Ronaldo, Messi, Maradona, Pele: Who is the greatest footballer in history?

Who is the greatest football in history?

It’s a question with no right or wrong answer. The older generation tend to side with the likes of Diego Maradona, Pele or George Best, while those who are younger choose between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Virtually every football fan has a differing opinion on what makes a player the finest the sport has ever seen.

In the eyes of some, if a footballer hasn’t guided their country to World Cup glory like Pele, Maradona and Zinedine Zidane for example, they simply cannot be considered as the GOAT.

Neither Messi or Ronaldo have won football’s biggest prize, but in turn, their superhuman stats in the highly-competitive modern era speak for themselves.

Basically, choosing the GOAT is impossible and there will never, ever be a definitive answer to the question.

But that doesn’t mean people can’t provide their take on the matter.

Over on Top Tens, football fans have been asked to rank the greatest footballers in history and the current top 20 on the website makes for very interesting reading.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND – JANUARY 12: FIFA Ballon d’Or nominees Lionel Messi of Argentina and FC Barcelona (L) and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Real Madrid smile during the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala 2014 at the Kongresshaus on January 12, 2015 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)

Let’s run through the list…


20. Lev Yashin

19. Kaka

18. Garrincha

17. Eusebio

16. Zico

15. Ferenc Puskas

14. George Best

13. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

12. Neymar

11. Alfredo Di Stefano

Alfredo Di Stefano with Real Madrid

Legends, legends everywhere. From 20-11 you have the greatest goalkeeper in history (Yashin), five Ballon d’Or winners (Yashin, Kaka, Eusebio, Best and Di Stefano), two of Brazil’s greatest sportsmen (Garrincha and Zico) and a pair of modern day icons who’re still going strong (Neymar and Zlatan). Oh and there’s also Puskas, the man who scored so many goals for Hungary and Real Madrid that FIFA named an award after him.

Ferenc Puskas with Real Madrid
Hungarian footballer Ferenc Puskas, the inside-left of Real Madrid FC, December 1959. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


10. David Beckham

9. Franz Beckenbauer

8. Ronaldinho

7. Ronaldo Nazario

6. Johan Cruyff

Dutch legend Johan Cruyff
9 Feb 1977: Johan Cruyff of Holland in action during a match against England at Wembley Stadium in London. Holland won the match 2-0. \ Mandatory Credit: Tony Duffy/Allsport

Okay, we have no idea what Beckham is doing in 10th place. ‘Golden Balls’ was a brilliant player in his heyday, but one of the 20 greatest in history? Absolutely not. The rest of the block of five is top notch, though. Cruyff, Ronaldo and Beckenbauer all won the Ballon d’Or multiple times in their distinguished careers, while the ever-smiling Ronaldinho scooped the coveted award himself in 2006.

Ronaldinho in action with Barcelona
BARCELONA, SPAIN – APRIL 29: Ronaldinho of Barcelona celebrates after scoring Barcelona’s first goal during the Primera Liga match between Barcelona and Cadiz at the Camp Nou stadium on April 29, 2006 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)


5. Zinedine Zidane

4. Cristiano Ronaldo

3. Lionel Messi

2. Pele

  1. Diego Maradona
Argentina legend Diego Maradona
LIMA, PERU – JUNE 23: Argentina player Diego Maradona looks on before a 1986 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Peru at the National Stadium on June 23, 1985 in Lima, Peru. (Photo by Dave Cannon/Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

What a top five! While the order may irritate some, it’s hard to think of anyone who should take the place of any member of the above quintet. Argentine hero Maradona takes top spot, with his South American rival Pele occupying second – a win for the older generation.

Messi takes the bronze medal at the expense of Ronaldo, which will no doubt anger the Portuguese superstar’s millions of loyal fans across the globe.

But don’t blame us for that, blame those who anonymously voted on Top Tens…

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