The Best Soccer Players of All Time in Every Position

Mar 11, 2024

Best soccer players of all time

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Soccer, or football as it’s more aptly called, has seen the development of countless legends who have left an indelible mark on the sport. However, the reality is there’s no unbiased method for determining the best soccer players of all time. Everyone’s got their favorites and would love to see them rated among the greatest of the bunch. As such, some footballers mentioned here and where they’re ranked might appear controversial. 

Nevertheless, this list comes from a place of profound respect for these players and their immense contributions to the beautiful game. To make the ranking less divisive, let’s look at the best soccer players of all time in every position. 


Playing in perhaps the most underrated position in football, goalkeepers have the arduous task of keeping the ball from entering the goal. They’re the only on-field players allowed to use their hands. Here are the best to have ever done it. 

Lev Yashin

Regarded as the Soviet Union’s greatest football ever, Lev Yashin is the first and only goalkeeper to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or. He earned the nickname “the Black Spider” for his incredible reflexes and commanding presence in the box. During his career, he kept 270 clean sheets and saved a world-record 150-plus penalties — undoubtedly the best goalkeeper ever. 

Iker Casillas 

Real Madrid and Spain’s first-choice keeper for over a decade boasts an enviable trophy haul, which includes the UEFA Champions League (UCL), European Championship and World Cup. His quick reactions and ability to produce spectacular saves earned him the nickname San Iker (Saint Iker). 

Gianluigi Buffon 

Considered by many as the greatest Italian shot-stopper ever, Gianluigi Buffon’s goalkeeping feats are simply breathtaking. He is the country’s most capped player, having played between the sticks 176 times and lifting the World Cup in 2006.

Manuel Neuer 

Germany has produced a number of renowned goalkeepers, but perhaps none greater than Manuel Neuer. Proficient with his hands, feet and head, Neuer is a worthy inclusion on any list ranking the best keepers of all time. 

Manuel Neuer: Ball-playing goalkeeper

Honorable Mentions 

  • Dino Zoff
  • Oliver Kahn
  • Petr Cech
  • Peter Schmeichel
  • Edwin Van Der Sar
  • Gordon Banks


You’ve probably heard the famous Sir Alex Ferguson quote, “Attack wins you matches, defense wins you titles.” That’s how crucial defenders are to the game. 

Paolo Maldini 

Even the biggest skeptics cannot fault Paolo Maldini’s selection as the greatest defender ever. His tackles were faultless and his reading of the game was simply superb. Fondly referred to as Il Capitano, Maldini’s versatility saw him play both center back and left back, making defending look effortlessly easy. 

Franz Beckenbauer

A truly all-around baller, Beckenbauer invented the modern sweeper role in which the player sits behind the defensive line to sweep up any balls coming into the zone. More impressive is the fact that he is the only defender to win the Ballon d’Or twice, scooping the award in 1972 and again in 1976. 

Fabio Cannavaro 

Cannavaro is the only defender to win a Ballon d’Or in the modern era, which he won in 2006. He was awarded the best world player of the season in the same year after winning the World Cup. 

Philipp Lahm 

Philip Lahm was the very definition of versatility in a defender. Traditionally, he played at right-back but was often employed at the left-back, defensive midfield and right midfield roles. He’s also the only defender never to receive a red card in his career — a truly remarkable feat. 

John Terry

Widely considered the best defender in Premier League history, John Terry was one of the reasons for Chelsea FC’s dominance from 2005 – 2010. 

John Terry: Art of defending

Honorable Mentions

  • Sergio Ramos
  • Franco Baresi
  • Alessandro Nesta
  • Rio Ferdinand
  • Dani Alves 
  • Cafu
  • Marcelo 
  • Nemanja Vidic
  • Vincent Kompany 


The midfield dictates the tempo and rhythm of the game. Players in this position must have pin-point pass accuracy, dribbling ability, creative vision and faultless interceptions. Football has produced so many world-class midfielders that it’s impossible to say who was the greatest ever. 

Additionally, the midfield comprises three distinct roles, each bringing a unique dimension to the game. As such, it makes more sense to list the best footballers in these categories. 

Defensive Midfield 

This role protects the defensive line and usually sits just behind the halfway line on the field. The DM is also integral to ball distribution and can often make long forward passes to initiate attacks. Some of the best defensive midfielders of all time include: 

  • Lothar Matthäus
  • Claude Makelele
  • N’Golo Kante
  • Patrick Viera
  • Roy Keane
  • Frank Rijkaard
  • Edgar Davids
  • Xabi Alonso 
  • Sergio Busquets 
  • Rodri 

Central Midfield 

Central midfielders are the link between defense and attack, often providing support during forward runs and pulling back to help defenders. The best to ever grace this position include: 

  • Andrea Pirlo 
  • Xavi Hernandez
  • Andres Iniesta
  • Paul Scholes
  • Luka Modric 
  • Steven Gerrard
  • Toni Kroos
  • Clarence Seedorf
Andrea Pirlo: Midfield maestro

Attacking Midfield 

This role often overlaps with forward positions and involves supporting the central striker up front. Attacking midfielders also try to draw defenders away from the box to create space for the forwards. The best soccer players of all time in this position include: 

  • Zinedine Zidane 
  • Frank Lampard 
  • Kevin De Bruyne 
  • Ronaldinho
  • Diego Maradona 
  • Kaka
  • Johan Cruyff
  • Michel Platini 
Kevin De Bruyne: World-class assists


The forward position comprises the strikers, supporting strikers and wing forwards. 

Lionel Messi

Messi is a household name in any list of world-class footballers. He is everything you could want from a forward — dribbling, vision, goalscoring sense, speed and more. He’s among the most decorated footballers of all time, having won almost every trophy winnable in the sport, including the World Cup in 2022 and four UCL titles. 

Ronaldo Nazario 

In his heyday, there was no better striker. Ronaldo was a proper number 9 — ruthless in front of goal, able to dribble past defenders and always in a position to receive a forward pass. Unfortunately, his illustrious career was overshadowed by a spate of injuries, including the very debilitating torn ACL, which sidelined him for months in 2000. 

Thierry Henry 

King Henry, as his millions of fans fondly called him, was simply a delight to watch. His speed, goalscoring sense and technical grace made him one of football’s most complete strikers ever. 

Christiano Ronaldo 

Even people who don’t watch soccer know of C.Ronaldo. He exploded on the global stage playing as a right winger at Manchester United, where he won the Golden Boot in a league that featured all-time greats like Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba. Ronaldo holds the record for the UCL top scorer, having scored 140 goals during his time at United, Real Madrid and Juventus. 

Honorable Mentions 

  • Alfredo Di Stefano
  • Ferenc Puskas
  • Pele
  • Alessandro Del Piero
  • Eusebio
  • George Best
  • Gerd Muller
  • Marco Van Basten
  • George Weah
  • Raul Gonzalez
Thierry Henry’s dazzling brilliance

The Best Soccer Players of All Time

As the world’s most popular sport, football continues to deliver an amazing array of talented players well on their way to achieving legendary status. As a fan, the goal is to appreciate these footballers and their contributions to the game rather than squabbling over who’s better. 

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Jack Shaw is a senior writer at Modded. Jack is an avid enthusiast for keeping up with personal health and enjoying nature. He has over five years of experience writing in the men's lifestyle niche, and has written extensively on topics of fitness, exploring the outdoors and men's interests. His writings have been featured in SportsEd TV, Love Inc., and Offroad Xtreme among many more publications.