Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka: Who is Brazil's greatest ever footballer?

The nation of Brazil is both footballing mad and footballing royalty.

The beautiful game is played from the beaches to the favelas, by young and by old, there really is nowhere quite like it.

The country is stricken by poverty, and so youths often play with worse than basic equipment on tight and restricted courts, however much like in boxing and other combat sports, tough situations often create the greatest stars.

As a result of the conditions, many players that come out of Brazil are blessed with frighteningly quick feet and close control so good you’d be forgiven for thinking the ball was glued to their boot.

Players across generations have had a level of ball mastery that is simply off the scale when compared to what we would deem ‘skillful’ European players.

We’ve seen it with the likes of Neymar, Kaka, Ronaldinho, and Ronaldo in recent times, but the list is endless.

In truth, it’s no wonder the Selecao have won more World Cups than anyone else…

But who are their greatest ever players? It’s up there with the toughest of questions, but one that FourFourTwo have looked to decipher in their latest instalment of national top 10’s – check out their findings below.

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The 10 greatest Brazilian players ever ranked

10. Kaka

Kaka was the best in the world for a while, even winning the Ballon d’Or in 2007 after he guided AC Milan to Champions League revenge over their old foe Liverpool.

He really was a sublime player, a creative genius, if you will. That effortlessly glided across the pitch making everything look so easy, when in actual fact, he was a quite unstoppable product in his prime.

A devout Christian also, Kaka led by example both on and off the pitch, and he’s a very worthy selection for the top 10.

Kaka and Gerrard
Kaka and Gerrard

9. Jairzinho

The first of a few players that might be slightly less familiar to the younger generation, unless you happen to an astute footballing know it all – and congrats if you are.

Jairzinho was a key figure in the Selecao’s World Cup victory of 1970 where he became the first player to lift the prize having scored in every game – a record that remains unbroken to this day.

8. Socrates

Socrates was the maverick Brazilian star that loved a smoke, was no stranger to a drink, and certainly wasn’t afraid to speak his political mind – but that all added to the allure of the qualified doctor.

Standing 6ft 3 inches from the ground, Socrates was a gangly but elegant midfielder known for his two-footedness.

He captained Brazil at the 1982 World Cup and in doing so took charge of what many believe to be the greatest national team ever due to the sheer beauty of their football, however his side suffered defeat at the hands of Italy and were eliminated from the tournament.

Socrates Brazil
Brazil’s Socrates never won a major trophy.

7. Zico

Zico is often regarded as the greatest player never to win a World Cup, but his influence across the pitches of Brazil is nearly unrivaled.

Across 731 games for Flamengo the iconic attacking midfielder scored no less than 508 goals. His record isn’t too shabby for the Selecao either, having scored 48 goals in 71 games for his national side.

6. Rivaldo

A fine player, albeit incredibly one-footed, but Rivaldo’s wand of a left-foot served him double.

The winger who so often loved to cut in from the right and wreak havoc on opposition players was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1999 for his contributions at Barcelona.

He was also arguably Brazil’s best player at the 2002 World Cup, operating on the very right of the silkiest forward trio the world has ever borne to witness to: Ronaldino, Ronaldo, Rivaldo.

Brazil’s Rivaldo celebrates scoring a goal against England during a World Cup quarter-final match in Shizuoka June 21, 2002. REUTERS/Jim Bourg PA/JP

5. Romario

Another remarkable talent that boasts an outstanding goal record for Brazil – 55 strikes in 71 games.

Romario also did the business on the European front, winning titles at Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven.

Whilst he’s remembered by many for his days in Catalunya, it was in fact at PSV that we saw the best of Romario at club level, he scored 128 goals in 148 games for the Dutch giants.

4. Ronaldinho

What needs saying about this man? He made so many fall in love with the game.

Thanks to his fun-loving nature and genius ability to conjure up the spectacular, Ronaldinho has well and truly carved his name into footballing history for all eternity.

Across two years at Barcelona, he was undoubtedly one of the best ever and rightly claimed the Ballon d’Or in 2005.

Claude Makelele and Ronaldinho in Brazil vs France
Claude Makelele and Ronaldinho in Brazil vs France

3. Garrincha

Garrincha represents the ultimate underdog story. Born into poverty in Brazil, the future national icon suffered from crooked legs and an uneven spine. The doctors said it was a miracle he could walk, never mind run, or kick a ball.

But as things turned out, Garrincha defied the odds and became one of the greatest players of all-time, regularly dazzling players and fans alike with his dribbling ability and sheer speed.

He was a freak of nature, and stepped up in Pele’s absence to defend Brazil’s crown as world champions in 1962.

2. Ronaldo

Many people agree that besides Pele and Diego Maradona, Ronaldo is the only player that could hold a candle to Lionel Messi and his namesake, Cristiano.

R9 was simply sublime, phenomenal even, as his nickname so correctly coins it.

He scored 420 goals and swept up two Ballon d’Or awards across his injury plagued career, but it could have been so much more.

Ronaldo with Brazil
Ronaldo with Brazil
  1. Pele

Whether you believe Pele to be the greatest player ever or not, you can’t deny him this crown.

He was the first true global icon of football and remains to this day the only player to win three World Cups.

Across his career records say he scored a mind-blowing 1279 goals, but above all, the legacy he left on world football throughout the 20th century will most likely always make him Brazil’s greatest ever player.

Well played, FourFourTwo, some great selections.

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