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Greatest Soccer Players of all Time

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The game has been blessed with some phenomenal talents and it does many scant justice when it comes to choosing the 10 greatest soccer players of all time. But, for what it is worth, here is About.com World Soccer’s best of the best.

1. Pele (1956-1977)

8th May 1963: Brazilian footballer Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele. Pub - Evening Standard - 08/05/1963
Evening Standard/Getty Images
A World Cup winner in 1958, 1962, and 1970, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, to give him his full name, is generally regarded as the greatest soccer player of all time. Pele won multiple titles with Santos, with whom he played out the best years of his career, before joining the New York Cosmos for a brief spell. Scorer of 760 official goals, Pele was a superb striker and dribbler of the ball, but could also combine well with his teammates and feature prominently in the build up to goals.

2. Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi
Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images
It is not an exaggeration to say that The Atomic Flee is now challenging Pele for the crown of greatest ever soccer player and will surely surpass the Brazilian if the remainder of his career is as fruitful as the opening years. Messi joined Barcelona when he was just 13, scored on his debut at 17 and now wows the Camp Nou faithful on a regular basis with his dribbling, passing and goalscoring exploits. He broke Gerd Muller's record for most goals in a calendar year when he scored an incredible 91 in 2012.

3. Maradona (1976-1997)

Diego Maradona
Billy Stickland / Getty Images
Diego Armando Maradona is one of the greatest dribblers the game has ever seen. His 'Hand of God' goal against England at the 1986 World Cup and the stunning solo effort that followed sum up this flawed genius better than any words. Maradona did not always play by the rules, and confesses that his expulsion from the 1994 World Cup after testing positive for ephedrine is one of his saddest memories. But the Maradona that captained Argentina to the 1986 World Cup and helped unfashionable Napoli to Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990 was irrepressible.

4. Johan Cruyff (1964-1984)

The mercurial Johan Cruyff played for both clubs
Evening Standard / Getty Images
The outspoken Dutchman excelled for Ajax and Barcelona in the 1960s and 1970s and is considered by many to be Europe’s best ever player. His name was synonymous with Rinus Michels’ "Total Football" movement whereby players interchanged positions. Cruyff was effective in both wide and central positions, and was famous for his ability to turn players. Winner of three Ballon D'Ors (European Player of the Year awards), Cruyff won eight Dutch titles and three European Cups with Ajax, and also made a controversial move to bitter rivals Feyenoord.

5. Franz Beckenbauer (1964-1984)

Franz Beckenbauer
Getty Images
"Der Kaiser is the only man to captain and manage his side to World Cup victory. In the early 1970s, the German revolutionised the game with his switch from central midfield to an attacking sweeper role where he would dictate play from the back by dribbling the ball out of defense and joining in his team’s attacks. He enjoyed his best years with Bayern Munich, where he won five Bundesliga titles and three European Cups, but he also spent time with Pele at the New York Cosmos.

6. Michel Platini (1973-1987)

Michel Platini
David Cannon / Getty Images
A star with Nancy, St-Etienne and Juventus, Platini was a European champion for club and country after winning the 1984 European Championship with France and the European Cup the following year with Juventus. One of the best passers in soccer history and an expert free-kick taker, the attacking midfielder scored nine goals in that 1984 triumph.

7. Alfredo Di Stéfano (1943-1966)

Alfredo Di Stefano
Central Press
Di Stéfano's achievement of scoring in five consecutive European Cup finals is unlikely to ever be matched. Born in Argentina to Italian immigrants, but playing internationally for three different teams, Di Stéfano's career was nothing if not cosmopolitan. A player of exceptional fitness levels, the Saeta rubia (blond arrow) was instrumental in Real Madrid's dominance in the 1950s, although the history books could tell a very different story if he had joined Barcelona instead of the Merengues in 1943.

8. Ferenc Puskás (1944-1966)

Ferenc Puskas
Central Press
One of the best strikers ever, Puskas averaged nearly a goal a game at club and international level. He was a prominent member of the great Hungary team of the 1950s, known as the Mighty Magyars. Puskas was top league scorer with Real Madrid on four occasions, and scored seven goals in two European Cup finals. He won five league titles with Budapest Honvéd before moving to Real in 1958 and winning another five. The inside-left also boasts three European Cups.

9. Eusébio (1958-1978)

Eusebio
Hulton Archive / Getty Images
"The Black Panther" is considered Portugal’s greatest ever soccer player. Scorer of nine goals at the 1966 World Cup finals, Eusébio possessed explosive pace and deceptive ability. The forward turned out for a host of teams, but his best years were spent with Benfica where he averaged more than a goal a game. Eusébio told World Soccer magazine in 2010 that he signs photographs of himself every night to give to children the following day.

10. George Best (1963-1984)

George Best
Leonard Burt / Getty Images
Like Maradona, Best enjoyed the luxuries that his profession afforded him, and it was his alcohol addiction that contributed to his death in 2005. On the pitch he had a devastating combination of pace, skill and finishing that should have brought more than two league titles and one European Cup with Manchester United. Best played as a winger or attacking midfielder and had the ability to dribble past defenders as if they were not there. Like several other players on this list, Best also plied his trade in America in the 70s and 80s.
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