Following the post about the greatest basketball player of all time according to NBA legends, some friends and readers asked for a similar list about soccer/football.
If you follow this blog, you probably know that I consider Pelé to be the greatest footballer ever. However, I must recognize that there are other athletes worthy of such title, true giants like Maradona, Di Stéfano, Cruyff, Messi, Garrincha, among others. In my opinion, no one was much better than Messi – not even Pelé. No one was considerably superior to Cruyff – not even Maradona. They are all are gods, seated in the most honorable places of soccer Olympus.
Nonetheless, the discussion about who was the best ever is indeed very fun (certainly the topic of many conversations among friends). Because of that (besides requests by friends and readers), I’ve decided to look for the opinion (the most recent ones, when Messi, for example, was already considered an all time great) of 24 world football legends (17 players and 7 coaches). I used, as criteria to choose the players, the following list of the 20 greatest (witch does not mean that I necessarily agree with that list) by The International Federation of Football History & Statistics
1."Pelé" (Brazil) 1705 2.Johan Cruijff (Netherlands) 1303 3.Franz Beckenbauer (Germany) 1228 4.Alfredo di Stéfano (Argentina) 1215 5.Diego Armando Maradona (Argentina) 1214 6.Ferenc Puskás (Hungary) 810 7.Michel Platini (France) 722 8.Garrincha (Brazil) 624 9.Eusébio (Portugal) 544 10.Robert Charlton (England) 508 11.Stanley Matthews (England) 368 12.Marco van Basten (Netherlands) 315 13.Gerd Müller (Germany) 265 14.Zico (Brazil) 207 15.Lothar Matthäus (Germany) 202 16.George Best (N. Ireland)187 17.Juan Alberto Schiaffino(Uruguay) 158 18.Ruud Gullit (Netherlands) 119 19.Valdir Pereira Didi (Brazil) 116 Gianni Rivera (Italy) 116
“Reporter: Among all the Brazilians you have listed, who came closer to Pelé as players?
Pelé: Because of his playing style, the closest one was Zico”
“But now he (Messi) is the best player in the world and of his time. However, the best ever is Pele. He is just ahead of Messi. I’ve never seen a player like Pele. I played with him at the New York Cosmos and you would give him the ball and just not see him again because he was too fast. Pele was all instinct.”
Di Stefano: Pelé.
During an interview in 2012, the late Argentinian genius stated:
“The best player ever? Pele. Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are both great players with specific qualities, but Pele was better”.
Recently, according to journalist Luis Munilla, Menotti said in an interview with “Radio Marca” that Di Stefano, in private conversations, used to tell him that there was no one like Pelé.
Menotti en Radio Marca: "En la intimidad Di Stefano me decía que como Pelé no había ninguno".
— Luis Munilla (@munillacope) October 22, 2015
Platini: Pelé ou Cruyff (each one will get one vote).
In an youtube video, Platini said: “There is Pelé, the man, and then Pelé, the player. And to play like Pelé is to play like God”.
Eusébio: Di Stéfano.
“No doubt, he is the greatest ever. When God built Pele, he put everything that a player needs in him. He knew how to shoot, how to dribble, how to head, be physical. He had everything that a football player needs to have. It’s difficult for someone to achieve what he has in football.”
Tactically, technically, physically, mentally he was the best. A lot of things that I learnt was from Pele’s sticker albums: how to head, how to shoot the ball. It was like a step-by-step guide. I learnt from Pele as a kid.”
Roberto Rivelino: Pelé and Maradona,in that order
In an interview to Maradona himself in 2014, Rivelino stated:
“There is always a lot of comparison between Pelé and Maradona. I take my hat off for Pelé. But, after Pelé, Maradona was the best I ever saw. For his elegance, his importance. He was a true “10”. What Maradona did for Napoli gives me goosebumps. Maradona played football extremely well, he was so special.”
Zinedine Zidane: Probably Maradona. The French superstar always mentions that Maradona was in another level from the rest.
Daniel Passarella: Hard to compare great players.
In 2013, Passarela said about Pelé, Messi and Maradona.
“Today, football is more about results. The same people who say Maradona is better than Messi for having won a Word Cup, don’t the same about Pelé, who won 3, more than Maradona. With that, I want to say that Messi, even without winning a World Cup, has showed that he is in the right path to surpass Maradona.”
In 2014, about Pelé, Di Stéfano and Maradona:
“It is hard to compare great players. I did not see Di Stéfano and another famous players. We begain to watch and understand football in Pelé’s days (…). But we don’t compare Pele and Maradona the same way. There is not such comparison, because Pelé played 4 and won 3 world cups. This is important data. I think it was differnt times. Maradona was more flashy, drew a lof of attention, much more visible thatn Pelé. Pelé was more intelligent, understood the game better.”
Gianni Rivera (Milan and Italy legend, Ballon D’or winner in 1969)- Pelé:
“Messi is quite a weapon for Barca. Having him in your team is huge, he’s the most decisive player right now, However, I do think there’s someone who was even better and that’s Pele. He used both feet on the pitch. He was as dangerous with his right as he was with his left. He was strong in the air as well, and created a lot of chances.”
Rudd Gullit: Maradona.
” He (Messi) is already the best in the world. He is an exceptional talent. I still think Diego Maradona is the best player I have ever seen, but Messi is closing in fast. He’s a wonderful sight in full flight and we are lucky to have him around.”
Marco Van Basten: Maradona.
He believes that Messi needs to win a World Cup to be considered the best.
Lotthar Matthaus: Pelé.
In 2014, in the Brazilian show “É campeão” by Sportv, he replied that Pelé was the greatest ever (Sadly, I can’t find the clip).
Just Fontaine : Messi.
“I used to hink Pelé was better, because he shone for his club and won World Cups. People also talk about Di Stéfano, mas I think Messi is superior. With his speed and dribbles, he reminds me of Garrincha. When he wins a World Cup, the world will think the same.”
Coaches from here on now.
Pep Guardiola: Messi (compares him with Pelé):
Arsène Wenger: Messi.
Jupp Heynckes: Pelé, Messi and Maradona are in the same leve (each one will get one vote).
Menotti – Pelé
“The best of all was Pele, who is a mixture of [Alfredo] Di Stefano, [Diego] Maradona, [Johan] Cruyff and Leo Messi.”
During his participation in a documentary about Messi’s life, according to an article published in “La Nacion”, Menotti praised the Barça’s genius, “but when he heard Pelé’s name, his demeanor changed completely: ‘When we talk about football, don’t put Pelé because he was from another planet. Then, he added: “Who was better between Messi and Maradona? I don’t now, not possible to decide, they are both great players. The only one who is above everything, I’ve already mentioned and won’t say it again”.
Alex Fergunson – Pelé.
Charlie Rose: Who is the best player that you ever saw?
AF: I’m a Pele fan from way back when I was a kid, and then there was always this thing later about Pele and Maradona. I was young and impressionable as a kid but it was always Pele for me. Today, I think that you have got to look at Messi and Ronaldo. They are unbelievable. The best today. They are fantastic – absolutely.
Fabio Capello – Pelé, Messi and Maradona are the three best ever (each one will get one vote).
PELÉ – 14 votes (Pelé, Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Di Stéfano, Zico, Platini, Rivellino, Rivera, Mathaus, Menotti, Alex Ferguson, Heynckes, Zagallo and Capello);
MARADONA – 6 votes (Maradona, Zidane, Gullit, Van Basten, Heynckes and Capello);
MESSI – 5 – votes (Fontaine, Guardiola, Wènger and Heynckes);
DI STÉFANO – 2 votes (Bobby Charlton and Eusébio);
CRUYFF- 1 vote (Platini)
Interestingly, I also consider the above players to be the 5 greatest ever. Beckenbauer and Cristiano Ronaldo would complete my top 7.
As expected, Pelé was the most remembered player. Also important to say the Messi’s 4 votes are impressive, specially since there are no one of his peers among the voters.
If you find a legend’s opinion that is not here (specially by top 20, 30 all time greats), please leave a comment and the link to the statement.
Bonus (thanks to the contributions of reader José Mauro)
Note to readers: I will not add the “Bonus part” to the final ranking, because I have decided to count only the “votes” of the greatest legends of the sport, chosen according to the criteria explained in the article.
Alcides Ghiggia (1950 World Cup Champion for Uruguay): Pelé.
In an interview for Marca in 2005:
Q: Who are, in your opinion, the three best players of all time?
Ghiggia: Pelé, Di Stéfano and Puskas. In that order.
José Santamaría (Real Madrid’s legendary Uruguayan defender in the 50’s and 60’s): Di Stéfano.
Interview in 2014:
Q. You had the chance to see the great players in action, like Di Stéfano himself, Pelé, Maradona and Cruyff… Di Stéfano was the best?
Santamaria: I’ve always stated that Di Stéfano was the most complete, because he was the best, there is no doubt. The most complete in every way, because he worked with both legs, with his head, he did not stop running during the 90 minutes of the game. Anyway, a player with extraordinary qualities. And a winner. Always a winner.
Humberto “Bocha” Maschio: Messi.
This great Argentinian-Italian forward, (played for both national teams; defended Italy in the 1962 World Cup), stated in 2011:
“Messi will be the best of them all. He just needs time to fill his resume. I’ve played against Pelé e Di Stéfano. Pelé was simple to play against, bad because he would throw elbows. Di Stéfano, a man everywhere in the field; Maradona, very skilled and and a great finisher. However, this kid (Messi) has something the others don’t: he is fast with the ball at his feet, he takes it close to him, they know where his going, but can’t stop him. He is a phenomenon, number one in history already. It does not matter that he has now won with the national team.
(…) First Messi. One step below, Di Stéfano, Pelé and Maradona at the same level. And Cruyff, another step below. But Messi above all, the best in history.”
Dino Sani: Pelé.
Great defensive midfielder for São Paulo, Milan (European Club Champion in 1962) and Brazil (World Cup winner in 1958), Dino Sani said in 2013:
“Pelé is absolutely incomparable, unique mental speed. He would dribble you without you even noticing it. What we did was to try to anticipate his moves, because a player like him could be stopped. In my days at São Paulo, Vitor defended Pelé, who would move all the time, incredibly fast, quicksilver. When you got to him, you had to do something drastic, to the ball or to him. However, in the blink of an eye, he was already gone pass you and another player, and would give an assist or finish it himself. I’ve never seen anyone close to Pelé. He was astonishing.
(…) After Pelé and Di Stéfano, it’s him (Maradona), no doubt.
There are great (Messi e Neymar) and will get better, specially Neymar, who is younger, but can’t be compared to them both (Pelé and Di Stéfano). And there others ahead of them.”