won the Ballon d’Or in 1965.

22. Lev Yashin

Regarded by many football fans as the greatest goalkeeper of all time, Yashin spent his entire career with Dynamo Moscow between 1950-1970.

21. Romario

In terms of pure finishing ability, Romario is unquestionably one of the greatest centre-forwards we’ve ever seen in the game.

20. Paolo Maldini

Considered by many as one of the greatest defenders of all time.


19. Bobby Charlton

One of England and Manchester United’s greatest ever players, Charlton won the Ballon d’Or in 1966.

18. Giuseppe Meazza

A star with both Inter and AC Milan, the San Siro’s official name is the ‘Stadio Giuseppe Meazza’ – which tells you everything about how good the striker was.

17. Gerd Muller

‘Der Bomber’ scored goals for fun with Bayern Munich and West Germany. Only four players have more official goals than Muller in history.

16. Zico

Another prolific marksman, Zico sits 12th on the list of footballers with the most official goals in the history of football.

15. Franco Baresi

A phenomenal defender – perhaps the best ever – who spent his entire career with AC Milan between 1977-1997.

14. George Best

‘Maradona Good, Pele Better, George Best’. One of the best wingers of all time.


13. Marco van Basten

Scorer of some of the most outrageous goals, Marco van Basten was a maestro with Ajax, Milan and the Dutch national team.

12. Michel Platini

Platini may have ruined his reputation in recent years but the Frenchman was an extraordinary footballer. He won the Ballon d’Or in 1983, 1984 and 1985.

11. Garrincha

The winger certainly lived a colourful life but on the pitch he was different class. Garrincha helped Brazil win the 1958 and 1962 World Cups.

10. Ronaldo

‘O Fenômeno’ – ’The Phenomenon’ – Ronaldo was scarily good during his early years. Who knows, he may have become the GOAT had he not suffered from a couple of career-threatening injuries.

9. Ferenc Puskas

Puskas – who has a FIFA award named after him for the most beautiful goal scored each year – was prolific for Budapest Honved, Real Madrid, and the Hungary national team in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

8. Zinedine Zidane

Winner of the Ballon d’Or in 1998, Zidane turned football into an art form when he played. A magician.


7. Franz Beckenbauer

Legendary defender who won the 1974 World Cup with West Germany, plus the Ballon d’Or in 1972 and 1976.

6. Alfredo Di Stefano

One of the most important players in football history, Alfredo Di Stefano was the key player during Real Madrid’s era of dominance in the 50s.

5. Cristiano Ronaldo

In terms of work ethic, there’s probably never been a better footballer than Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese legend has won the Ballon d’Or five times during his illustrious career… so far.


4. Johan Cruyff

A genius – both with the ball at his feet and in the mind – Cruyff won the Ballon d’Or in 1971, 1973 and 1974.

3. Pele

The single most famous name in football history, the iconic Pele won the World Cup with Brazil in 1958, 1962 and 1970.

2. Diego Maradona

El Diego will always be part of the conversation when it comes to the discussion over football’s true GOAT.

1. Lionel Messi

But in top spot, it’s Messi. Winner of the Ballon d’Or on six occasions, the Argentine has done everything other than win the World Cup during his extraordinary career.

News Now - Sport News