The Greatest Footballers Of All Time

All this talk of "the greatest manager of all time" has returned my mind to one of its favourite byways: frittering away time thinking about the greatest footballers who ever lived.

Now, I'm well aware that this kind of thing is an exercise in futility: one cannot possibly meaningfully compare the footballers of yesteryear to those of today - George Best's fitness was so far away from that of (say) Cristiano Ronaldo that the two might as well be playing different sports, but then Ronaldo has never had to play on the sorts of mudbowl surfaces that Best navigated with ease, nor ride the sorts of career-ending tackles that the Irishman faced weekly. It's also tough not to be swayed by nostalgia (the footballers we pretended to be on the playground will always, in one sense, be our true greats), or modern hype and fanfare.

However, putting all that to one side, it's a huge amount of fun to pretend that we can, no? There are some knowledgeable football heads on here, so I'm intrigued to hear the views of the Massive, or whatever we're calling ourselves these days.

So, here are the rules: your top 10 in ascending order of greatness, with one "wildcard" suggestion of a player who you think tends to be unfairly overlooked in these sorts of discussions, or just deserves a bit of attention. Maybe not one of the authentic 10 best players of all time, but one of the most underrated, or a personal favourite you just can't bear to leave out even though you know it's a bit daft.

Post clips or photos if you like. Give reasons and anecdotes if you want. For my part, I favour a combination of on-field ability and what the player was actually able to achieve/win (on the assumption that the game's greatest players will generally, but not always, have won its greatest honours).

Here's my list to start us off:

1. Diego Maradona

One of the heroes of my childhood. I know that to some he will always be little more than a cheat and a drug addict, but the things he could do with a football were simply mind-boggling. Have a look at this for a few examples:

That sort of technique might be commonplace today. I'm not so sure it was in the 1980s.

He tops the list for me because of his unique achievements at club and national level. He dragged a mediocre Argentina side to two World Cup finals, winning one of them. He dragged a mediocre Napoli side to a first ever Serie A title. He could do it all - he made those around him better, he was a genius on the ball and a leader on the field.

It's easy to poke fun at him, and he hasn't always been the most dignified of figures (understatement), but to a schoolboy he was pure footballing fantasia, and I think it's bloody wonderful that the greatest player who ever lived was 5 ft 5, tubby and sporting a nascent afro that wouldn't have seen him out of place in the MC5.

2. Leo Messi

We've all seen him. This surely doesn't need much explanation.

Is he number 2? He is for me. His statistics are absurd, and his consistency is mind boggling. It's tough to compare him to Maradona (who played in worse teams, but was less consistently effective), or to Pele (who played in a tremendous national side and some mickey mouse club sides), but I think there's an argument that with the system Barca have built around him he is the most devastating tip of a spear that football has ever seen.

Despite the 90-odd goals he scored last year, it is not the Messi of 2012 who really springs to mind when I want to conjure the magic.

Instead, it's the Messi of 2010-2011. The emerging Messi, still playing out on the wing at times and scoring a few less goals, but all the more terrifying for the fact that his genius was not yet fully formed. And all the more charming for the terrible barnet.

I can recall a period of about 9 months (not sure exactly when, maybe a little over 2 years ago) during which he did something genuinely stunning in what felt like every match Barcelona played. I mean the sort of football that makes you laugh out loud in shock and delight. Not so much the goals, more the little pieces of skill, the little runs and dummies. The fancy stuff.

I could be wrong, but it's my impression that he dribbled more during that period. That he was fouled less often, and less brutally, and was accordingly less inhibited. Of course, he's more effective now, but it's an effectiveness that finds its expression in goals and economy - there was a little more playfulness to him back then, and he wasn't carrying the team so much. Genius before the onset of maturity, if you like, when his game seemed like pure joy and he signed his work with a flourish.

Anyway, that's just my sense of things: I could be wrong, but here's a great video of his dribbling from that very period:

3. Cruyff

I didn't get to experience Cruyff at first hand, I'm too young for that, so my impression of him is derived solely from old clips, re-runs of matches and various books.

He achieved less than some of those around him on this list, but I think he had a view of the game that was vastly ahead of its time, and that informs where things have headed since. Obviously, he had a hand in all that as a manager, but the seeds were also sown as a player.

I love watching the Dutch side of the 70s (who doesn't), and I love Cruyff's versatility. He could have played pretty much any position in any team and his reading of the game was superb. None of us can hope to ever dribble like Messi, or have the physical prowess of Ronaldo, but we can try to see the game the way Cruyff did/does and, even though we'll never get close to really doing so, it will improve us.

4. Pele

Perhaps he's too low here, but this is where he sits for me. Again, he was long before my time, and I know my grandfather (who was Argentinian and therefore had every reason to be biased) rated him the best ever, but I'm not sure that's so.

Obviously, he was a fantastic footballer. A total natural and he'd have thrived in any era. But I think he loses a few marks for his choices on the club side of things. He didn't leave Brazil until 1974, and when he did it was to spend the last three years of his career in the States.

His career is therefore divided into two categories: the national side, where he played as the figurehead of what was arguably the greatest football team of all time, and club level, where I'm not entirely sure he really stretched himself. Did he ever face true adversity on the pitch (beyond a relentless shoeing in the 66 world cup)? I'm not really sure - perhaps others can enlighten me.

5. Zidane

In terms of winning the absolute lot at club and international level, Zidane is hard to beat. World Cup, Champs League, European Championships, Serie A, La Liga - he starred in teams that won these trophies.

He also dragged a fairly shoddy French side to the World Cup final in 2006, even if he didn't quite get the fairytale ending he might have hoped for.

On the pitch he was a total all-rounder, perhaps the greatest example of that type bar Cruyff. He had few, if any, weaknesses in his game and his vision and close control was up there with the very best there have ever been. But he was also a man for the big occasion, and he scored some huge, huge goals in the games that really mattered.

Here's my favourite clip of him, playing indoor football with a bunch of French kids - watch his feet:

I also like this footage of him teasing a keeper in training:

6. Xavi

It's tough to put too many contemporary players on a list like this without seeming a bit starstruck or naive. But I honestly don't see how Xavi can be left off.

Again, he's won everything: World Cup, Champs League (three times), European Championships (twice), La Liga (six times). He acted as the lynchpin of teams that changed the way football is played, at domestic and national level.

7. Iniesta

See above re: Xavi. All of the same applies to Iniesta. He's a wonderful, wonderful footballer who has won the lot, and he's still only 27.

8. Beckenbauer

9. Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima

10. Alfredo Di Stefano

Wildcard: Ronaldinho - A preposterous cartoon of a footballer. I saw him live a few times and he just crackled with magic, until his lifestyle began to take its toll. If he'd had a little more discipline and drive then he might have achieved even more than he did, but perhaps he wouldn't have been the same player. I'm not sure I've ever seen any other individual express themselves more fully on a football field than Ronaldinho, or with greater joy. He was like a circus act. The last time I saw him play was with a bunch of mates at the Nou Camp back in 2006. I think the opponents were Osasuna. He put on an almighty show: tricks, flicks, the works. The crowd went insane for him. The next day we bought a paper to see how the papers had rated his performance, and we discovered that his pass completion had been 93%. He'd showboated all game and he'd barely given the ball away.

Sorry for the long post, and well done to anyone who made it through all that babbling. I've had this in my head a while and really needed to get it out.

Who makes your top 10?

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Comments

Well, you've lost all credibility for me.

And Ronnie Rosenthal. In the end, the fairest thing to do seemed to be to leave them both off.

The Ginger Pele

so you probably won't have heard of any of them.

Gus Caeser
Steve Morrow
Remi Garde
Chris Kiwomya
Kaba Diawara
Igor Stepenovs
Francis Jeffers
Andre Santos
Glen Helder
Manuel Almunia
I'm not sure that they were the best ever, but as I said, I always enjoyed watching them.

What a terrifying list that is. Thanks for stirring painful memories Corg.

I am planning to put together a list of similarly talented lads who wore white but I need to confer with a couple of fellow sufferers to make sure I get it right

Dean Austin
Jason Dozzell
Kevin Scott
Grzegorz Rasiak
Steve Slade
Paolo Tramezzani
Ramon Vega
Gilberto
Paul Mahorn
Kyle Naughton

Wow. I'd almost forgotten him.

Kyle Naughton? Really? Is it not a bit early to write him off? He's looked ropey when I've seen him, but surely there have been worse.

David Bentley? Rebrov for £11m? Dos Santos?

Espen Baardsen? I've actually had the pleasure of scoring a goal against him in a pair of Arsenal socks. It did not go down well.

He gave up professional football in his 20s to become a businessman, the big weirdo.

And comes across as a very nice chap, although I gather he has some fairly full on ideas about free markets.

Played against him twice in XI a side games. He could still throw the ball further than I can kick it.

Might be a bit early but he scares the life out of me and my mates wanted a current player to match Santos. I don't think Bentley was bad, he was never given a decent run and his confidence suffered. Dos santos showed us flashes of what he can do for Mexico but we couldn't fit him into our system. Rebrov was bad at £11m but not as bad as the others I've listed, if the criteria was value for money then it would be different. Baardsen was ok, we've had worse between the sticks for short periods.

I find it hard to believe that a lack of confidence has ever been his problem. Quite the opposite, in fact.

in my opinion. Below the surface lies a more fragile soul.

Bobby Mimms, Barry Daines, Ben Alnwick or Kasey Keller?

Hmmm ... that name brings back memories of a certain phrase.

.....utensil cardboard container? Hmm, needs work that one.

And you missed:

Sebastian Squillaci
Willie Young
Colin Pates
Christopher Wreh
Inamoto
Oleg Luzhny
Jimmy Carter
Pascal Cygan
Quincy Owusu-Abeiyi

He played for us too. Everyone used to laugh at his bizarre ramrod-backed running style, until Michael Johnson made it popular. Probably Kenny Dalglish's worst signing for LFC. Until Charlie Adam.

Did you know that the Borussia Dortmund team that beat Real Madrid cost less, in its entirety, than has so far been spent on Charlie Adam's various transfers...?

Marco Reus alone cost €17 million. Lewandowski cost €4.5m. That's £18m straight off the bat.

If I recall correctly, Adam's fees to date have been circa 500k (to Blackpool), 7m (to Liverpool) and 4m (to Stoke).

Still not tremendous value, but still not enough, in aggregate, to have bought that wonderful Dortmund side.

I'll check with my source (my 14 year old son) and get back to you...

...just ignore me. He's now changed his story to saying Adam cost more than "some of the Dortmund players combined", which is, frankly, a piece of info that even Garth Crooks would hesitate to use.

The lesson here? Don't use football-obsessed teenagers as sources of info when posting on a public website. *Hangs head in shame*

Who the greatest footballer of all time is.

We need a viewpoint from the younger generation.

He said Messi without hesitation. To be fair, he also said that he's not seen enough of Pele or Maradona to make a reasonable comparison.

Show him this thread and direct him to Youtube for further research.

See amended post re Dortmund above.

Seemed too good to be true. Ah well, fingers crossed that Adam makes a £20m move to Spurs this summer.

Oops

answer

"The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It’s nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It is about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom."

Can someone please let the game's governing bodies and the TV broadcasters know?

George Best - in his pomp there was no-one better
Kenny Dalgleish - The Creator Supreme

Proper flawed genius.
Every club should have one.

Maradona live, destroy Bayern Munich at the old stadium in 1989. He was supposedly injured or drugged or both, but he was still head, shoulders and arms above anyone else and one pass of his still lives in my memory. Even he though cannot compare with this great ten,

Paul Reaney
Terry Cooper
Jack Charlton
Norman Hunter
Billy Bremner
Johnny Giles
Peter Lorimer
Eddie Gray
AllanClarke
Mick Jones.

End of discussion really !

Excellent kicker.

a great injustice, he had a pretty tasty right hook as well, just ask Francis Lee.

*smiley face*. Never saw that side in the flesh, but apparently Paul Madeley could play anywhere.

Madeley - sighs ! What a player, sadly now very ill, suffering from Parkinson's. How such an elegant player has been so reduced by illness is a sorry end. It's astonishing that he wouldn't be in the first 11 but invariably he was because someone was always out injured or suspended.

"Give 'em a goal" Gary.

Billy Bremner. Great skill and a fierce competitor. My favourite footballer ever. I do also hold soft spots for Gordon Strachan and Clive Walker as well (Clive Walkers Woking years were wonderful).

The biggest bunch of cheating tossers ever to play Football. In my unbiased opinion of course!

and wrong.

and absolutely correct. Excellent players for the most part, but with a nasty cynical side that made them rightly detested outside the LS postcode area.

Having said that, Jack Charlton will always be a legend to us Smoggys for his achievements as Boro manager. Took a bunch of underachieving misfits, added one free transfer fat immobile Scotsman (Bobby Murdoch, just about the best passer of a ball I ever saw) and made them virtually unbeatable in his first season in charge when we won Division 2 by 15 clear points (in the days of 2 points for a win). Promotion was achieved on the last Saturday in March, and the title was won the following week.

We should have won the title the following season as well - finished 5 points behind the champions, Derby, having thrown away more points than that at home in the first 2 months of the season.

Count Jim - is it OK if I post a photo of John Craggs at this point?

Positively splendid! Pity it's a post-tache photo though - Craggsy had one of the best seventies porno taches of them all. Hard as nails - and once gave the Chicken Runners a fine double-handed two fingers after he got a full 45 minutes of unwarranted stick from them. Best thing the Barcodes ever did for us, a steal at 50 grand.

I didn't understand any of that!

Chicken Runners: inhabitants of the South Terrace at Ayresome Park, which was known as the Chicken Run. They were notorious for the stick they gave out to their own players. Never happy unless they had something to moan about.

Barcodes: a polite description of our friends at Newcastle United. There are much more obscene things we Smoggys (Teessiders) call them, but this is a family forum.

I'd worked out barcodes but not chicken runners!

I spent many happy afternoons at Ayresome Park as a non-combatant 20 years ago. It was sometimes difficult to work out who were the home "fans" and who were the away fans. I've never known a bunch give their own team such as hard time. Mind you, they weren't very good at that time.

That's about the time we went through 10 seasons or so in a row where we finished in either the top 6 or bottom 6 of whatever division we happened to be in at the time. Mid-table mediocrity was not for us!
1990 was one of the best. Went into the last game of the season needing a win to avoid relegation. We were playing at home to our dear friends from Newcastle, who needed a win for automatic promotion. We stuffed them 4-1. To make it even better, they then lost in the play-off semi-final to Sunderland of all teams. Deep joy for all!

from the Soccer AM viewer.

I have never never never never watched fecking Soccer AM!!!! I'm sorry that my opinion doesn't coincide with yours.

The second time in two days that I've been portrayed as a bit thick (I'm guessing thats what you mean)on here, getting a bit fed up to be honest.

Who are the biggest bunch of cheating tossers ever to play football?

I don't know.

But I can help you identify the biggest bunch of cheating tossers ever to play basketball:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/sport/garethadavies/100024764/will-greatest...

Just reacting to what I saw as the lazy received opinion of people who have never watched a match of that Leeds side at their peak. I'm sure you are not one of those folk but I objected to a pejorative tribal reference against my team in a football-related thread hitherto notably free of same. Let's get back to arguing about music...

I was feeling a bit touchy that day so no probs here.

And now back to why The Smiths are/were brilliant!

I watched that Leeds team at their peak, and I will stand by my opinion that they were indeed a bunch of cynical nasty tossers. As I said earlier, no doubt about their footballing ability, just a shame about the rest that came with it.

My ten have all been mentioned (and I don't really do lists), but my wildcard would be the only dribblermeister who literally did run rings round defenders: Garrincha.

(Turn your speakers off, though)

For one horrible moment when you instructed us to turn off the speakers I thought that might be the long lost Garrincha "goat" footage.

He was some player, from what I've seen. Although running rings round defenders is an occupational hazard when you have one leg longer than the other.

Great footage, by the way.

also the subject of a great biography, by Ruy Castro which if you haven't come across is well worth reading. A sorry tale in the end.

on Konami's ISS Pro, which used to be the best football sim around.

Not in order

Pele
Maradona
Messi
Cruyff
Best
Beckenbauer
Bergkamp
Hagi
Dalglish
Zidane

Wildcard : Ian Rush

Just a brilliant finisher, what would he be worth these days? Once saw him get a hat trick against Everton (who were champions) at Goodison (not the one below) , he was so good it was almost embarrassing.

I only really have childhood memories of him, but I find it amazing how little awareness of him there seems to be these days. He was an absolute beast in his pomp.

Thank you for mentioning Bergkamp. I had the privilege of watching him live for a few seasons and what a player he was. I know it's old hat, but let's just take a moment to remember this:

He was a master of the art of finishing. I think there are two reasons why his name is not currently spoken of in hushed tones by football hipsters, and those are:

1) He missed five or six seasons of European competition whilst at his best, due to the Heysel ban
2) He looked like Barry Chuckle

Very true! He's no one's idea of what a great footballer should look like, is he?

The only time you hear his name mentioned nowadays is to laugh at him for the (apocryphal) "like living in a foreign country" quote re: his time in Italy. Seems a bit unfair given his record.

Brilliant finisher. Worked his nuts off too. Closed down space and pressed high up two decades before Messi and Iniesta made it fashionable. Dalglish and Rush - there was some partnership. Not a patch on Gary Bannister and John Byrne at their peak but none too shabby.

I think this is one of the greatest goals of all time and I'm a life long Spurs fan. In the interest of balance I'd like to nominate Glen Hoddle. He was just sublime.

"The Maradona of the Carpathians", as my father would always remind me.

Kevin Beattie....coulda/shoulda been right up there with the best but for injuries.

This goal (about 2 minutes 20 seconds in) against Scotland isn`t too shabby considering he was a defender, charging all the way up the pitch on a counter attack. I was going to post a cracker against West Brom in a 7-0 win but started getting a bit too nostalgic...them was the days.

What on earth is he doing as the farthest man forward in that move?!

in the dark days of the early eighties just before liquidation. His knees were completely shot and he couldn't run to save his life, but you could still see what a brilliant centre-back he had been.

you can't really compare athletes in a Top Trump stylee but he's just so damn cool. Him or J Giles.

OK, he's not one of the top 10 players of all time, but I'm just going to leave this here, because it's wonderful and brings back some amazing memories:

What a player he was. I'm not entirely sure we'll see another fairytale like it - one (fairly unfashionable) club his whole career, scoring wonder goals at a canter, can't get a sniff in the national team, scores the final goal in the final game at his club's historic home. It's his final goal for the club. Utterly ridiculous.

I love him, even after reading the admission in his autobiography that he turned down a move to Anfield just because he didn't want to live in Liverpool.

Other players would've drivelled on about how "Liverpool is a great club with a great history and great fans but I didn't think it was the right move for me at that time", and that's why I love Le Tiss.

Here's what Alan "Vacuum" Shearer had to say about Ferguson yesterday:

"If it wasn't for my love of Newcastle then I would've had to sign for Sir Alex. I was that close I'd actually found a house in Manchester."

That's an opinion driven entirely by the need to be on the "correct" side of the story.

What was stopping him signing for Ferguson in '92, when he chose Blackburn instead?

It was Jack Walker.

To paraphrase Krusty the Clown

"What was I supposed to do? They just drove a lorry load of cash and dumped it outside my house"

So, that's a very, very loose "I'd have had to" sign for Surralex then, eh Alan?

...who play for Man U or Man C live in Manchester? Also, most Liverpool/Everton players live up the coast in Southport, great golf there.

Loads of them lived around Altrincham, in Hale, hale barns and Bowden. Don't know about now.

- i have no affinity for Southampton, but the first few goals there just made me giggle. What a player. Footie used to be fun, didn't it?

Every time I watch that video I'm taken aback by the first few.

I've no idea why, but it's the free kick that really knocks me out, the way he casually flicks the ball up and just puts his foot right through it. It's like something out of the Matrix.

And the sheer nonchalance with which he's scoring these goals. Look at his body language, pure playground stuff.

What makes me smile about those goals is that, in nearly every one the defenders look so downhearted when the goal goes in.

"Fuck's sake, why did we bother turning up if he's playing?"

Brilliant player.

Sadly, from my own team mates.

Channel 4 used to show Serie A during the 90's on Sunday afternoons. I always used to think Roberto Baggio was one of the best I'd seen (I didn't see the missed penalty kick in the World Cup but apart from that..).

Also when Ronaldo (the Brazilian chappie) was at Inter Milan he was quite a stunning player. Can't vote for modern Ronaldo, (he's a brilliant player but has such an unappealing personality, when Man U lost at Fulham a couple of seasons ago he sulked to the ref everytime he lost the ball) nor anybody who cheated.

Eric Cantona for sure, nutter, but brilliant.

I think Dennis Bergkamp should be in my list as well, he would produce moments of magic unlike anybody else.

There used to be a centre-forward who played for Fulham when we were in the fourth Division called Danny Freeman, he had more hair on his head than Robert Plant and Jeff Lynne combined, everytime he ran forward I was amazed at how he defied the natural laws of physics and wasn't slowed down by the fact that it looked like the equal amount of what had just been sheared off a dozen sheep was flowing 'in his wake' as it were.

Drink it in:

Those were great days. I can still recall sitting in front of the box watching Gianluigi Lentini and wondering how on earth Milan had been conned into paying thirteen million quid for him. Oh, and the corruption was always wonderful to behold too.

Here's a great moment from 90s Italian football:

The Gazzetta was worth watching each Saturday morning simply to see what wondrous goal Gabriel Batistuta had scored that week.

And it has to be said, that violet Fiorentina strip is fabulous.

Batistuta is my favourite centre forward. There are more refined finishers and cleverer poachers mentioned on this thread, but I just love the fact that he was so athletic and so many of his goals were just THUMPED into the back of the net.

Stayed with Fiorentina when they went down to Serie B. I believe there's a statue of him at the stadium and let's face it, if you're going to have a statue there's no better place than Florence.

The best player the world has ever seen.

Not only was he individually brilliant, he gelled the components of those wonderful Ajax, Barcelona and Dutch sides throughout 1970's and did it all again as a coach. He changed football philosophy completely and gave a quiet backwater country the confidence, arrogance and impudence to (almost) rule global football.

2. Marco van Basten - the greatest pure centre forward. He had everything. Technique, pace, strength, aerial dominance and an indisputable aura. His last season at Ajax and his first season in Milan, he was unplayable.

3. Diego Maradona - single handedly won Argentina a World Cup and Napoli a couple of Serie A title and European wins

4. Pele

5. Michel Platini - an artist

6. Lionel Messi - one of kind, will get better

7. Cristiano Ronaldo - a phenomenom

8. Paolo Maldini - Rolls Royce of a defender, made the difficult look easy and did it for more than two decades at one of Europe's biggest clubs.

9. George Best

10. Ferenc Puskas

You've done a far better job of selling Cruyff than I was able to manage.

Van Basten - absolutely. What a player he was. Kicked to ribbons in Italy, sadly. I seem to recall that it was the early end to his career that caused the tackle from behind to be banned.

Maldini - spot on. Played for the first team of a European giant for over 24 years. It literally should not be possible.

Not only was a he a great player, he exuded cool. Cooler than Fonzie at the South Pole drinking Kool-Aid cool.

60 fags a day (until his heart problems at Barca kicked in)- buckled mackinstosh jackets and magnificent mod-ish hair. And he didn't give a flying one.

Wearing special Puma kit in the '74 WC Final when the KNVB were contracted to adidas - imagine Ronaldo doing that nowadays - they'd be fighting at the High Court for years and years

Here's the great man in his custom-made "two stripe" national shirt:

Ajax side of the early 70's were probably my first memory of European football and how easy and graceful it all seemed by comparison with the English game. They made the game seem so easy and Cruyff's goal in the semi final against Brazil in '74 is a great piece of individual skill allied to superb teamwork.

Maldini is in a class of his own defensively. Such a graceful player.

we'll murder this lot"

(note fag-smoking subs by the goal)

I did when I was a little lad though and a childhood love of/legal Geordie requirement to follow Newcastle United remains.

That being the case all ten on my list would be Malcolm Macdonald.

SuperMac! Whey Aye!

**

I'm not a "proper" fan, in that I don't really support any team and I've only ever been to one professional match. But I've watched Match Of The Day for nigh on 40 years, and always get very involved in the big international tournaments. This is far from "the greatest footballers of all time" - it's just the players who spring to mind as those I've most enjoyed/appreciated/admired watching over the years. So, in no particular order:

Zinedine Zidane (the Master: languid, brilliant, imposing)
Diego Maradona (let's face it, he was as close as football gets to genius)
Matthew Le Tissier (as extravagantly gifted as anyone)
Thierry Henry
Dennis Bergkamp
Kenny Dalglish
Brad Friedel
Paul McGrath
Gareth Bale
Kelly Smith

That's a wonderful list.

I love the inclusion of Kelly Smith and Paul McGrath. Quite right.

As for Thierry.... I couldn't be the first one to mention him, but he's the best player I've ever had the pleasure to watch regularly.

I was reading recently that he has the best goals per minutes played ratio of any Premiership player and the second best assists per minutes played ratio (after Beckham, somewhat surprisingly). To me, that's just outrageous: for a centre forward to both score and create with that sort of proficiency.

Watching his flowering from the gangly left winger who had seen his confidence crushed at Juve to the absolute monster he became was a real joy.

For all the wonderful goals (and I'll spare Corg the obvious one and the resultant full pitch dash celebration), here's my favourite moment of his:

It was lovely to have him back in an Arsenal shirt last season. He could be a moody bugger in his time and to see all that stripped away, and a bit of humility was just the final element in his transformation. He'd become one of us - a fan - and his celebration against Leeds will live long in the memory.

Philippe Auclair's biog of Henry which came out last year is not particularly well written, but it did put forward a theory about the player which stuck in my mind. Auclair suggests that all great footballers ultimately need a single moment which ultimately defines them. Maradona's is the handball and the wonder goal, Pele has the keeper dummy, Zidane's the champs league final goal, Cruyff's the turn and so on.

Until last season, Henry didn't really have such a moment that stood out against all the rest in the memory. In fact, his defining moment was actually probably cheating the Irish to get that god awful French team to the World Cup. That's what he was likely to be remembered for, first and foremost.

I appreciate that not everyone will agree, but his goal against Leeds, and the subsequent reaction, finally gave him the moment he deserved, the moment that we could all remember him by. That childlike, disbelieving hop and skip across the touchline, the sprint over to Wenger in his big daft coat. Even in the post match interviews you could tell he couldn't quite believe he'd actually scored.

I was at that particular game with some mates of mine who are Leeds fans, and even they got a little emotional over it (soppiness, rather than rage, before you ask). There's something lovely about the fact that one of the most aloof footballers of his generation was able to end his career with a moment in which he - finally - let the mask drop, and was embraced for doing so.

Here it is:

Apologies for wildly over-romanticising all of the above. I've tried to hold back!

Yes indeed - that was the first thing that came into my head when I thought of Henry. I don't think I've ever seen any other footballer do that trick.

Well I've done similar in my time. I didn't mean to do any of them either

Roughly in order:

Zidane- close to magic with his ball control and vision
Messi
Best
Maradona
Cruyff
Jimmy Johnstone
Van Basten
Iniesta
Kenny Dalglish
Jim Baxter

Wild card:
Franck Sauzee- saw his career out with Hibs. Majestic, class, competitive; plus being the loveliest guy.

Saw him playing for Sunderland. Past his best unfortunately.

George Best
Pele
Bobby Moore
Maradonna
Leo Messi
Paul Gascoigne
Johan Cruyff
Peter Shilton
Eric Cantona
Christiano Ronaldo

Wildcard is Tommy Taylor, Barnsley's finest ever footballing product, a Busby Babe whose genius was wiped out on 6th February 1958

Roy Race or Billy "the fish" Thompson? Also Hot Shot Hamish?

I liked Rosbif's mention of Kelly Smith.

So hey! - let's have Marta Vieira da Silva too:

Here's Ronaldo's ex-wife (the real Ronaldo, fact fans) Milene Domingues.

Milene once held a world record for doing 55,187 consecutive keepy-ups over nine hours and six minutes.

In addition to being very, very good at keepie up, Milene also has a sense of humour, agreeing that the son she shared with Ronaldo be given the forename "Ronald". Apparently the logic, as explained by Ronaldo himself was that "I like Ronald McDonald". I'm not touching that straight line.

No word as to whether said unfortunate child is known as "Ronald Ronaldo", but it seems likely.

(A Maverick Footballer is usually described as: "work hard, play hard, socks rolled down, womanising, gambling, drinking, but skilful and entertaining)
And the nominations are:
Tony Currie
Alan Hudson
Charlie George
Stan Bowles
Frank Worthington *
Rodney Marsh

and this bloke:

Robin Friday - although no real footage exists of Robin Friday, he is spoken of as a legend by both Reading & Cardiff fans (and Paul McGuigan)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Friday

* Frank Worthington - scorer of one of the best goals ever scored

Here he is:

The Super Furry Animals dedicated "The Man Don't Give a F**k" to his memory.

Once, after a game against Mansfield, he allegedly broke into the opposing team's dressing room and defecated in the team bath.

Died of a heroin overdose.

He's Michael Owen's biological father.*

His biography was co-written by Paul McGuigan of Oasis.

They're supposedly making a film of his life, with either Christian Bale or Tom Hardy starring.

*I made this one up. Wouldn't it be great though?

Turned up at Cardiff Station after signing for them only to be arrested by British Transport Police after travelling up from Paddingto with only a Platform Ticket

Used to spend Saturday Lunchtimes sat in the Spread Eagle pub in full kit, leave at 2:45, cross the road to Elm Park, walk on the pitch, play 90 minutes, quick shower, back in the pub by 5:30

Scored a goal described by referee Clive Thomas as "the greatest I've ever seen" - Robin Friday's response was "come down more often, I do that most weeks"

I'd not heard the train ticket one. Magic stuff. They don't make 'em like that any more.

As FauxGeordie pointed out a couple of weeks ago, even when Stan Bowles had his socks rolled up, he still didn't need shin-pads. He could stuff a few hundred betting slips down his socks, and that would provide adequate protection.

Can't remember by who: 'If only he'd been as good at passing a betting shop as he was a football'.

I think he said it in 1979 when Stanley signed for Forest after a falling out with Tommy Docherty at QPR.

William Ralph Dean has to be in the frame. 60 goals in a season. A beast of a man, when men were men.

The number 9 against which all number 9s should be measured.

I can remember, as a kid, looking at his records and reflecting, with some sadness, that I would never see a player score goals in that quantity in a major European league. Every time Messi or Ronaldo top 60 goals in a season I think of Dixie Dean.

Colin Bell - my all-time favourite and the reason I support City. My Grandad called in to get some petrol on his way down to our house and received one of the Esso 1970 World Cup Coin Collection for his trouble. I was kicking a ball around in the back garden aged four. The coin was Colin Bell and 40 years of hurt later we started winning trophies. Grandad was great for many reasons - being responsible for me supporting City was only one.

And the second wildcard, Georghi Kinkladze. He was in the side that went down from Premier League to League One in three seasons but what a player!

Good thread. Brings back a lot of memories. For me the greatest player ever will always be my fellow countryman and errant genius George Best. This video only captures a fraction of the magic that he brought to the game and given that the lad is no longer with us I personally find it rather moving.

And people who only have superficial understanding of the man, his lifestyle excesses and his career tend to ignore the fact that he played at the top level for 10 years until his first "retirement" at 27 years old before he went to America; and he did so against some of the toughest defences (and worst pitches) in English football history.

To pick up the point about comparisons between the game that George played to Christiano Ronaldo's football, I know which one I'd rather watch. Fitness is only one criteria to compare the greats of the past to today's stars. George Best's situation awareness around the box, sense of balance, artistry with a ball and all round dribbling skill on the run were in a different class from Ronaldo or indeed most other players I've seen in the the past couple of decades.

Finally, as George once described Sir Matt Busby's normal teamtalk in the dressing room "Lads there's the ball, go out and enjoy yourselves". How times have changed.

That's a wonderful post.

Totally agree re: the fitness thing. Modern footballers are superb athletes, very impressive. But does it benefit the game? Not always, in my view.

I was at the 1977 World Cup qualifier vs Holland at Windsor Park. My dad took me to see George Best playing against Johan Cruyff. I was 9 at the time and I think it was played in the afternoon on a school day. The only thing I can remember is the Dutch fans wearing big orange wigs. So I see the those 2 talents on the same pitch and can't remember a thing they did.
My top ten would be:
Maradonna
Messi
Best
Cruyff
Pele
Ronaldo
Zidane
Cantona
Ronaldo (fat one)
Xavi

My favourite clip of George Best is one where he's presumably been fouled throughout the game and has had enough .. he's just walking towards a defender, rolling the ball along, and taunting the defender with a "come on, then" gesture and the defender doesn't know what to do... unfortunately I cannot remember what game it was or opponents so can't find it ... anyone else know the clip I mean?

and look kids! He's controlling the ball using both feet! So annoying to see players these days doing a 270 turn just to get the ball onto their "good" (read, "only") foot.

Sorry, I just noticed I used the term "these days", so I've awarded myself a yellow card and a buss pass.

actually have improvised explosive devices built into the boot of their weaker foot. If this boot touches the ball at any point during the game they lose a leg. This leads to the rather balletic 270.

and some truly could be the best ever, but amongst the special British footballers no mention of Laurie Cunningham ?

The greatest player I ever saw "in the flesh"

And Willie Johnston as well

1. Cruyff - the genius philosopher-king who reinvented the game and further refined it with Barca. Flowed balletically around the pitch, seeing many moves in advance of others. 'Brilliant Orange' and 'Soccer Men' give wonderful accounts of his influence.
2. Di Stefano - general of the all-conquering Madrid team. Precursor of Cruyff and, probably, the first modern player in his attacking midfieder role.
3. Maradonna - for winning the World Cup with an abysmal side.
4. Bobby Charlton - all-round magnificent player who was the stand-out player in '66 and who would have taken England to the '70 Final if Alf hadn't subbed him too early.
5. Best - unplayable when at his peak; strong and fearless with beautiful balance
6. Denis Law - biased, but he carried drama with him -deadly in the box and a fearsome competitor
7. Jimmy Johnstone - wildly inconsistent and infuriating, but he gave the greatest individual performance I've ever seen 'live' when he destroyed England in '74. Wanted by both Inter and Man Utd in the '60s, but Stein wouldn't let him go. Can you imagine a forward line of Johnstone, Charlton, Law and Best?
8. Garrincha - the 'goat boy' was the most incredible dribbler in history. Some of the clips make you laugh out loud in delight. Key player in Brazil's '58 and '62 World Cup wins.
9.Jim Baxter - totally biased, but, in his prime, he was peerless. Played with swagger and joy. Magnificently gifted, but even more flawed than Best.
10.Beckenbauer - coolest defender in history. Magnificent captain.

Wildcard - I'll go for Danny McGrain who was the greatest attacking full-back I've ever seen. He's a sweetheart of a man also - modest and unassuming and genuinely appreciative of compliments about his playing years.

"Philosopher-King" - the perfect description. Some wonderful stuff there Ian - thanks, especially re: Johnstone.

I'm amazed we got this far without Charlton.

Not saying you're wrong Ian but my memory of him is as a proper centre forward. I would have said that Real's attacking midfield general was Puskas. Both genius players though, even in black and white.

that he functioned mainly as a centre forward, but he also dropped back often to instigate attacks and then function as the spearhead for Puskas and Gento. You can see this quite clearly in footage of the final against Eintracht. He always struck me as a player ahead of his time in the way he could shift between roles. (FWIW, I believe he's SAF's favourite player of all time - Fergie was, of course, at that final)
Puskas and the Hungarian team were also incredible tactical innovators. There's a book called 'Inverting the Pyramid' which is an interesting recounting of tactical formations through the ages. It can be a bit dry though, but a worthwhile read.

I seem to recall reading that Di Stefano also played a handful of games in defence for Madrid.

who was a magnificent centre forward and centre half, said Di Stefano was 'the most complete footballer of all time'. (thanks Wiki)
Funnily enough, this reminds me of watching Dalglish in his first seasons with Celtic. They had a relatively poor team at the time, yet Dalglish seemed to be playing in defence, midfield and attack all at the same time. The most consistently great performer I've seen in the flesh.

One thing people tend to forget - or perhaps choose not deal with because it spoils the narrative - is how much more popular Denis Law was than George Best on the Old Trafford terraces in their shared heyday. In a way that only Eric Cantona has really managed to reproduce since, Law represented everything that the fans identified with in that Manchester United team: cocky as they come, yes, but a grafter. And it's the second of those two characteristics where George Best always fell short. He had more talent than anyone else on the team but he was so stingy with it. I must have seen him play about thirty-odd times in the mid-Sixties. He was brilliant (and, yes, he was brilliant) in only six or seven of those matches. In most of the others he barely stood out more than John Aston.

In fact, George Best was the context for my earliest recollections of hearing the "C word" in the wild. Even in the proto-prawn-sandwich posh seats around us (my dad had a well-to-do mate with season tickets he seldom used) a ritual practically every week was to gaze skywards, puff out your cheeks and shout, "Oh, pull yer fucking finger out, Best, yer cunt!" God knows what they called him in the paddocks below.

George Best's skill was greatly admired, but he was not especially loved. Denis Law, though, was worshipped.

... especially in his younger days used to get a lot of stick. I think losing possession is the supporters' biggest annoyance - and not playing the simple ball to the man in space - and in Gigg's case, ballooning a cross either over the bar or out for a throw-in.

there are a couple of other factors. In those days footballers weren't expected to be super athletes. With the exception of a couple of workhorses in each team players had a very specific role and as long as they carried that out not much more was ever asked of them. Terms like "tracking back" are new to the football dictionary. One of my all-time heroes Jimmy Greaves wasn't lauded for his work rate but you didn't get many complaints from Spurs (or England) fans as the goals went in on a regular basis. Best had the ability to turn any game when in the mood. More modern equivalents (Le Tissier, Ginola, Overmars, Gascoigne) tended to get a harder press at times.
The other factor with Law of course was that he late joined Citeh and famously scored the goal that relegated Utd, cue re-writing of history books at Old Trafford.

As I remember it, the team was so dire by then, and the fans were so resigned to its direness, that Denis Law being the one who got to press the ABORT button was seen more as poetic justice than an actual betrayal.

He was with Man City after Huddersfield, leaving for Torino after a year. He was then signed by Man Utd. Each of these transfers was for a record fee. His distraught reaction to scoring the backheeled goal for City endeared him even more to Man U fans. That goal id not, in reality, relegate Utd, but Law was unaware of that at the time.
Archie is right that Law was worshipped by Utd fans - he was known as 'The King'. I recall Dalglish mentioning that Denis was his hero, but that Denis had been the hero of every Scottish kid of that generation. Law was not only magnificently gifted (only Scot to be European Player of the Year and also selected for a Rest of the World team) brave, combative, fearless, spiky and aggressive, but was was an utterly thrilling player to watch with his flair for the dramatic and his rapier-like striking. One of my favourite photos is in the aftermath of a fight he's had with Jack Charlton where his collar of his shirt remains barely attached to the rest of his shirt.
My brother met him in an airport once and said he was immensely likeable and charismatic; spending the short time quizzing my brother about his work and his family life.
I can not think of any other Scottish player (possibly, Baxter) who is so universally adored by Scottish fans of a certain generation.
(I presume everyone knows that the blonde, spiky Dutch genius, Bergkamp, was named after him. Bergkamp's father had to make it 'Dennis' as 'Denis' was considered a girl's name.)

I'd never heard that before.

And only recently. And the person saying it was Mark E. Smith! I'm beginning to think that Archie is a pseudonym of Prestwich's most famous son.

I'm Harpurhey, me. (Same age, though.)

I don't know if you get BBC3 in sunny Spain, but there was recently a documentary series based in Harpurhey called People Like Us. Quite a funny show actually. Good people.

I think it is unfair to ignore the boys between the sticks

Banks
Schmeichal
Zoff
Shilton
Clemence

All great keepers but it's too late and I'm too tired to remember any more but I'm sure I've missed some obvious ones. Brian Clough who knew a thing or too claimed Shilton won him the league at Forest and I'm sure Schmeichal did the same at Utd. Not Gary Sprake though or Alan Rough

But any top five keepers list that ignores Neville Southall is fundamentally flawed. The best I've ever seen - and I've seen all five in your list.

Big Nev should definitely be in top 5. Personally I wouldn't have Clemence. He was good but I was always a bit flummoxed how he managed to deprive Shilton of many more international caps. IMHO he was always second best in that particular match-up.

was too erratic in comparison to Shilton. I believe Clough claimed Shilton was worth an extra 12 points a season to the team (back in the 2 points for a win era). He was desperate to sign him for Notts Forest and struck at the earliest opportunity to take him there.

When Ron Greenwood was England manager, he was completely unable to decide who his first choice keeper was. As a result, Shilton and Clemence played alternate games.

I knew I'd missed someone out. Big Nev it is then in place of Clemence, who by the way robbed Shilton of a caps record that would have been unbeatable

Good man.

My absolute favourite to watch is Duncan MacKenzie (props to Frank Worthington). I love that man even today. I've never seen Best, Law or Charlton do much but Scholes five to ten years ago was unbelievable & better than Giggs, Cantona.

Having said all that, the best player I have ever seen is Kenny Dalglish. He purred on the field like a finely tuned Ferrari.

Such a good shout. A footballer's footballer.

...Duncan McKenzie is magic!

Always remember seeing him playing against Stoke in a cup game, which he basically won single-handed. At one point, he took the ball and essentially dribbled it around the whole Stoke team, who could only stand and watch.

The next day, the match was shown on Granada's 'The Big Match'. Tommy Smith was the match summariser for the day. When asked to choose his man of the match, he mumbled something about his dislike of 'flickettywitch' players and gave the MoM champagne to a clearly embarrassed Andy King.

One of a long line of top quality players who enjoyed a gasper or two in between games. Or, more accurately, a game or two between gaspers.

In the League Cup semi-final, MacKenzie nutmegged Smith on the half-way line and broke free. If only he had managed to score, Smith's humiliation would have been complete.

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