Messi, Ronaldo, Pele, Ronaldinho: The greatest footballer ever across 34 key attributes

  • Kobe Tong
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Who is the greatest footballer in history? Lionel Messi? Cristiano Ronaldo? Pele?

It's a difficult question to answer and everybody has their own two cents to offer in the debate, but let's face it here, the GOAT conversation is a well-trodden path in the world of football.

So, what if we were to say that you can break down the question of who the greatest male footballer of all time really is by instead compartmentalising the debate into what makes a top player.

The GOAT conversation

In other words, just because it's so incredibly tough to name the finest footballer in history, period, it doesn't mean that we can't put names forward for different key attributes in the beautiful game.

For example, Messi might well be the best that there has ever been, but does that necessarily make him the GOAT of heading, slide-tackling and strength? Absolutely not.

What we're trying to get at here is that there are, in fact, many different GOATs marauding around the footballing paddock and we want to celebrate all these top performers in their respective fields.

Now, naturally, you could go on forever and ever by naming the greatest footballer of all time at throw-ins, indirect free-kicks and Trivela passes, so it's important that we narrow things down a bit.

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Football's most important attributes

To do so, we're focusing in on the 29 in-game attributes that EA Sports use to inform their FUT ratings for outfield players on their FIFA video game series.

These key attributes cover physical, mental and skill-related attributes that are vital to becoming a top football player and we're also adding in the goalkeeper metrics so that they don't feel left out.

As for the choices themselves, they will ultimately come down to the opinion of your humble writer, but rest assured that it is informed by statistics and the eye test as opposed to pure randomness.

And you'll just have to forgive the fact that players in the modern era might have a small advantage by way of them having more available data and me having been able to watch them more often.

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Greatest ever players in key attributes

But enough disclaimers, let's get down to business and check out the players that we consider to be the greatest in football history across 34 of the most important attributes in the beautiful game:

In Game: Physical

Acceleration: Marc Overmars


Shoutout to Gareth Bale and Thierry Henry, but Overmars went from 0 to 100 like no other player we've seen on the left flank for Arsenal with his electric bursts of pace and energy.

Agility: George Best 

An immaculate dribbler so nibble, slippery and ballet-like that slow-motion footage of his solo runs will go viral for as long as people enjoy the beauty of football.

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Balance: Diego Maradona

And on a similar note, you could rest assured that no matter how many slide-tackles and elbows went flying in that Maradona would still dribble past every man and their dog with his magic feet.

Jumping: Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo has practically reinvented how footballers jump with his astonishing technique seeing him hang in the air and soar above defenders like an NBA player flying for a slam dunk.

Reactions: Johan Cruyff


No, not in terms of goalkeeping - more on that later - but this concerns a footballer's ability to quickly and decisively adapt to the situations around them.

Best and Maradona would once again be great selections here, but we're opting for one of the finest footballing brains that the sport has ever seen because Cruyff seemed to have a sixth sense about where the ball was at all times.

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Sprint speed: Kylian Mbappe

Yes, technically Tyler Magloire once topped Mbappe's sprint speed, but we're not sure that a player has ever sprinted as consistently fast - and for sustained periods, too, by the way - as Mbappe.

Stamina: N'Golo Kante 

Although Franz Beckenbauer and Lothar Matthaus were undoubtedly better all-round players than Kante, even they can't match the engine room of Chelsea's very own Duracell bunny.

Strength: Adebayo Akinfenwa 

The long-reigning champion of the strength statistics in FIFA's game series, Akinfenwa has brought a new level of strength and physique to the beautiful game with his hard work in the gym.

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In Game: Skill

Ball control: Ronaldinho

Whatever Ronaldinho said, the ball did, because never before has there been a player who found the perfect sweet spot between playing entertainingly and also producing world-class numbers.

Crossing: David Beckham

Kevin De Bruyne might be knocking on his door, but there's nobody that you'd want more than Beckham to whip inch-perfect balls into the penalty area for you.

Curve: David Beckham

Yes, that's right, we have our first two-time winner because Beckham is simply unrivalled when it comes to curving the ball in order to produce sublime crosses, passes and free-kicks.

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Dribbling: Diego Maradona

If you were to put either Messi or Garrincha in this spot instead, then we wouldn't blame you for one second, but we just feel as though Maradona's close-control reached even dizzier heights.

Finishing: Lionel Messi

But don't worry, Messi fans, because we're sticking our necks on the line by essentially declaring that the Barcelona legend is the greatest goalscorer in the history of the sport over Ronaldo.

Now, yes, the Manchester United man might have more goals at both club and international level as things stand, but Messi's superior goal-per-game ratio means that neither of those records might last.

There's no guarantee, of course, but with Messi tracking to surpass Ronaldo's achievements in the club game at the very least, then his greater lethality is more than enough to earn the top spot for now.

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Free kick: Juninho Pernambucano


The best to ever line up a dead ball from outside the box, Juninho would effortlessly switch between knuckle-ball technique and traditional curves as the reputed all-time top goalscorer from free-kicks.

Heading: Cristiano Ronaldo

A special shoutout to 'The Golden Head', Sándor Kocsis, but Ronaldo is the top dog when it comes to attacking headers with his insane tally of 139 aerial goals standing head and shoulders above the rest.

Long passing: Paul Scholes

This was one of the toughest categories in the entire list, but we're edging the victory to Scholes over his countryman Steven Gerrard for his quarterback-like distribution for United and England.

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Long shots: Lionel Messi

What? Yes, seriously, because although there might have been players with a more famous penchant for shooting from range - Frank Lampard, say - Messi's statistics speak for themselves.

The PSG forward's tally of 78 goals from outside the penalty area in open play is beggar belief and blows Ronaldo's comparatively paltry total of 57 long-range strikes out of the water.

Defensive awareness: Franco Baresi


Arguably the greatest defender to have ever lived, Baresi might not have been the most physically gifted of players, but it was his defensive nous and knowledge that made him an all-time great.

Penalties: Matt Le Tissier


Boasting a barely-believable record of 47 conversions from 48 spot-kicks - all of which hitting the target - there's nobody that we'd trust more from 12 yards in the history of football than Le Tissier.

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Short passing: Xavi

The ultimate metronome for your midfield fantasies, Xavi might not have dished out the sort of 90-yard passes that makes for a great YouTube video, but his build-up play was still out of this world.

Shot power: Roberto Carlos

With an absolute rocket-launcher of a left foot, Carlos struck more fear into defenders whenever he lined up a free-kick or long-range strike than any player before him.

Sliding tackle: Philip Lahm

To be fair, there weren't many things that Lahm didn't master in the world of defending, but nobody quite perfected the art of slide-tackling without fouling like the red-card-free Bayern Munich icon.

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Standing tackle: Paolo Maldini

You seldom saw Maldini going to ground unless he absolutely had to and that's because his ability to steal back possession with an on-his-feet tackle was simply unrivalled.

Volleys: Marco van Basten

We tip our hat to Luis Suarez and Hugo Sanchez, but Van Basten's uncanny ability to find the net whenever the ball dropped out of the sky was unmatched. His Euro 1988 final goal wasn't bad, either.

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In Game: Mental

Aggression: Gerardo Bedoya

It just wouldn't feel right if we didn't pick the player with the most red cards in history because Bedoya's record of 45 red cards, including a 15-game ban, will surely never be matched.

Positioning: Filippo Inzaghi


This statistic essentially refers to being in the right place at the right time and nobody perfected the art of penalty-area poaching and escaping the offside trap quite like Italy's very own fox in the box.

Interceptions: Franz Beckenbauer


The genius behind the modern sweeper, 'Der Kaiser' was here, there and everywhere when it came to taking apart and deconstructing the opposition - and interceptions were a key part of this.

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Vision: Xavi

A tricky one, truth be told, because anyone from Roberto Baggio to Andres Iniesta could have taken the spot, but we're edging it to Xavi again for having that sixth sense when it comes to passing.

Composure: Zinedine Zidane

This was a no-brainer because any and every video of 'Zizou' playing football will have you convinced that he played the sport in slow-motion. Oh, and he scored a Panenka in a World Cup final...

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In Game: Goalkeeping

Diving: Peter Schmeichel

If you watch a video of the Premier League's greatest ever saves, Schmeichel is almost always the proud owner of over half of them. The 'Great Dane' is the finest shot-stopper that I have ever seen.

Handling: Edwin van der Sar

He may not produce the sort of saves that make your jaw hit the floor, but Van der Sar might just be the safest pair of hands in the sport's history with his unerring reliability and lack of errors.

Kicking: Ederson

Ederson?! Yes, really, because it's only in the modern era that the importance of a goalkeeper's footwork has gone through the roof and Manchester City's number one is the best in the business.

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Reflexes: Lev Yashin

Arguably the greatest goalkeeper to have ever lived, Yashin has countless accounts of his mind-blowing reflexes and dives on the record to justify his 'Black Spider' nickname.

Positioning: Gianluigi Buffon

This was a tricky one, to be honest, because you only really notice a goalkeeper's position when it's bad, but there's no denying that Buffon is one of the most reliable number ones in football history.

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Who would you choose?

It feels weird placing Akinfenwa, Le Tissier and Ederson alongside Pele, Maradona and Pele, but it just goes to show that you don't need to be a GOAT to excel in one particular area of football.

That being said, we don't doubt that you would make some changes to our own selections and that's the beauty of football because there is so much debate to be had at every level of the game.

Whether it's because you think Ronald Koeman had a better shot than Carlos or Zidane had a finer touch than Ronaldinho, be sure to let us know your thoughts across our various social channels.

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