Ronaldo, Zidane, Maldini, Beckham: Who is the best footballer of the 1990s?

The 1990s really was a golden age for football.

Legendary players were scattered across the globe and in the eyes of many fans, it was the decade in which the sport peaked.

As a result of the plethora of iconic figures who lit up pitches throughout the 1990s, naming the best footballer to have graced the wonderful era is virtually an impossible task.

So instead of us making fools of ourselves by trying to provide an answer, we’ve turned to the top 30 selected by fans over on Ranker.

Now, there are a few rogue selections due to the downvoting feature on the website, but overall it’s a list packed with bona fide legends.

Some big names miss out, though. Alessandro Del Piero, George Weah, Roy Keane, Roberto Baggio, Hristo Stoichkov, Paul Gascoigne, Gabriel Batistuta and Marcel Desailly to name a few.

Let’s take a look at the 30-man list…

Football Italia quiz: Name these 40 Serie A players from the 1990s

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Who is this 90s Football Italia era icon?

30. Raul Gonzalez

A great start. Raul was electric in front of goal for Real Madrid in the ’90s, winning two Spanish Golden Boots and finishing as the world’s top scorer in 1999.

29. Gianfranco Zola

Another absolute baller. Napoli, Parma and Chelsea all played home to the Italian’s unquestionable brilliance throughout the ’90s. He was even named FWA Footballer of the Year in 1997.

28. Andriy Shevchenko

Shevchenko’s very best years came at AC Milan after the turn of millennium, but he was still fantastic in the ’90s with Dynamo Kyiv, where his goals helped the club win 11 trophies.

27. Oliver Kahn

The legends keep on coming. Kahn was an absolute colossus between the posts for Bayern Munich and the German national side during the ’90s.

26. Michael Laudrup

A footballer who’s somewhat underrated in the present day. Laudrup, a supremely-gifted forward in his day, excelled at both Barcelona and Real Madrid, winning La Liga in five consecutive seasons from 1990/91 to 1994/95.

Michael Laudrup with Barcelona
Danish footballer Michael Laudrup playing for the Spanish club FC Barcelona, early 1990s. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

25. Alessandro Nesta

A truly world-class defender, although one who’s career actually peaked in the 2000s. Nevertheless, he was marvellous in the ’90s too and was named Serie A’s Young Footballer of the Year in 1998 while with Lazio.

24. Marco van Basten

One of football’s greatest tragedies is that Van Basten’s career was cut short by injury. He was an absolute joy to watch, particularly at AC Milan, where he won the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards in 1992.

23. Ruud Gullit

Another AC Milan great. Gullit’s best days were arguably in the 1980s, but there’s no denying he was brilliant the following decade too. The Dutchman joined Chelsea in 1995 and was selected for the PFA Team of the Year in his very first season.

22. Clarence Seedorf

Holland have produced some outrageously good footballers, haven’t they? Seedorf represented Ajax, Sampdoria, Real Madrid and Inter Milan during the ’90s and was superb at all four clubs.

21. Edgar Davids

Okay, it’s getting a bit silly with the Dutchmen now! Davids actually played alongside Seedorf at Ajax in the ’90s, the two midfield maestros helping the historic club win the Champions League in 1994/95.

Edgar Davids with Juventus
19 Dec 1999: Edgar Davids of Juventus in action during the Serie A match against Fiorentina at the Stadio Communale in Florence, Italy. The match was drawn 1-1. \ Mandatory Credit: Claudio Villa /Allsport

20. Peter Schmeichel

Arguably the greatest goalkeeper in Premier League history. Schmeichel was a cornerstone of Sir Alex Ferguson’s dominant Manchester United sides during the ’90s, winning 15 trophies in total.

19. Xavi Hernandez

Yeah, this selection is a tad baffling. Xavi is in the mix to be labelled the finest midfielder of all time, but not when it’s just focused solely on the ’90s. He only made his debut for Barcelona in 1998 for goodness sake.

18. Ryan Giggs

That’s more like it! As with Schmeichel, Giggs played a crucial role in United’s success throughout the ’90s. On top of the team trophies, the Welshman was named PFA Young Player of the Year in both 1991/92 and 1992/93.

17. Lothar Matthaus

A midfielder who could do absolutely everything, Matthaus was sensational for Inter Milan, Bayern Munich and West Germany/Germany in the ’90s. He deservedly won the Ballon d’Or award in 1990.

16. Gheorghe Hagi

Hagi was a wizard of a footballer, representing both Real Madrid and Barcelona in the ’90s. The Romanian legend finished fourth in the 1994 Ballon d’Or voting, while he was also named his country’s Footballer of the Year in 1993, 1994, 1997 and 1999.

Gheorghe Hagi with Barcelona

15. David Beckham

‘Golden Balls’ infamously got himself sent off at the 1998 World Cup against Argentina, but still enjoyed a lot of success at the end of the decade. He helped United win the treble in 1998/99, which saw him finish as the runner-up for the 1999 Ballon d’Or.

14. Alan Shearer

Shearer in the ’90s was something very, very special. He rippled the back of the net for fun with Southampton, Blackburn, Newcastle and England, while also guiding Blackburn to the Premier League title in 1995/96.

13. Paolo Maldini

Maldini only 13th?! If you say so. The Italian is widely regarded as the greatest defender ever and was as exceptional as ever during the ’90s. As well as winning 12 trophies with Milan in the decade, he was named World Soccer Player of the Year in 1994.

12. Eric Cantona

The man, the myth, the legend. In the ’90s, Cantona won the First Division title with Leeds and then went and transformed United into England’s best team. No wonder he was inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame, eh?

11. Ruud van Nistelrooy

Van Nistelrooy in 11th AND ahead of Cantona? Wow. Van Nistelrooy’s career didn’t take off until 1998 at PSV Eindhoven, the striker debuting for the Dutch national side the same year. So how he’s earned a spot on the brink of the top 10 is beyond us.

Ruud van Nistelrooy with PSV Eindhoven
8 Apr 2001: Ruud Van Nistelrooy of PSV Eindhoven in action during the Dutch Eredivisie match against Ajax played at the Amsterdam ArenA., in Amsterdam, Holland. PSV Eindhoven won the match 1-0. \ Mandatory Credit: Craig Prentis /Allsport

10. Rivaldo

Phew, back to the top-quality selections. Rivaldo lit up the ’90s with his wand of a left peg, excelling at Barcelona in particular. In 1999, the Brazilian enjoyed a quite incredible time, winning the Ballon d’Or, World Player of the Year and Copa America Best Player awards.

9. Edwin van der Sar

Erm, yeah, we’re not overly sure how Van der Sar has squeezed into ninth, 11 places ahead of Schmeichel. The Dutchman was named Best European Goalkeeper in 1995 after helping Ajax with the Champions League, though, so he was still pretty darn good.

8. Dennis Bergkamp

The man with a first touch sent from the Gods. At Ajax and Arsenal in the ’90s, Bergkamp played football from a different planet, but despite that, we’re not sure he should be ranked ahead of Rivaldo, Shearer and Cantona…

7. Luis Figo

No arguments here. Figo at Barcelona was a sight to behold, his mesmerising performances in Catalonia seeing him named Portugal’s Footballer of the Year in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999. What a player.

6. Cafu

The best right-back of all time? Cafu’s in that conversation. He was part of the Brazil side that won the 1994 World Cup and was named South American Footballer of the Year the same year. His hugely successful stint at AC Milan may have come in the 2000s, but we’re not going to dispute his sixth-place finish.

Cafu with AS Roma
25 Nov 1999: Cafu of Roma on the ball against Newcastle United during the UEFA Cup third round first leg match at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Roma won 1-0. \ Mandatory Credit: Alex Livesey /Allsport

5. Romario

Romario dominated the world of football in the ’90s, scoring goals at a frightening rate with PSV, Barcelona and the Brazil national team. Romario won a ridiculous number of individual honours as well, including the 1994 World Player of the Year award.

4. Thierry Henry

Henry ahead of Romario in a ’90s ranking?! We’re almost lost for words. Yes, young ‘Titi’ enjoyed some success at club level and on the international stage, but he was a pale shadow of the footballer we all enjoyed watching in the 2000s. In truth, Henry shouldn’t even be on the list at all.

3. Roberto Carlos

A defender unlike any other in history. The fact Carlos finished second for the 1997 World Player of the Year award tells you everything you need to know about how good the Real Madrid icon was in his prime. It was a privilege watching him weave his magic from left-back.

2. Zinedine Zidane

The marvellous Zidane certainly enjoyed himself at Real Madrid in the 2000s, but it should never be forgotten how good he was with Juventus in the ’90s. ‘Zizou’ secured both the Ballon d’Or and World Player of the Year awards in 1998 while with the Italian club, the same year he won France their first ever World Cup. The word ‘legend’ doesn’t do him justice.

1. Ronaldo

Who else was it going to be, eh? The ’90s belonged to the ‘El Fenomeno’, especially as he remained injury-free for virtually the entire decade. Cruzeiro, PSV, Barcelona, Inter Milan and the Brazil national team, Ronaldo bagged goals like it was going out of fashion with all of them. By the age of just 21, he’d won two World Player of the Year awards (1996 & 1997) – need we say any more?

Ronaldo with Inter Milan
23 Jul 2001: Ronaldo of Inter Milan in action during a preseason match played between Inter Milan and Bormiese in Bormio Italy. DIGITAL IMAGE Mandatory Credit: Grazia Neri/ALLSPORT
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