Messi, Ronaldo, Zidane, Ronaldinho: Who was the greatest football player of the 2000s?


The world was introduced to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the 2000s.

It was a seriously good decade for football. From the performances of Ronaldinho, Zinedine Zidane and Kaka to the emergence of two future GOATS, there were stars at every corner of European football.

Then there's English dominance in the Champions League and the rise of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona.

A new era

What a time.

Football is frequently changing but the 2000s marked a change in approach that would significantly improve the quality of play. 

Players started to eat better and drink less, while tactical innovations meant an end to the basic 4-4-2 formation. 

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What followed was an era of incredible football. 

FourFourTwo magazine have now gone ahead and ranked the top 50 players of the decade in what makes for a list that's sure to spark debate.

No Adriano? Steven Gerrard ahead of Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes? Lionel Messi in 10th?

Let's take a look.

The best players of the 2000s

50. Petr Cech

49. Juan Roman Riquelme

48. Henrik Larsson

47. Edwin van der Sar

46. Javier Zanetti

45. Gianluigi Buffon

44. Xabi Alonso

43. Cafu

42. Michael Ballack

41. Roberto Carlos

40. Ryan Giggs

39. Oliver Kahn

38. Fabio Cannavaro

37. Ruud van Nistelrooy

36. Nemanja Vidic

35. Pavel Nedved

34. Patrick Vieira

33. David Villa

32. Paolo Maldini

31. Luis Figo

30. Francesco Totti

29. Didier Drogba

28. Carles Puyol

27. Andrea Pirlo

26. David Beckham

25. Iker Casillas

24. Rivaldo

23. Alessandro Nesta

22. Claude Makelele

21. Ashley Cole

20. Andriy Shevchenko

19. John Terry

18. Paul Scholes

17. Fernando Torres

16. Rio Ferdinand

15. Raul

14. Frank Lampard

13. Samuel Eto'o

12. Steven Gerrard

11. Wayne Rooney

10. Lionel Messi

Messi... 10th?

FourFourTwo's argument is that the 2000s was Messi's origin story, while he owned the 2000s.

That's fair, although what Messi was able to achieve in the first part of his career is still mightily impressive, including the Ballon d'Or in 2009 and the treble with Barcelona in 2008/09.


9. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

In our opinion, Messi should have been ranked ahead of Ibrahimovic.

The 2010s was Ibrahimovic's best decade, although he did win titles with Ajax, Inter Milan and Juventus in the 2000s.


8. Andres Iniesta

Majestic is a fine word to define Iniesta, whose ability to carve through defences was out of this world.

For what he achieved in the 2000s, winning two Champions Leagues and the European Championship, there's a case to be made for Iniesta being higher than eighth.


7. Ronaldo

If not for injuries, there's every chance Ronaldo would be higher on this list.

His performance in the 2002 World Cup final and hat-trick at Old Trafford in 2003 were two of the most enthralling showings by a striker on the biggest occasions. 

Skilful, pacy and powerful, there's a reason he was called El Fenomeno.


6. Xavi

When you think of tiki-taka, you think Xavi.

A mercurial midfielder, the Spaniard was the puppet master behind the successful Barcelona and Spain sides of the 2000s.

Xavi entered the Barcelona scene ahead of Iniesta which likely explains his ranking ahead of his compatriot.


5. Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo burst onto the scene in 2003 and it was at Manchester United where he developed into a world-class talent. 

In his younger years he was more of a flair player, using his skills and speed to torment full-backs on the wings. 

In three seasons in England he scored 91 goals in all totals, a remarkable return for a winger, before leaving for Real Madrid in 2009.


4. Thierry Henry

Unstoppable on his day.

Widely regarded as the greatest Premier League player in history, Henry was a defender's worst nightmare. His speed was electrifying and he could create something out of nothing, too.

Despite failing to win the Ballon d'Or, we've no complaints about Henry being ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo. He arguably should have won it but finished second in 2003.


3. Kaka

Before Messi and Ronaldo took over, Kaka sat at the top of the throne after winning the 2007 Ballon d'Or.

He was clearly the best player in the world in the middle of the decade, leading AC Milan to European glory in 2007 with his alluring blend of speed, power and balance. 


2. Zinedine Zidane

Zidane's control of a football was mesmerising. He had it on a string at times, toying with opposing players in a way that was just unfair.

His stunning volley in the 2001 Champions League final was a demonstration of his outrageous technical skill.

Another player to win the Ballon d'Or, Zidane deserves the No.2 spot.


1. Ronaldinho

A genius with the ball to his feet, there was perhaps no player who influenced the game more in the 2000s than Ronaldinho.

The Brazilian playmaker had an unrivalled level of technical ability but it wasn't only that that endeared him to millions around the world; it was also the smile that never left his face.

At Barcelona, Ronaldinho won the Ballon d'Or and he also inspired the Catalan outfit to Champions League glory in 2006.


Click HERE to read FourFourTwo's entire list.

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