It was elegant. It was beautiful. The game should be beautiful, like a well-executed war.
, or more commonly just "Football" or "Soccer"note
in the English-speaking world
, is the most popular sport in the world. Played in over two-hundred different countries, the game has captured the attentions of billions of people; The World Cup
is the most wildly viewed sporting event on Earth, up there with other major competitions like the European Championship
, the UEFA Champions League
and the English Premier League
Played between two teams of eleven players (one of whom is a goalkeeper for each team), the team which scores the most goals (by putting a ball into the goal with any part of the body except the arms or hands) in a match wins. The game is governed by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association
(FIFA) who (along with the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish associations that make up the International Football Association Board) codify and maintain the Laws of the Game
, the rules by which the game is played that date all the way back to mid-nineteenth century
In many parts of the world, football is Serious Business
. Many established sides are far more than one-hundred years old and the traditions around these clubs have became something of a religion to those that follow them. Although this can often be a negative force (the infamous Football Hooligans
for example), the universal nature of the game has also been associated with bringing down barriers and establishing common cause in even the most unlikely of places; for instance, it played a role in establishing peace in Sierra Leone, as well as in the historic Christmas Truce between British
soldiers in World War One
that involved a game of football). It is the largest sport in the world in terms of the total amount of money invested in it. The largest football team is the Northern English side Manchester United, who are coincidentally also the most valuable sports franchise in the world, edging out the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees over the course of the last decade. Going by Man U's own figures
, they boast a staggering six hundred million
"casual fans" worldwide (in other words, twelve hundred
times the population of Manchester and ten times
the population of the UK, or roughly 11% of the world population as of 2011).
If you still don't believe its importance, look up the very concrete effects it has had on politics and history. For example, the Ultras in the Egyptian Revolution. Or the 1969 Football War between El Salvador and Honduras. Perhaps the most famous example is the Christmas Truce between the Germans and the British during World War One
, when both sides left their trenches to play football. Something similar would happen in the notoriously brutal Nigerian Civil War, when both sides agreed to a two-day ceasefire so they could watch Pele's touring Santos team play some exhibition matches.
Football in the UK:
Football in Europe
Football in America
What to do at a football game:
Famous football players
- Eat pies
- Drink beer (though, sadly, alcohol is banned from most British grounds)
- Sing amusing songs and chants at the opposing teams' fans.
- Example 1: If they're from Liverpool, popular tunes are "You Scouse Bastards", "Stand Up If You've Got A Job", "We Pay Your Benefit". Other areas have their own songs. Chants are frequently based on well-known songs, such as "Yellow Submarine" or "That's Amore". This is definitely an undersold attraction of the sport; you may have just come home from a 4-3 cracker, but what'll stick in your head is one of the chants.
- Example 2: Supporters of the England national team like to serenade their opponents (especially France) with "If it wasn't for the British you'd be Krauts"note to the tune of "If You're Happy And You Know It". When playing "the Krauts" the "There were ten German bombers in the air," (to the tune of "Ten Green Bottles") chant is popular, as is "Two World Wars and one World Cup" (to the tune of "Camptown Races") and (related to the previous) "If it wasn't for the British you'd be French". In many countries, this goes beyond mere sporting rivalry and crosses into geopolitical feuds, like the infamous Old Firm in Scotland.
- Loudly insult the referee every time he does something you don't agree with. Be as vulgar as you like. (Note: don't ever do this if you're a player.)
- Loudly express your pleasure or displeasure at your and the opposing team's performance. Be as vulgar as you like. (Note: don't ever do this if you're a player, especially if you're in front of a television camera. Racial and sexual slurs are also frowned upon.)
- In general, be as loud as possible. It's particularly easy if you haven't disposed of the vuvuzela you bought for the 2010 World Cup.
Many football players have near-cult status in their home places or even abroad. Teenage boys may have a poster of one of their favourite players on their bedroom wall, in place of or with one of a scantily-clad woman (there aren't all that many women footballers who pose for that sort of thing
, but they do exist — Google "Josefine Oqvist
" if you must). An attractive woman in a football shirt, sometimes just a football shirt (they cover your backside) = sexy.
The two greatest footballers of all time are usually considered to be Pelé and Maradona, with endless disputes about which one is THE greatest. Not far behind them are Alfredo Di Stéfano (Spain and Argentina), Johan Cruyff (Dutch, like Di Stéfano, one of the greatest players to have never won a World Cup), Franz Beckenbauer (German, usually seen as the best defender of all time), Lev Yashin (Russian, the one and only goalkeeper to ever win a Ballon d'Or
) and more recently, Ronaldo (the one and only, the Brazilian one), Lionel Messi (though for some, his lack of major titles with Argentina undermines his greatness), and Cristiano Ronaldo, who, like Messi, has a problem in competitions with his national team, Portugal. But other countries have no shortage of talent, as shows the (long) list below:
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- Alfredo di Stéfano. Some say that, if Maradona never existed, Di Stefano would be the God of Argentinian football. Considered the fourth best footballer ever (after Pele, Maradona and Cruyff) by the FIFA, Di Stefano was a fast, powerful striker (hence his nickname, "The Blond Arrow"). Barcelona and Real Madrid fought to sign him - it's suspected that The Franco Regime had a hand on his eventual transfer to Real Madrid. For the last few years of his life, he was the President of Honour of Real Madrid, and he lived to see a stadium named after him. Died in July 2014 at the age of 88.
- Mario Kempes AKA El Toro & El Matador: Argentina's tour-de-force in the 1978 World Cup. Not as revered as Maradona, but still very much loved and admired in Argentina, Kempes was a notorious striker during his years at Spain's Valencia. Now works as a TV football pundit
- Diego Armando Maradona, Argentine footballer voted the FIFA Player of the Century in 2000. That being said, he is a very controversial figure; he has been suspended for failing drugs tests in the past and many people accuse him of playing dirty. (To learn about a particularly infamous instance, ask any England fan about "The Hand of God"... on second thought, you probably shouldn't.) Somehow, he still manages to be the national hero of Argentina, to the point that saying Pelé is better in an Argentine forum is usually considered flamebait.
- Worth noting that in a World Cup poll by FHM UK, while Maradona's "Hand Of God" was voted by English readers as the worst World Cup moment, the second goal he scored in that match, a sixty-yard dash dribbling around six England players, was still chosen as the greatest. It was simply that good.
- Maradona's popularity in Argentina is taken Up to Eleven there is an actual group called Maradonian Church, they worship Maradona as God, Read from his self biography during marriage ceremonies and have their own ten commandments. The day of the Hand of God goal (June 22) represents Easter for the Maradonian Church, and Maradona's B-day (October 30) is Christmas.
- Maradona's past with drugs was held against him in 2002 when he wasn't allowed to set foot on Japanese soil to watch Argentina's games.
- Lionel "Leo" Messi: An Argentine striker playing for F.C. Barcelona who is widely considered the best active player in the world (a title he's fighting over with the above-mentioned Cristiano Ronaldo). Fast, creative, talented, goal-hungry and basically unstoppable if he has a good day (he has a lot of good days), even the arrogant Maradona and the godlike Pelé have bowed to his skills. He broke the Brazilian Ronaldo's single-season goal-scoring team record for F.C. Barcelona and became the team's top goalscorer EVER in the same season. He also won fourth Ballon D'Or, an award that FIFA gives to the best player of the year. Something no (male) player has ever done before.
- Gabriel Batistuta AKA El Angel Gabriel and Batigol: The all-time leading scorer of the Argentina National Football Team with 56 goals, all while looking like a Jesus painting come alive◊. Considered the best Argentinian striker of the 1990's and early 2000's, Batistuta is one of the few Argentinian players that have achieved national titles with fierce rivals CA River Plate and CA Boca Juniors and was the man that put AC Fiorentina on the Italian map for almost a decade in spite of not being able to accomplish the Scudetto; alongside Francesco Totti and Vincenzo Montella, Batistuta finally reached the top of the Calcio with AS Roma in the 1990-2000 season.
- Bernabé Ferreyra: The first ever Argentinian soccer superstar (1930's) and one of the fiercest goalscorers to grace the game, scoring by average more than 1 goal per game in a career totaling 206 goals in 197 games. He was considered so effective that there were awards given to goalkeepers who were able to prevent him from scoring. He retired at the early age of 29.
- Americo Gallego: Midfielder that took part on the 1978 Fifa World Cup title. A beloved son of CA Newell's Old Boys, Gallego is mainly remembered as the captain of the 1980's River Plate team that won everything they came across. Now a coach, Gallego is known to be an unusually successful manager, winning titles with Argentina's River Plate, Newell's and Independiente, and Mexico's Toluca. Gallego is also known to have a rocky relationship with the press and for not pulling any punches.
- Daniel Passarella: Another winner of the 1978 World Cup. One of the greatest defenders to grace the game, Passarella was one of the most prolific goalscoring defender of all times. Married to River Plate, after retiring from a tremendously successful career, Passarella had two successful coaching stints with the club before becoming its president in 2009.
- Javier Zanetti AKA Il Capitano and El Pupi: Defensive midfielder that just might as well could have been born in Internazionale's midfield: if he were to remove his shirt, there would be a round crest burn on his left pectoral, a Scudetto burn at his right and a legible burn that would read "Pirelli" in his abdomen. Zanetti never aged in his 19 years at Inter and his rack of trophies won there could fill a truckload. When he retired, they made him Vice-president. Zanetti is the most capped player in Inter and the Argentina National Team.
- Eden Hazard- One of Belgium's newest generation, Hazard burst onto the scene by winning the French Ligue 1 with Lille in 2011, as well as the French Cup, and being voted the best player in the league in 2011 and 2012. After much transfer teasing between Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea, he eventually moved to England in summer 2012 with Chelsea, probably convinced by their Champions League victory in the same season. After the departure of Juan Mata from Chelsea, Hazard stepped up from first-team player to the main creative spearhead, taking the prestigious number 10 at the start of the 2014 season. Played relatively poorly in the 2014 World Cup with the Rode Duivels/Diables Rouges, even though they got to the quarter-finals. Speculated to be a successor to the title of Best Player after Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo start to decline.
- Enzo Scifo- Playmaker extraordinaire of the first golden age in Belgian soccer. Helped take them to four World Cups in a row, finishing fourth in 1986. Born to Italian parents, Scifo never experienced major success with many of the clubs he went to, and only won a French League title with Monaco outside of and Belgian awards. Dabbles in management now, first managing Charleroi, who he retired with.
- Jan Ceulemans- A loyal Club Brugge player who refused a big-money move to AC Milan, Ceulemans captained the Belgians to fourth place in 1986, scoring three goals along the way; not too shabby for a midfielder. Also took a turn to management, and spent a season in charge of his old club Brugge.
- Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento), considered the greatest football player of all time (partially because he was the first great player of the TV era). The Brazilian scored over 1000 goals in his professional career, placing him near the top of the goal-scoring table. He is the only person to have been on three World Cup winning teams. His mere presence was enough to cause a temporary ceasefire between the Nigerian and Biafran armies in 1967 when Santos toured there.
- Garrincha (Manuel Francisco dos Santos), the other BIG star of Brazil in late 50s/early 60s. He had several birth defects: his spine was deformed, his right leg bent inwards and his left leg was six centimeters shorter and curved outwards. Despite thatnote , his ability with the ball was incredible and his dribbling made fool of many defenders throughout the world. He was called "Bandy-legged Angel" in Brazil and was idolized by many, specially by Botafogo fans. In 1958 he contributed to Brazil's first title at the The World Cup. But his hour of glory was in World Cup 1962, when he became Brazil's key player for Brazil's second title after Pelé was injured in the second game. Sadly, Garrincha had strong problems with alcoholism which shortened is career and destroyed his personal life. He died of cirrhosis in 1983.
- Paulo Roberto Falcão was one of the greatest central midfielders in history. He played mostly for Internacional in Brazil and AS Roma in Italy. At one time in the 80s, he was the world's highest paid footballer.
- Zico: or Arthur Antunes Coimbra by birth. Second only to Pelé in popularity among Brazilians, Zico used to play for Flamengo when not in Japan (he also had a stint for italian side Udinese in the mid-80s). Aside from his lethal free kicks, Zico is known for increasing soccer's popularity among Japanese people, lobbying for the creation of the J. League along with other footballers who made the move from Brazil to Japan, like Alcindo and Bismarck.
- In the final episode of the second season of School Rumble; Karasuma was involved in an "accident" which worried both Tenma and Harima out of their underpants. Turns out that he accidentally met Zico on a match with the Japanese national team (which Zico managed at that time)note .
- Sócrates (Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira): Late footballer and one of the great figures of the 1982 Brazilian team that participated in that year's World Cup. Part of the last team that played the Jogo Bonito, Sócrates was a remarkable midfielder and an intellectual both on and off the pitch; while he was still playing professionally he became a physician and when he retired, he contributed to a newspaper as a columnist on a wide variety of topics. He died at the age of 57 from complications following an intestinal bleeding.
- Romário (Romário de Souza Faria), one of the best strikers to ever grace the game. While his size was proportional to that of his fuse, and he had a notorious aversion for training, when he got up on the field, he made magic happen in the box, scoring one goal after another, in any imaginable way. He, too, scored over 1,000 goals (though controversially, following his own accounts), but he had to play until 42 to make it happen (most players finish their careers well before that age).
- Bebeto (José Roberto Gama de Oliveira): Forward who played for a number of teams in Brazil and in Spanish side Deportivo. Bebeto is the man responsible for all players to brag about their newborn kids when they celebrate goals. One of the top five Brazil goalscorers, Bebeto was largely responsible along Romario for the Brazil 1994 World Cup win.
- Jairzinho (Jair Ventura Filho): The 1970 World Cup winning, afro-styling winger. The heir apparent to Garrincha in both Botafogo and the Brazil team, Jairzinho scored in every match of his winning World Cup, a feat only accomplished by Uruguayan Alcides Gigghia in 1950.
- Roberto Carlos (Roberto Carlos da Silva Rocha): Brazilian left back who is considered one of the greatest foreign players in Real Madrid's history. Mainly remembered for having a kick reminiscent of a Howitzer cannon, Roberto Carlos is greatly remembered for scoring one of the most absurdly beautiful free kicks in history against France while playing for Brazil .
- Ronaldo (Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima) from Brazil, who was presented to the world during his 1996-1997 spell in Barcelona, then moving on to Inter, busting his knee (twice!) and getting better in time to bring the 2002 World Cup to Brazil with help of his eight goals. Now retired. Held the record for World Cup Goals and youngest FIFA World Player of the Year at 20 years old. Considered by many teammates, rivals and aces of the following generation of footballers (including Zinedine Zidane, Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta and Zlatan Ibrahimović) as the greatest and most accomplished striker of all times and the greatest football player of the 90's and early 2000's.
- Ronaldinho (Ronaldo de Assis Moreira), also from Brazil, better known for playing for the famous Barça and AC Milan (just like his like-named partner; the -inho suffix, meaning "little", is a means to subvert One Steve Limitnote ). Currently playing for Liga MX club Querétaro.
- Neymar (Neymar da Silva Júnior): Probably the most well known South American player not named Messi at the moment, and one of the most promising young talents of the world. A young prodigy who can play as a striker or a left winger with incredible technical skills and faster than a speeding bullet. After winning everything one can win with his lifelong team, Santos, he has just signed with Catalan giants FC Barcelona. The presence of him and Messi has already terrified La Liga defenders. Starred in Brazil's 2014 World Cup, pulling them to the semi-finals, but avoided the 7-1 shellacking given to them by the Germans due to injury.
- Rivaldo (Rivaldo Victor Borba Ferreira): World Cup winning midfielder known for his successful stint in Barcelona where he was paired with Patrick Kluivert, Rivaldo played for a number of teams in Europe were he reaped a career plentiful in honours. Powerful, accurate and intimidating to no end, Rivaldo was also known for his matter of fact attitude towards the sport, seeing himself as a worker in a company; in fact, he is currently both player (at 42) and president at São Paulo stateside club Mogi Mirim (where he first gained notability, in the early 1990s).
- Kaká (Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite): Perhaps the first true superstar of the money-flushed modern era of soccer, the playmaker started his career in soccer at São Paulo FC, before moving to AC Milan in 2003. While there, he joined the continentally dominating Milan side that just won the Champions League, being nominated to both the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year after his debut European season. Played sublimely in the 2005 Champions League final, getting a beautiful assist to Hernan Crespo to go up 3-0. Even though Liverpool staged an amazing comeback to tie 3-3 before winning on penalties, Kaká established himself as a world-class player. He scored a hat-trick against Manchester United en route to another Champions League final in 2007, this time being on the winning side of a tie against Liverpool. For his exploits that year, he won the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year, and eventually moved for a then second-highest record transfer fee, signed the same window as Cristiano Ronaldo would join. His time at Real Madrid would prove to be less successful than in Milan, as constant injuries and the performances of Mesut Özil kept him out of the team. He moved back to Milan in 2013, and played slightly better, even with the persistent injury problems he faced. In summer 2014, he mutually terminated his Milan contract to join Orlando City as its first Designated Player in preparation for their entrance into Major League Soccer. His international career was similarly mixed, playing backup to Ronaldinho in the 2006 World Cup before bowing out of the 2007 Copa América due to injury problems. Player of the Tournament in the 2009 Confederations Cup, lack of fitness and recurring injury trouble (sense a theme?) prevented him from playing at his best, and a controversial red card against Ivory Coast and elimination against finalists Netherlands in the quarter-finals lead to an overall disappointing tournament for Brazil’s central star.
- Iván Luis Zamorano: One of the greatest, if not the greatest Chilean player of all times. A staple of Real Madrid, Internazionale and the Chilean National Football Team, Bam-Bam was one of the fiercest South American strikers during his stint. Famous in the Real Madrid for having initially been discarded by then-coach Valdano, then making a huge comeback and winning the "Pichichi" (Top goalscorer in the league) title.
- Marcelo Salas El Matador (The Killer): Zamorano's partner striker in the Chilean team and one of the shining staples of Argentina's River Plate and Italy's Lazio. An extremely talented goalscorer and one of the greatest players of the 90's. Famous for his rather special celebration gesture - he used to run to the nearest corner, go on one knee and then point up to the sky.
- Arturo Vidal: Called “The Warrior” for obvious reasons, Vidal is a all-action box-to-box midfielder and star player for Juventus. Part of the consecutive Chile squads that reached the round of 16 in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, Vidal’s lack of fitness for the latter campaign forced him off before extra time ensued, and Chile obviously suffered without a player described by journalist Michael Cox as perhaps the best penalty taker in the world.
- Alexis Sánchez: The second-most expensive Arsenal signing, Sanchez started his career in Chile before switching to Udinese of Italy. After some impressive performances for the other Bianconeri, he earned himself a big-money move to reigning European champions Barcelona in 2011. After an impressive World Cup campaign, he was plucked by Arsenal in 2014. He also scored the leveling goal against Brazil in the Round of 16, but had his penalty saved in the ensuing shootout.
- Carlos Valderrama AKA El Pibe: The greatest overall Colombian footballer. Known for his permed blond hairdo, Valderrama was notorious for his assists accuracy and for being able to control the pace of a game, forcing both partners and rivals adjust to his rhythm. As such, Valderrama never felt the necessity to sprint or to be particularly fast. Valderrama played for a number of teams in Colombia, mainly Atletico Junior, but most importantly, Valderrama was one of the pioneers of the reintroduction of the sport in the United States during the early years of the MLS.
- Faustino Asprilla: The striker with the gait of two horses, El Tino was mostly known for his stints at Parma A. C. in Italy and Newcastle F. C. in England (scoring three goals against Barcelona on the 1997-98 UEFA Champions League) and as a longtime staple of the Colombian team. Asprilla is known also for his rocky relationship with the Colombian media and his temper (at one time, coming to blows with Paraguayan GK José Luis Chilavert, also mentioned in this list).
- Radamel Falcao García aka The Tiger, is considered one of the greatest strikers in the world and a determinate contributor to Colombia's classification to the 2014 World Cup after a 16-year absence. Falcao García was a great staple in the ranks of River Plate in Argentina, Porto in Portugal, Atlético Madrid in Spain and AS Monaco in France, the last of which paid a €60 million fee for him, a record for a Colombian player that only lasted a year. Monaco has since loaned him out to Manchester United, which paid £16 million to borrow him for the 2014–15 season while they (hopefully) work out a more permanent deal. Due to his success in Porto and Atlético Madrid, winning the Europa League two years in a row, he was denominated "The King of the Europa League".
- James Rodríguez: An attacking midfielder/winger, Rodríguez—or, as he's often called, James—is now increasingly seen as Valderrama's successor. First entered the world spotlight with a very successful run at Porto, and then joined Falcao at AS Monaco in 2013. Won the Golden Ball at the 2014 World Cup with 6 goals, and immediately after that was acquired by Real Madrid for an €80 million fee.
- Mario Yepes: Defender and veteran captain and leader of the Colombian team during the Pekerman era. One of the most accomplished defenders to grace the game, Yepes shined in River Plate, Nantes, PSG and Milan. Known to physically overpower younger and faster players, Yepes retired from international football on 2014 after the World Cup.
- Ivan Ramiro Cordoba: The eternal "2" defender of Inter Milan. With Yepes, Cordoba was the basis of the Colombian team's defense that won the 2001 Copa America (scoring the winning header against Mexico). Cordoba won every possible competition with Inter before retiring in 2012.
- Victor Aristizabal: The all-time Colombian goalscorer with 348 on a career that was mainly focused in Colombia with Atletico Nacional and Brazil with Cruzeiro, Sao Paulo, and Santos where he also became the all-time foreign goalscorer in the Brasileirao. Due to his ability to easily avoid defenders with speed and resilience before receiving passes, he was mentioned to be "the best football player in the world without a ball" by coach Francisco Maturana (albeit it's sometimes repeated jokingly).
- Antonin Panenka: Panenka is not exactly a household name in the lists of greatest players, but his name is still well known for one famous incident. In the final game of the 1976 European Championships, Panenka had the chance to clinch a win for Czechoslovakia over West Germany in the penalty shootout. With elegance and a casual manner, he sent goalkeeper Sepp Maier to the left before delicately chipping the ball down the center of the goal. The “Panenka” penalty, as it is now known, is a favorite of flair players taking a penalty (such as Neymar and Francesco Totti), as well as a large source of embarrassment for the times when players don’t score. All because of a guy improvising in the biggest moment of his career.
- Pavel Nedvěd: Czech midfielder and 2003 Ballon d'Or recipient, Nedvěd was one of the greatest footballers of his generation; an unseemly fast player, Nedvěd was one of the biggest surprises from the successful national Czech team during Euro '96. Nedvěd would land in Italian sides SS Lazio and Juventus F. C., reaping a fruitful career in both squads.
- Jan Koller: Striker and contemporary of Nedvěd (though not making it to the national team until 1999), he was a goalkeeper in his youth, but was converted to striker by the time he started his professional career. The move worked—Koller is the all-time leading scorer for the Czech national team, with 55 goals. One of the more physically imposing players of his day, standing 2.02 m, or a touch over 6'7". Played for many different clubs, with his best years being in the Bundesliga at Borussia Dortmund.
- Karel Poborský: An elegant winger, Poborský was a central player in the Czech sides after the Velvet Divorce, scoring his famous “Poborský Lob” in Euro 1996, in which the Czech Republic suffered a late defeat against a united Germany. A central part of the great Czech team that made the semifinals of Euro 2004, he was not a hugely successful player, career-wise, playing a minor part in Manchester United’s Premier League win in 1997, before moving to Benfica, then Lazio of Italy. The all-time cap holder for the Czechs, he retired from international soccer in 2006 after a disappointing World Cup campaign.
- Michael Laudrup: A Danish player who isn't recognized as being one of the best ever, despite having the early 90's Barcelona dream team built around him (the manager, Johan Cruyff, said so). A complete second to none eye for finding his teammates with his perfect passes. A gentleman on the pitch too, as he never received a red card.
- Sir Stanley Matthews: The first footballer to be knighted in the UK - while still playing (he played until 50).
- Most of the England 1966 World Cup Squad, most notably Bobby Moore, Nobby Stiles, Geoff "They think it's all over" Hurst and Bobby Charlton, one of the few survivors of a tragic airplane crash which killed almost the entire team of Manchester United in 1958.
- Gary Lineker: An English striker, known for being a prolific goalscorer. He was top scorer in the 1986 World Cup and received the Golden Boot, the only Englishman to achieve this feat. He's also known for his fair playing - despite his long career, he never once received a yellow or a red card. Nowadays famed for being the pitchman for Walker's brand potato crisps, being the main anchor of BBC's long-running football highlights show Match of the Day, as well as its coverage of The Masters Golf, and his somewhat large ears.
- Matt Le Tissier: the ultimate Southampton artillery midfielder from the Channel Islands, Le Tissier is the second greatest goalscorer of Sotton in spite of not being a striker, a maker and scorer of gorgeous goals and a near perfect scorer of penalty kicks. His snub from the 1998 FIFA World Cup by then manager Glen Hoddle was considered one of the greatest snafus that led to England's elimination on the hands of Argentina... by penalty kicks.
- David Beckham: Played for Manchester United (winning virtually every major club honor), Real Madrid, AC Milan, LA Galaxy and Paris Saint-Germain. He even spent a while as England captain. Also known for his wife, his tattoos and inspiring the movie title Bend It Like Beckham, which is probably how most Americans know of him. There was a time he was far better known for his talented right foot and not endorsing products. Beckham was undoubtedly one of the greatest "dead ball" experts ever to play the game. Incredibly deadly at free kicks, corners and especially long range shooting. His goal highlight reel is something special indeed. Beckham could effortlessly guide the ball to another players feet from virtually anywhere on the pitch and his career assists record certainly shows it. Retired in 2013.
- Paul Scholes: Another long serving Manchester United great, Paul Scholes is considered one of the greatest midfielders to grace the game. The Englishman's passing ability was second to none and his ability to control the midfield something to truly behold. He was also quite fond of scoring long range stunners. Though one thing he never quite got the hang of was tackling, which was usually compared to a runaway shopping trolley. It got to the point Bookmakers even stopped giving odds for him being yellow carded. Scholes initially retired in 2011, but admitted he missed the game and felt he'd left too soon. Returning in early 2012 the player continued to make an impression until his second and final retirement in 2013. Right after he'd collected his 11th Premier League winners medal.
- John Terry: or "Mr. Chelsea" to you. Defender and captain of the famous London side and intermittent captain of the English National Team, the reason behind is his record of scandals on and off the pitch. A very polarizing character in English Football, most people hold two opposing views about him: A personable captain and great defender who reads the game well and leads his teammates by example, or an arrogant, racist, and egoistical prima donna who slept with his team mate's girlfriend and whose behavior does not deserve the respect accorded to a football great. No one, however, denies that he is a very capable footballer.
- Frank Lampard: Son of West Ham United's Frank Richard Lampard and current star of Chelsea; Lampard is renown for his astonishing goal record, despite being a midfielder and not a striker. One of the mainstays of the English National Team, usually playing The Lancer to Gerrard and Rooney. The dilemma of whether to play Gerrard or Lampard (since they didn't seem capable of playing with one another) was one that plagued successive England managers until both retired. Chelsea's highest-ever goal scorer, with over 200 goals and counting.
- Steven Gerrard: Central Midfielder (though he's played everywhere from Right Back to Second Striker) who spent his youth and professional career for his hometown club Liverpool, which he supported growing up. He has a very close personal relationship with the club, especially as his cousin was the youngest victim of the Hillsborough disaster , and he laces his boots every match in memory of him. He is currently the captain and longest running player of the Merseyside Reds and retired from international football following the 2014 World Cup. Nicknamed Captain Marvel for his tendency to pull off last minute miracles and renowned for his leadership, passing and long range shooting skills. Like Beckham, his goal highlights reel is something to see.
- Jamie Carragher: A Central Defender who spent his entire youth and professional career at his hometown club Liverpool, despite supporting local rivals Everton as a boy. Famous for his passion, determination and footballing intelligence, which made him an extremely effective defender. Never really got a chance at International level since two of his contemporaries were John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, who formed a rock solid defensive partnership, and retired from International football relatively early. Has the dubious distinction of having scored more own goals than goals, but fans nevertheless sang 'We all dream of a team of Carraghers'. As he himself rather dryly put it in his autobiography, that team would be very efficient, but probably not all that interesting. Retired in 2013. having racked up 737 appearances for the club, the second most in its history.
- Wayne Rooney: is a gifted player from Everton who made career records at a very young age. Widely noted today as the new star of Manchester United after Beckham left the squad. Made the National team at the age of 17, but is still yet to lead England to a European Title or a World Cup. It took him three attempts to even score at a World Cup. He's done it a lot for United though. Currently both captain of United and the England National Team.
- Raymond Kopa Before Zidane or even Platini, the beautiful playmaking style of France was spawned by Kopa, who combined intricate dribbling with goalscoring prowess. His club career was extraordinary, reaching the first European Cup final with Stade de Reims, losing to the team he would join the next season, Real Madrid. Along with Ferenc Puskas, Los Blancos won three European Cups in a row, including against his France teammate Just Fontaine and his Reims side. He didn’t win anything internationally, but the French went to the semi-finals of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden before being beaten by a young Pele’s Brazil. Eventually, France finished third, helping him to pick up a Ballon d’Or the same year.
- Just Fontaine Next to Kopa, the best player for France in the 50s was Fontaine, who scored a ridiculous 13 goals in the 1958 World Cup, with an equally impressive record with Les Bleus, scoring 30 goals in just 21 games. The record goalscorer in a single World Cup, he was born in French-controlled Morocco, and like many North African players he played for the homeland internationally and for club. His club highlight would be his time at Stade de Reims, where he helped lead the team to the aforementioned European Cup final in 1959 against Raymond Kopa and his Real Madrid squad. A legend for his World Cup record, he is still the fourth highest World Cup goalscorer, all three palyers ahead of him playing in at least two or more World Cups.
- Michel Platini: Don't listen to the Zidane fans, this was the best player from the French team ever. He led the Bleus to a Euro title (1984) and two great campaigns in the FIFA World Cup (1982, 1986), both times stopping at the hands of the West German team, and finishing fourth and third, respectively. Nowadays, he's the somewhat-controversial President of UEFA.
- Eric Cantona: If there is one man who can be attributed for kicking off the modern era of football it is this man. Almost single-handedly making the English Premiership the focal point of domestic football, whilst becoming a true pop-culture icon in the UK, the likes of which Beckham, Zidane and Henry can only match. He was also likely the greatest bargain signing of all time for only £1.2 million. Now, Cantona is mainly a media personality, though he still plays in beach football competitions.
- Zinedine Zidane: despite comparisons to Platini, he was a genius in his own right. He had class, leadership and a great game vision, which made him one of the best players in Europe in the late 90s, as well as allowing his team to win the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro. He also scored a magnificent goal in the UEFA Champions League's '02 final. And, once you know what led to him headbutting Italian defensive midfielder Marco Materazzi at the 2006 WC final, you might as well forgive him for defending his family's honor.
- Thierry Henry: One of a select few Frenchmen to be openly revered in England due to his many successful years at Arsenal. Also infamous for keeping the Irish out of the 2010 World Cup singlehandedly. Finished his career with the New York Red Bulls, retiring after the 2014 MLS season.
- David Trezeguet: French striker with Argentinian ancestry, Trezeguet is remembered for his stints at AS Monaco (where he was paired with Thierri Henry), Juventus FC and CA River Plate; the two latter teams, he helped to return them to their respective first divisions. A 1998 World Cup Winner, Trezeguet is mainly known for scoring the winning Golden Goal in the Euro 2000 which gave France the title. Is currently playing for Pune City, in the fledgling Indian Super League.
- Fritz Walter: Captain of the 1. FC Kaiserslautern and the "Heroes of Bern", the 1954 World Cup-winning West German squad. Started playing in the 1930s, spent time as a prisoner of war in Hungary and continued to play on a club level until the early 1960s. One of the most technically accomplished German players of his era, he was also surprisingly sensitive, sometime actually becoming physically sick before an important match. National team coach Sepp Herberger looked on him as his alter ego and kept a berth free for him for the 1962 World Cup. (Fritz Walter would not be persuaded to come back and so West Germany went into that competition with just 21 players).
- The two other most legendary members of the 1954 World Champions are goalkeeper Toni Turek (called a "football god" because that is what radio commentator Herbert Zimmermann called him for his incredible saves in the finals) and Helmut "Boss" Rahn, who scored two of the three goals on July 4, 1954.
- Uwe Seeler: Affectionately known to fans as Uns Uwe (Our Uwe) and to his teammates as Dicker (fat one). Took part in four World Cups, captain of the great 1966 and 1970 West German teams. One of the few players of his era who played for one club, Hamburger SV, for his entire career, he even said no to an offer of a then unheard of one million Deutschmarks from Inter Milan. An explosive center forward with an indomitable fighting spirit. Tore his achilles tendon in a game, had it spliced together in what was then an iffy operation, and went on to score the goal that qualified West Germany for the 1966 Cup before the wound was completely healed. In his day he was seen almost as the embodiment of his teams, and West German fans would often as not shout "Uwe! Uwe!" in lieu of "Deutschland! Deutschland!" His most famous goal was the one he scored with the back of his head in the 1970 quarter-final against England, the other two German goals were scored by the following two players:
- Franz Beckenbauer: Also known as Kaiser Franz. Without a doubt the most famous German player, and the most famous defender. He is considered the best libero ever. Also won the World Cup as both a team captain (1974) and a team coach (1990).
- Gerd Müller: Not only scoring 398 Bundesliga-goals in 453 matches but being the very reason Germany won the World Cup in 1974. He was considered to be a threat when being in the opponents penalty box. And he had the unique ability to instinctively position himself the best to score. He also scored an incredible 68 goals in just 62 international appearances. He kept the all-time top scoring record for Germany for 40 years. note
- The slang term "Mullered" was coined because of him.
- Michael Ballack: THE face of German football for much of the 2000s. Michael Ballack is a talented midfielder who Pele himself selected as one of FIFA's 100 Greatest Living Players. Since June 2005 and to his exit, Germany never lost when Michael Ballack scored a goal. Tragically, he was injured right before the start of the 2010 World Cup and this signaled an end to his international appearances.
- Miroslav Klose: Sixteen World Cup goals, the most in history. The only player to have scored five or more goals in consecutive World Cups and the only player to have scored at least four goals in three different tournaments. Became the top scorer for Germany at 69 goals in 2014. note Germany has never lost a game when Miroslav Klose has scored.
- Philipp Lahm: Captain of both Bayern Munich and former captain of the German National Team, a position he was promoted to after Ballack's injury before the 2010 World Cup. Easily one of the best fullbacks in the world, and a position he can play on both the right and the left. The first captain of a unified Germany to lift the World Cup and has received 0 straight red cards in his professional career. Lahm has been a candidate for the UEFA Team of the Year in all of his professional years when he has been fit and is therefore alongside Michael Ballack the most often nominated German player for the aforementioned team and the second German having been elected more than once. Praised by Pep Guardiola as "the most intelligent player (Guardiola)'s ever coached."
- Bastian Schweinsteiger: not actually Sebastian. Often called "the strings of the midfield." Plays for Bayern Munich and considered one of the more recognizable and well-known German players. He and Lahm led Bayern Munich to their first treble note ever in the 2012-2013 season. Was also an instrumental figure in Germany's World Cup win 2014, especially in the final. Also known for his menacing name. note
- Thomas Müller: still a young player, having risen to fame for his performance in the 2010 World Cup. Notable for making the term "he got Mullered" applicable all over again. In 2010, the story goes that Maradona refused to sit with him at a press conference due to mistaking him for a ball boy. Muller went on to score against Argentina during the fourth minute of play during the World Cup quarterfinal. He has also the same eerie ability to turn up at unexpected places and play the ball from impossible positions, much to the amusement of the German fans. Often called the "Raumdeuter" (Space finder).
- Mesut Özil: Made his debut for the national team in 2010 and was quickly pegged by Jose Mourinho to join Real Madrid. An attacking midfielder known for his technical ability and creative play, he also suffers from bouts of losing his confidence in front of goal. He was often seen as the face of "new" Germany due to being the son of a Turkish immigrant. Currently Arsenal's most expensive transfer.
- Ferenc Puskás: one of the few Hungarians to attain international fame. He scored 514 goals in 529 matches in the Hungarian and Spanish leagues (this was back then when Hungarian football was good). In 1999 he was voted as the 7th greatest football player of the 20th century, and in 2004 he was included on Pelé's list of the 100 greatest (then) living footballers. Late in his life he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and died of pneumonia in 2006. FIFA created an award in his honor, which is given to the player who scores the most beautiful goal of the year. We'll get to the first winner of that award later.
- László "Ladislao" Kubala: a lightning fast striker and free kick specialist, also born in the golden age of Hungarian football. Urban legend says he usually got drunk before playing: if that's true, maybe alcohol was his secret, because he never contented himself with just one goal - his personal mark was 7 goals against Sporting de Gijón. In 1999, FC Barcelona supporters declared him the best player ever to play in F.C. Barcelona - and we're talking of a club that had Cruyff, Maradona, Ronaldo and now Messi.
- Sandor Kocsis: One of the famed Hungarian “Aranycsapat”, or Golden Team, Kocsis was present along with Puskas and Hidegkuti in the legendary 6-3 mauling of England at Wembley, the “Match of the Century”, and scored 11 goals, including a hat trick and a four-goal haul against West Germany, before the team fell to an untimely defeat in a rematch with the Germans in the final. The highest-scoring player in Europe for two seasons, he moved to Barcelona and played there in the aftermath of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. While he had success in Spain, he met an unfortunate repeat of the World Cup final, losing to Benfica by the same scoreline, 3-2, in the same stadium the final was held. He also holds the record for goals to game ratio, 1.103, in players with more than 43 caps in class A competition.
- Nandor Hidegkuti: The first “false nine” in soccer history, Hidegkuti ran rampant in a tactical era defined by rigid formations and man-to-man marking. The highlight of his career with the Golden Team would be the aforementioned “Match of the Century” in England, where he shattered the English superiority complex with a stunning hat-trick. Former Leeds United and England manager Don Revie attributed him to the success of the Mighty Magyars, giving him lip service for his demolition of England both at Wembley and in the return leg in Hungary, where Hungary ran out as 7-1 winners. He also had limited success in management, leading Italy’s Fiorentina to the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1961 and a European Cup semi-final for Gyori ETO of Hungary.
- George Best: Formerly of Manchester United, now deceased. Pelé thought his good friend Best was better than him. Very popular in his native Northern Ireland where they say "Maradona good, Pelé better, George Best". Also famous for his alcoholism, accusations of domestic abuse while drunk and destroying two livers. Which leads to cruel jokes even among those who admired him in the UK.
- They even renamed the international airport after him in Belfast. Cue unimaginative jokes about Irish people naming something after a famous alcoholic rather than a footballer.
Republic of Ireland
- Roy Keane: A fiery and aggressive defensive midfielder who helped lead Manchester United to its run of success in the 1990s and early 2000s, Keane is regarded by many as the best captain in English football history. He was also captain of the Republic's national team for much of his international career. However, Keane was no stranger to controversy, much of it possibly due to his intensity and aggressiveness. Most notoriously, he admitted to deliberately injuring an opposing player in a 2001 incident, and the following year either left or was sent home before the World Cup after a bitter training-camp argument with national team manager Mick McCarthy. Now serving as the Republic's assistant manager.
- Robbie Keane: A striker not related to Roy, Robbie is the current national team captain and also its all-time leader in both caps and goals. Best known for his long tenure in the Premier League, most notably with Tottenham Hotspur, he's now in the States with the LA Galaxy, which he also captains.
- Paolo Rossi: Leading goalscorer at the 1982 World Cup, he was signed on a co-ownership deal from Juventus to Vicenza for what was a record Italian fee. This is an even bigger deal that at first glance, as his actual value would be twice that number. He was banned for two years starting in 1980 after getting caught up in a betting scandal, but returned with style by scoring a hat-trick against everyone's favorites to win, Brazil, and scored the first goal in their final victory over West Germany.
- Franco Baresi: A legendary one-club man for AC Milan, Baresi's extensive career included winning the 1982 World Cup (as a 19-year-old reserve), captaining Italy to the final in 1994 (already consolidated at the time as one of the top defenders in the world), and winning six Scudetti, the trophy for winning the Italian Serie A, not to mention three European Cups/Champions Leagues. A sweeper by trade, he was the heart of a backline that was one of the fiercest defenses ever seen since the days of La Grande Inter in the 1960s. One of the greatest defenders ever and perhaps the best Italian one yet.
- Paolo Maldini: Italy is known for their defenders, so it's no surprise that another great defender came from there in Paolo Maldini. Becoming the heir to Baresi as Milan's one-club captain (before that, they together were the faces of the left back side of the Rossonera and the Azzurra throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s), Maldini captained them to triumph in the 2007 Champions League final, avenging their defeat on penalties to Liverpool two years earlier with a 2-1 win over the Reds, and went to an Italian record four World Cups before retiring form international soccer after the 2002 edition. Zlatan Ibrahimović praised him as the best defender he ever faced, no small feat in the competitive environment of Italy, and, according to former teammate Ronaldo, deserving of winning several FIFA Player of the Year Awards. Finally, he retired at the ripe age of 41, after captaining Italy to a record 71 caps.
- Roberto Baggio: A world record transfer holder at the time, Baggio was sold for 10 million Euro to Juventus from Florentine club Fiorentina in 1990, and traveled to the 1994 World Cup, where he scored five knockout round goals before missing the decisive penalty in a shootout that gave the World Cup to Brazil. After finishing second in most of the awards from that year, including Silver Boot an Silver Ball at the World Cup, and second in the Ballon d'Or. Known as The Divine Ponytail for his trademark mullet, his goalscoring and creative style cemented him as one of Italy's finest attackers to grace the shirt.
- Fabio Cannavaro: One of only three defenders to win FIFA World Player of the Year, including Franz Beckenbauer and Matthias Sammer, the player called The Berlin Wall by Italian tifosi won after captaining Italy to the 2006 World Cup. Runner up for the Golden Ball at the World Cup, Cannavaro won two Scudetti with Juventus, before having their titles revoked in the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal. Moving to Real Madrid in Spain, Cannavaro was given Zinedine Zidane's former number 5, and finished his time there as one of the best foreign players to be at the Bernebeau, according to Spanish newspaper Marca.
- Filippo "Pippo" Inzaghi: Quite literally a scoring machine, Pippo was famous for his goalscoring tactic of being offside 99% of the time, before slipping back onside and inevitably scoring. Fifth most prolific goalscorer of all time in Italy, and holder of most Italian hat-tricks with 10, Inzaghi had a prolific club career primarily with Juventus and Milan, scoring the two goals in Milan's 2007 Champions League victory. Also the scorer of a goal in the 2006 World Cup that made him the oldest Italian to score in the tournament, he was made manager of Milan in 2014 after interim manager and former Milan player Clarence Seedorf left.
- Francesco Totti: Italians are notoriously loyal, to family, country, and club, and Totti is no stranger to this tradition. He has played all 20+ years of his professional career at AS Roma, where he became captain in 1998 at the precocious age of 21. Though he has had the opportunity to move to rival clubs in the north, rich part of Italy, he has remained at Roma, suffering in the trophy cabinet being outshone by his undying loyalty for the Giallorossi. Il Gladiatore has one a lone Serie A title, in the 2001 season under Fabio Capello, but has been runner-up on no less than seven occasions. He was top scorer in both Serie A and all of Europe in 2007, the season after winning the World Cup with Italy, and also was in the team of the tournament for that and for his role in the finalist team in the 2000 European Championships. His extraordinarily long career has seen him become the second-highest goalscorer of all time in Serie A, behind the legendary Silvio Piola, the oldest player to score in the Champions League, and holder of a ridiculous amount of records due to his service for Roma.
- Giuseppe Meazza: Ever heard of the San Siro, home of Internazionale and AC Milan? The official name is this guy’s. Golden Ball winner in the second-ever World Cup in 1934, which he and Italy won in both 1934 and 1938, Meazza is the second-highest scoring player for Italy. He is a legendary figure for both AC and Inter Milan, playing for both of them in their shared stadium. Even today, his flamboyant style has been adopted in a “Gol alla Meazza”, which describes a dribble from midfield, faking out the goalkeeper before dribbling around him and scoring.
- Alessandro Del Piero: Next to Totti in loyal Italian captain- strikers-number 10s is Del Piero, who holds both the all-time appearances and goalscoring records for Juventus. Heir to Baggio’s number 10 at the Old Lady, he appeared in every major Italian international tournament from the 1998 World Cup to the 2008 European Championships. With Juve, he secured eight Serie A, won a Champions League in 1996, and was runner-up three other times. In the 2006 World Cup, he scored the second and final goal in the extra time win against Germany in the semi-final, and successfully scored from the penalty spot in the shootout. After a falling-out with the Juventus board over his age and importance to the squad, he left for free in the summer of 2012 and moved to Sydney to play in the A-League, before playing for Delhi in the first season of the Indian Super League, like Trezeguet.
- Antonio Di Natale: Italians have been said to be to play longer due to the slower league, and no player improved with age more than Toto Di Natale. Though the striker was born in Naples, he is most known for his time in the north with Udinese, where he was Serie A top scorer in both 2010 and 2011. Named to the Serie A Team of the Year three years in a row from 2011 to 2013, the Italian Footballer of the Year for 2010 never had his career take off internationally until he blossomed in Serie A, taking part in the 2008 European Championships and the 2010 World Cup for the Azzurri, and scored the only goal conceded by Spain in Euro 2012. He retired from international soccer after that tournament, and nearly retired from all of soccer after the 2013-14 season, before soldering on and leading his club into the 2014-15 season.
- Andrea Pirlo: The fabulously bearded midfeild maestro, formerly of AC Milan, and now of Turin's Juventus. Part of the 2006 World Cup winning squad, he is perhaps most known for being cast aside by Milan for being "too old", before moving for free to Juventus, where he has won the Serie A three times in a row, being their beating heart for the majority of the seasons. Also renown for his devastatingly accurate free-kicks, including a great effort scored against Croatia in the group stage of the 2012 European Championships.
- Mario Balotelli: The token minority on the Italian national team, playing striker for his country and currently Liverpool. Being born to the Barwuahs, Ghanaian immigrants, health complications led him to be pseudo-adopted by the Balotelli family, of which he takes his family name. He is infamous for his antics off the field, from throwing darts at youth players because he was bored, to trespassing in a women's prison just to see what it was like. And that's only the beginning. Here's just a brief overview. Oh, and we can't forget about his memorable goal celebration from the UEFA 2012 semifinals.
- Didier Drogba: Chelsea legend who holds the record for most goals scored by a foreign player for the team (his last game for Chelsea—and his last kick of the ball for Chelsea, no less—brought the club its first-ever Champions League title). Most goals scored for the Ivory Coast National Team. But more than that, how many football players can officially say they helped stop a civil war just by asking the combatants to lay down their arms?
- Yaya Touré: Brother of fellow footballer Kolo, Yaya earned his big breakthrough with a move to Barcelona in summer 2007. An extremely versatile midfielder, he played centerback in the 2009 Champions League final with the Blaugrana before moving to Manchester City the same year. There he plays as a box-to-box midfielder, though is no stranger to playing defensive midfield or even behind a striker. In 2011, he scored the only goals in respective 1-0 wins against Manchester United in the semi-final and against Stoke City in the final. Scored a ridiculous 20 goals in the 2013-14 season for the Citizens, a mark only achieved by Frank Lampard for fellow Premier League midfielders. Famous for his rampaging runs with pace from midfield, he only added goals to his game once joining City. Involved in a bizarre incident behinds the scenes at Man City, which apparently was instigated from him not being offered a new contract soon enough, and from not being told happy birthday by anyone at the club. Also an important talisman for the underachieving Ivory Coast team that reached the 2008 and 2012 Africa Cup of Nations finals, losing on each occasion.
- Hidetoshi Nakata: The most notable Japanese player of the late 1990's through mid-2000's and its best player of Asian competitions. Nakata spent most of his career in Italy, attaining the Scudetto in 2001 with AS Roma as one of its best elements. Greatly admired in Italy, Nakata retired at a relatively young age in Fiorentina. After he retired he dabbled in fashion, attaining the moniker of "The Japanese David Beckham", both as a fashion icon and an athletic paragon.
- Kazuyoshi Miura: Before there was Nakata, there was Kazuyoshi Miura, one of the most important players from early professional era in Japanese football. As a 15-year-old boy, young Kazu dropped out of high school and went to Brazil all by himself to learn the craft (that was in 1982, over a decade before Japanese football turned pro), debuting for Santos (yes, that Santos) at age 19. Four years of "internship" paid off, as Kazu returned to Japan as a quite efficient and agile striker, leading Verdy Kawasaki to win the inaugural season of J. League over none other than Zico's Kashima Antlers in 1993, and going on to become the all-time top scorer in the professional history of the Japanese team, with 55 goals.[[note]]The overall record belongs to Kunishige Kamamoto, who was part of the bronze-medal (amateur) team in Mexico City '68, with 80 goals
- Shinji Kagawa: One of the current leading Japanese players in Europe, Kagawa is one of the most beloved players of Borussia Dortmund, where he reaped two Bundesliga in a row. He later moved to Manchester United, achieving a Premier League and an FA Cup before returning to Dortmund. A midfielder, Kagawa is noted for his dribbling skills and passing abilities.
- Keisuke Honda: The other leading Japanese player in Europe, Honda reaped a successful career in Russia's CSKA Moscow before moving to a dwindling AC Milan. Honda was the most lauded Japanese player of the 2010 World Cup and Japan's most valuable player at this moment.
- George Weah: Liberian striker who mainly played for AC Milan in Italy after a stint in Paris-Saint-Germain. A tour-de-force, Weah was one of the most notorious African footballers of all time, and he was awarded the 1995 Ballon d'Or for his scoring efforts in Paris St Germain and Milan. He is currently a politician in Liberia.
- Hugo Sánchez: Considered the greatest Mexican player of all times, Sánchez was one of the most notorious strikers in Real Madrid, referred to as the Pentapichichi (pichichi referring to the top scorer of the league on a single year; in Sánchez' case, he made it five times during his tenure). Sánchez is also known for his controversial vitriol and his rocky managerial career, as he is a staple of opinion for the Mexican media.
- Javier Hernandez Balcazar or just Chicharito (Spanish for Little Pea; used on his jersey): Star of Mexican club CD Guadalajara (more known as Chivas), until he was signed by Manchester United in 2010 as its new center forward and counterpart for Rooney. The very first Mexican to play for Manchester United. In mid-2014, he was signed by Real Madrid.
- Cuauhtémoc Blanco: Striker who played for a number of teams in his homeland (mainly America), Blanco is considered the front man of the 1990's to early 2000's Mexico National Football Team. Known for his temper, Blanco is the greatest goalscorer in the FIFA Confederations Cup alongside Brazil's Ronaldinho, the top Mexican goalscorer in CONMEBOL's Copa Libertadores and the top goalscorer of the Tri' on official competitions.
- Luis Hernandez AKA El Pajaro (The Bird): Mexico's top goalscorer in FIFA World Cups and the striker pair of Cuauhtémoc Blanco. Like Blanco, Hernandez mainly stayed in Mexico throughout his professional career, while also having sporadic appearances in MLS and the Argentinian league with Maradona's Boca Juniors.
- Johan Cruyff: one of the best European footballers ever. An unpredictable attacker, he was the master of "total football" — he could be the most dangerous striker, the most dangerous winger or the most dangerous midfielder, all in the same game. Speedy and classy, he was nicknamed the "Pythagoras of Football" for his incredibly precise passes. And his retirement was only the beginning: he took management of the Barça, and under his command the team won eleven championships. Previously a chain smoker, he quit smoking after he had to receive a double heart bypass. He never quit the habit completely, though: when he got nervous or tense he always had a lollipop ready.
- Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten: The magical trio (respectively offensive midfielder, defensive midfielder and awesome striker) who gave Netherlands their first international title ever: the 1988 European Championship. These players were the best in the world at the end of the 80s. All three played at the Milan AC, the last club to have won two European Champion Club's Cup in a row.
- Dennis Bergkamp: his vision, immaculate first touch and sheer skill made the Dutchman a legend for club and country. Most notably played for Arsenal forming effective partnerships with Ian Wright and Thierry Henry. Notable as a striker who never scored frequently, but often displayed the ability to assist many others. When he did score though it was usually something quite special (case in point: the winning goal in the 1998 World Cup quarterfinals against Argentina where, in the final minutes of regulation time, he received a 50-yard long ball at the edge of the box and calmly and elegantly slotted it past the keeper). During one season for Arsenal, in August 1997, Bergkamp held the top 3 goals of the month on Match of the Day. A feat other players have yet to achieve.
- Robin van Persie: Very much the unsung hero of the football pitch in an era of many top strikers like Fernando Torres, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. A product of the Feyenoord Rotterdam youth system, he won the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) with them in 2002 until disagreements between him and the team manager sent him to the chopping block and he was transferred to Arsenal for a low price. Under the tutelage of Arsène Wenger, van Persie developed his skills and quickly rose to the ranks, taking up major scoring roles after the departures of Thierry Henry and Cesc Fàbregas. He was the top scorer of the Premier League on six out if his eight seasons at Arsenal, but was unable to land any silverware except an FA Cup in 2005 and a finals appearance in the Champions League against Barcelona. In 2012, he surprised the football community by signing with Manchester United, where he immediately made an impact and lifted his first Premier League trophy.
- Arjen Robben: or "the best left foot in football history". The striker spent his best years at the Bayern Munich. He plays on the right side and his special is taking the interior, dribbling one or two defenders then shooting on goal. Extremely simple, but done so fast and so easily that it works every time.
- Teofilo Cubillas, AKA "El Nene": Winner of the 1975 Copa America with the Peruvian team and considered the best "Inca" player of all times. A member of the most storied Peru team internationally, Cubillas participated in the 1970, '78 and '82 World Cups, reaching the quarterfinals of the first two, in the mean time becoming the top goalscorer of the Peruvian team.
- Nolberto Solano, AKA "El Ñol" and "Nobby" in England: Midfielder who spent most of his career in the English Premier League, manly in Newcastle, Aston Villa and West Ham. Part of the Sporting Cristal team that reached the 1997 Copa Libertadores finals, Solano had stints in Boca Juniors in Argentina (being a teammate of Diego Maradona), returning to Peru after his years in England and ultimately returning to retire. Solano is considered the best Peruvian player of the late 1990's and early 2000's.
- Jose Del Solar, AKA "El Chemo": The leader of the 1990's Peruvian team and its most public player during those years.A defender, Del Solar spent most of his career in Spain, Chile and Peru. Though lacking in titles, Del Solar became a staple of the Peruvian team and an experienced player in South America.
- Eusébio: The Black Panther, the Black Pearl, the King; all nicknames for Portugal’s greatest footballer from the 20th century. Born in what was then Portuguese territory in Mozambique, Eusebio’s transfer to Benfica was controversial, with accusations of illegality in transfer dealings, as his former Mozambican team was affiliated with crosstown rivals Sporting Club de Portugal. Legendary manager Bela Guttmann coached his first years in Benfica, winning the European Cup in 1962 against Real Madrid. Top scorer in the 1966 English World Cup, he was most deadly in a surprise matchup against North Korea in the quarterfinals, where a rampant North Korea scored 3 quick goals; yet Eusebio contributed 4 goals to help beat them 5-3 at full time. Winning 11 Portuguese titles with Benfica, he still remains a legendary figure in Portugal, perhaps only topped by the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo.
- Luís Figo: Intensely talented and intensely controversial, Figo is most notorious for his 2000 transfer between hated rival FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, which cost a then-record 62 million euros. With Los Merengues, he won a Ballon d’Or in 2000, a 2001 FIFA World Player of the Year, and a Champions League title in 2002. The vitriol against him form the Barcelona fans can’t be understated; at his second game back at their stadium, the Camp Nou, he was continuously pelted with anything the fans could get their hands on when he got close, including corner kicks. After a 20 minute break in play, cameras caught the sight of a pig’s head among the detritus near the corner flag, marking a significant point on the Barcelona-Real Madird relationship. With Portugal and his clubs he was never a prolific goalscorer, but he was a vital part of the 2004 Portugal side that reached the final of the European Championships, only to lose to Greece 1-0. After starting his career at home with Sporting Club de Portugal, he finished in Milan with Inter, being managed by compatriot José Mourinho for Inter’s 2009 title win. He also captained Portugal to fourth place in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
- Cristiano Ronaldo (Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro)/; of Manchester United and then Real Madrid. "A whooshing force of speed, skill and hair gel", according to Sports Illustrated. He's one of the great players nowadays, despite being sometimes a bit of a Spoiled Brat. He's Messi's Arch-Enemy, so expect a lot of discussion and rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona fans, as well as fans of the players themselves. He won the Ballon D'Or in 2013, ending Messi's reign of four consecutive Ballons.
- Cha Bum-Keun: Cha Boom, as he is known in Germany, was recognized by the IFFHS as Asia’s Player of the Century. The current leading goalscorer for South Korea, he won two UEFA Cups playing for Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen, and was the highest-scoring foreigner in the Bundesliga at the time of his retirement in 1989. At one point, he was the third highest paid player in all of Germany, no small feat for a league still dominated by Germans. Managed South Korea in the 1998 World Cup, but was sacked after the second group game, a 5-0 shellacking by the Netherlands, and proceeded to criticize the South Korean FA before being banned for five years.
- Park Ji-Sung: One of the most successful players ever from South Korea, and best known for his stamina, work rate, and professionalism. He first rose to prominence after a stellar performance in the 2002 World Cup, and after a stint in PSV where he reached the Champions League semis, went on to play for Manchester United for seven years. Has scored once in every World Cup he's been on (2002, 2006, and 2010). Retired after the 2013/14 season due to knee issues, and appointed as Manchester United's sixth ambassador in October 2014.
- Josep "Pep" Guardiola: Some of the younger tropers may only recognize him as the current manager of the German giant Bayern München and as the former manager of the best Barcelona ever. But before that he was one of the best Spanish midfielders ever. The king of the defensive area, he was able to read the game like no other, and his milimetrically precise passes decided matches. If you never saw him play, don't worry too much: his pupil and fellow midfielder Xavi plays a lot like him.
- Raúl González: In the style more seen of an Italian, Raúl played 16 years at Real Madrid, captaining them from 2003 to his departure in 2010. Although not a world-class goalscorer, he could still put them in the back of the net, as evidenced in his 323 goals in 741 appearances with Los Blancos, both figures which make him the leading player in that category. When rivals Atlético Madrid shut down their youth program when he was in his early teens, he made his way to Real Madrid’s academy, being bumped up to the senior level in 1996. The all-time leading goalscorer in UEFA competitions, he never won one of the then two big awards in soccer, the Ballon d’Or or the FIFA World Player of the Year, though he finished second and third respectively in 2001. A saint of the game, he never got a red card in his career, and was only forced out of Madrid when new boss José Mourinho let him and fellow long-serving teammate Guti move on to fresher pastures. After a time at Schalke 04 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany and at Al-Sadd in Qatar, he retired before returning to the game to sign with the revival of the New York Cosmos team playing in the US second division. Had a rough international career with La Furia Roja, as his Spain side were notorious for underperforming despite players like him, Fernando Hierro, Pep Guardiola, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, and Fernando Torres. He rode the bench for most of their successful 2008 European Championship win, but for many in the football world it was a small consolation for a player who won La Liga six times, the Champions League three times, and the Pichichi, or top scorer in Spain, twice.
- David Villa: The top-scorer of all time for Spain, Villa was one of the first players to usher in the Luis Aragonés and Vicente Del Bosque era of Spain, whose dominance only ended formally by the 2014 World Cup. His La Liga career started at Zaragoza, with which he won the Copa del Rey, the domestic cup open to all teams in Spain. After moving to Valencia, he scored 25 league goals, the highest total for a Valencia player in over 60 years. Before the 2010 World Cup, Villa secured a €40 million deal to move to Barcelona, which was vindicated by a Silver Boot, or second in the goalscoring charts at the World Cup. While not an immediate superstar for Barcelona, he performed well for the team, helping them to another Liga title and a second Champions League in three years under Pep Guardiola. Besides the World Cup win, he assisted Spain to the 2008 European Championship title, but was injured in the start of the 2011-12 season, leading him to miss the 2012 repeat. After the next season, he moved to Atlético Madrid for a reduced fee, and made mostly substitute appearances to help Atléti to their first title in 18 years. Moved at the end of the season to the new MLS team New York City FC, but spent time on loan at Sydney to remain fit before their first season started.
- Fernando Hierro: Though Real Madrid is famed for the wealth of attacking talent displayed at the Santiago Bernabéu, they have had some excellent defenders over the years, none more excellent than Hierro. Starting out at Real Valladolid, he was bought by Real after two seasons, and cemented his place among their lineup with astonishing goal tallies for a centerback. Scoring 127 goals over a 601 game career for Los Merengues, he was at the heart of a defense which brought home three Champions Leagues and five Liga titles. Made a strange move to Bolton Wanderers in England after he left Madrid, where he paired up with former Madridista Iván Campo. Made 89 appearances for the national team, and was director of football at hometown Málaga before being made assistant manager of Real Madrid when Zinedine Zidane left the position to manage the reserve team.
- Emilio Butragueño: A bright spark for Real Madrid in an otherwise cloudy decade, the forward known as The Vulture spent most of his career in the Spanish capital. As the second top scorer in the 1986 World Cup, Butragueño was important in bringing the Spanish national team up to the level of the traditional European powers. A gentleman on the pitch, the never-red-carded striker helped Los Blancos to six Spanish league titles, along with two UEFA Cups. Eventually he was pushed out of the first team only due to the emergence of a young striker named Raúl.
- Fernando Torres: Perhaps the epitome of a fall from grace in football, Torres is known mostly for two things: his meteoric rise after moving from Atlético Madrid to Liverpool; and his equally quick crash once moving from Merseyside to Londoners Chelsea. Moving from Madrid to Liverpool in 2007, he was the Reds’ most expensive signing, but quickly became a fan favorite, getting 24 goals in his first season, the first player in Liverpool to get more that 20 goals in a season since Robbie Fowler did so in 1995-96. After another successful year, transfer speculation started to heat up, and after a cool start in fall of 2010, he was bought for a British record fee of £50 million/$80 million in the winter of 2011, the most money ever paid for a Spaniard. Things started to fall apart for the one they called El Niño, with a solitary goal his only contribution for 18 games in the first half of 2011. The new season didn’t bear much fruit for Torres, with a his first English red card being given minutes after scoring a goal against Swansea City, and a goal against Manchester United was only a hope spot before he rounded the goalkeeper and missed an empty net. Even with Chelsea winning the Champions League, Torres remained a dead weight for most of the season, and eventually he went on loan to AC Milan in summer 2014. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich had seen enough for his record man, and it seems his Chelsea career ended there. Internationally, Torres has had more success, winning Golden Boots for being top scorer in Euros 2008 and 2012, being a starter in the former but benefiting from a no-contest match against Ireland in the latter. He also won a Golden Boot in the 2013 Confederations Cup, mostly by mauling minnows Tahiti with four goals in a 10-0 match. He also rode the bench for the majority of the World Cup victory in 2010, and was a non-presence in Spain’s dismal 2014 World Cup showing. If you’re feeling particularly in need of schadenfreude, just search “Torres Miss” on Google and click on any Youtube video you can find.
- Andrés Iniesta: The legend says that, when Guardiola was nearing retirement and Xavi was an emerging young talent, the veteran midfielder told the newcomer "You're going be better than me, but there's a kid that is going to be better than us both". That kid was Andrés Iniesta, or Don Andrés as he's affectionately called. UEFA Best Player in Europe 2012 awardee (beating titans like Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammate Leo "4 Golden Balls" Messi himself), he's arguably the classiest midfielder in the world. He's loved and respected nationwide (even in Madrid) for his humbleness and low profile. He also has a penchant for scoring important goals in injury time (like the lone goal on the 2012 World Cup Finals or the one he did against Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League 09 semi-finals). Widely praised by people like Ronaldinho, Messi, Casillas or Deco, as Eto'o once said, if he was named Iniestinho, he would have won several Ballons d'Or.
- Carles Puyol: An extremely no-nonsense defender and Captain of Barcelona and Vice Captain of the Spanish National Team, easily recognizable for his burly yet stocky build and long, shaggy hair. Although very much known for his defensive capabilities (Valdés rarely does keeping work as it is very hard to breach Puyol), his claim to fame is his headers off corners and crosses, most of them crucial game-winning goals. Some of his most memorable headers came from two El Clasico Matches against Madrid in 2009 and 2012 (both after Madrid had taken an early lead), and the 2010 World Cup semifinals against tough opponents Germany, where he scored the only goal of the match and ensured their entry to the finals, which they later won. Sadly, Puyol has been plagued with such a multitude of injuries that one might even say that there's only one limb that he hasn't broken or twisted while playing on the pitch. Retired in 2014, one could gauge his importance when Spain bombed at the 2014 World Cup without him.
- Zlatan Ibrahimović: Born in Sweden to Bosnian and Croat immigrant parents, "Ibra" currently plays for Paris Saint-Germain and is captain of the Sweden national team. Known for aerial prowess, good vision and ball control, and extreme creativity, with a penchant for spectacular goals. Winner of the inaugural Puskás Award (2013) for the most beautiful goal of the year in world football. Though often temperamental, and sometimes criticized for his workrate in big matches, he's the only player to have scored for six different clubs in the Champions League.note
- Gre-No-Li: Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl, and Nils Leidholm made up an attacking trio for AC Milan in the 1950s. The gold-medal winning Swedish team at the 1948 London Olympics attracted suitors, and by 1949, all three established themselves in Italy. Nordahl remains the third-highest scorer in the Serie A, and the portmanteau remains as a standard for the best attacking lineups in soccer.
- Alcides Ghiggia: The man that brought along the Maracanazo, Ghiggia scored the winner for the 1950 World Cup which plunged Brazil into despair and eventual defeat. Ghiggia is very much remembered and revered in both Uruguay and respected in Brazil for this feat. Nowadays, Ghiggia is the sole survivor of the 1950 Uruguayan team.
- Luis Cubilla: Late former player and coach who was part of the original Peñarol team that won the two first Copa Libertadores in 1960 and '61 and one of the leading striker exponents of South American football in the early Intercontinental Cup with both Uruguay's Peñarol and Nacional; later as a coach, Cubilla won every possible international trophy save the World Cup and the Copa America.
- Enzo Francescoli AKA El Príncipe (The Prince): Uruguay's foremost player and one of the most beloved foreign players in Argentina. Without Francescoli, we wouldn't have had players of the caliber of Zinedine Zidane (who even named one of his sons after Francescoli). A fearsome playmaker, Francescoli brought every possible title to Argentina's River Plate.
- Luis Suárez: Controversial Uruguayan striker, formerly of Liverpool, now with Barcelona. Has an impeccable goal-scoring record, but also a nasty reputation caused by not one, not two, but three on-field incidents where he bit another player. He has also known as a notorious diver. In the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup, his handball save against Ghana in the final minute of extra time saved Uruguay from defeat after the resulting penalty was missed; Uruguay would win the match on penalties. This, of course, made him even more reviled everywhere but in Uruguay.
- Landon Donovan: Formerly of Bayer Leverkusen, the San Jose Earthquakes, Bayern Munich, and Everton, but best known for his long tenure with the LA Galaxy. Scored the game winning goal for the USA against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup. Due to his skill and the latter accomplishment, he had arguably become the face of US (men's) soccer. Donovan went on a bit of a sabbatical from the middle of 2012 through early 2013, in which he didn't play any soccer and spent the time resting physically and mentally from the game. Upon coming back, he was as dominant as ever (arguably even more so), but had to work to earn his way back onto the US squad. After being listed as one of the US players for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup (although it was a B-squad roster), he came back to the squad during the Hex (short for "Hexagonal", the six-team final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying)... but was stunningly left off the 2014 World Cup roster. During the 2014 MLS season, he announced that he would retire at season's end, at the surprisingly early age of 32. He went out with a bang, with the Galaxy winning the MLS title.
- Clint Dempsey: Midfielder who moved back to the States with the Seattle Sounders after a very successful run at Fulham followed by a season at Tottenham, he's the first American to score 50 goals in the Premier League, although he does not have the honor of being the highest-scoring American player in a European League note . Currently, he serves as the captain of the US men's national team. In his first game as the Captain, he scored the only US goal in their loss to Honduras. Rapped under the alias "Deuce" for a Nike ad for the 2006 World Cup.
- Ryan Giggs: A winger who spent his entire playing career at Manchester United, first playing for the club when he was 15, and not hanging up his boots until the end of the 2013–14 season, when he was 40. Giggs spent the majority of his career making life extremely difficult for defenders with pace, skill and excellent ball control. Impressively in his late thirties at United he was still doing the business, having assisted in or scored some vital goals over the final few years of his playing career. His list of personal awards and winner medals at every level of club football are staggering. Giggs had scored in every season of the English Premier League from its inception in 1992 before failing to find the net in his final 2013–14 season. Despite being lauded for his decades long loyalty and professionalism when it came his club Manchester United the same cannot be said for his off the pitch antics. After issuing a gagging order that only served to draw media interest, Giggs was found to have been engaging in several long term affairs, one of which was his own brother's wife. Tainting his previous status as the poster boy for aspiring footballers. Became caretaker player-manager after David Moyes was sacked in April 2014, and after the season retired as a player and became assistant to new manager Louis van Gaal.
- Gareth Bale: Left winger now playing for Real Madrid, who acquired him from Tottenham Hotspur at the end of the summer 2013 transfer window for a fee that some sources reported as €100 million (£85 million), which would be a world record if accurate. Bale is known for his immense power, rapid pace and devestating left foot. Began to be recognised internationally after two remarkable performances in the Champions League against Inter Milan, which left Maicon's reputation in tatters.
While it originally started as a game for gentlemen (and still continues up to this day as a male-dominated sport, given the level of physical endurance needed to play it), there are also women players of note:
- Marta (Marta Vieira da Silva): The face of Brazilian women's football in the 21st century, she is the only player who can one-up Messi when it comes to FIFA Player of the Year honors—she won the women's award five straight years (2006–2010), Not only has she been the undisputed star of Brazil's national team, she also led her club teams to domestic titles in eight straight seasons (four in Sweden, one in Brazil, two in the US, and one more in Sweden), a streak that ended in 2013. And, by the way, she's only a year older than Messi.
- Christine Sinclair: Captain of the Canada national team; plays much the same role in her country as Marta in Brazil or Abby Wambach in the States. Currently third on the all-time goal scoring list (148), behind Wambach and Mia Hamm, but is three years younger than Wambach. Currently playing for the Portland Thorns in the National Women's Soccer League; she considers that city a second hometown, seeing that she played her college soccer at the University of Portland.
- Birgit Prinz: The centerpiece of Germany's two-time World Cup champions in 2003 and 2007, she retired as the number 3 all-time goal scorer, behind Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly.
- Homare Sawa: Captain of the World Cup-winning Japanese team. Won the 2011 Women's World Player of the Year award.
- Michelle Akers: The first big star of the USWNT (women's national team). Started her career as a forward with very physical and aggressive playing style; later shifted to the midfield for reasons we'll get to soon. Was the leading scorer in the first Women's World Cup in 1991, which the USA won. Went on to score over 100 goals in her international career and picked up a second World Cup winners' medal as part of the iconic 1999 team, retiring just before the 2000 Olympics. Qualifies as a Handicapped Badass—she suffered numerous concussions, more than a dozen knee operations, a broken cheekbone... and was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in 1994 (which led her to move to the midfield). Since leaving the sport behind, she's devoted her time to rescuing abused horses. In 2004, she was one of only two women selected by Pelé as one of the top 125 players of all time. The other one? We'll get to her shortly.
- Kristine Lilly: A classic example of Overshadowed by Awesome, as her career overlapped to at least some degree with those of all the other USWNT players listed here. Played with the USWNT for 23 years (1987–2010), and retired with the most international caps in football history (352) and (at that time) the second-most international goals of all time (135). Fun fact: Before she took time off for her first pregnancy in 2007, she had appeared in over 85 percent of the games the USWNT had ever played; at her retirement, she had still played in nearly 80 percent of the USWNT's games.
- Mia Hamm: Without a doubt, the greatest woman ever to play the game. She retired with more international goals than any other player, male or female, in history (158), a record that was broken in 2013 by the next player on this list, and only two fellow Americans, Lilly and Christie Rampone (below), have more international caps than her - Lilly has 352 caps and Rampone has 300 (and counting) to Hamm's 275. The most-capped men's player hasn't even broken 200. Hamm helped to lead the US national team to two World Cup championships and two Olympic gold medals, among many other accolades. Perhaps most telling is that she was the other woman named in Pelé's top 125.
- Christie Rampone: Longtime defender for the USWNT and current captain, she's the last active member of the iconic 1999 Women's World Cup champions. Only the second player in the sport's history with 300 caps.
- Abby Wambach: Arguably the face of American women's soccer after Hamm's retirement, she has helped lead Team USA to three Olympic golds, and broke Hamm's record for the most international goals in 2013 (now at 168 and counting). Also the 2012 Women's World Player of the Year. Currently playing in the NWSL with her hometown team, the Western New York Flash (playing in Rochester).
- Alex Morgan: The likely future successor to Wambach as the face of US women's soccer. Seen as both a badass goal scorer (well over 40 international goals early in her career) and a glamor girl (frequently found near the top of "hottest female athletes" lists, at least those in US media). Many pundits argued that Morgan should have been world player of the year in 2012 instead of Wambach. In fact, the U.S. Soccer Federation picked Morgan over Wambach as its 2012 women's player of the year. Now a teammate of Sinclair with the Thorns.
Not all greats were strikers and midfielders, however. Winning matches also depended on the performance of the custodian between the goalposts, some which are noted below:
- Thibaut Courtois: A young Belgian goalkeeper who is the main goalie for their national team. He was signed by Chelsea for an undisclosed fee in 2011, and then immediately sent on loan to Atlético Madrid, where he has played since. Notable for being the youngest goalkeeper ever to play for Belgium (19 at his first cap), and for being 6ft 6in (1.98m) tall.
- Jean-Marie Pfaff: A member of the 1986 World cup squad that saw Belgium get to fourth place. One of Pele's 125 Best Living Players list made in 2004; impressive for a player who faced little international success and played in a little-heralded position.
- Michel Preud'homme: Taking the reigns in goal after Pfaff, Preud'homme won the inaugural Yashin Award (see above) for best goalkeeper at the World Cup in 1994. Played most of his career in Belgium before moving to Benfica in Lisbon, Portugal. Now manages with Club Brugge in his home country.
- Rogério Ceni: The all time greatest goalscoring goalkeeper with more than 100 goals in his career, Ceni has played for São Paulo throughout his stint in his native Brazil. Like José Luis Chilavert, Jorge Campos and René Higuita (all of whom we'll get to later), most of his goals come from free kicks and penalties. Also holds the all-time record for games won with a single club, having surpassed Ryan Giggs in 2014.
- Gylmar dos Santos Neves: The premier Brazilian keeper in the 1950s and 1960s. Owner of a daring, yet safe playing style under the goalposts, he earned the adoration of the crowds of Corinthians (which he defended for ten years straight) and Santos (where he played afterwards, sharing the pitch with Pelé, Pepe, Coutinho, Zito and others, and going on to win national and international titles with them), and helped the Brazilian team towards their first two World Cup wins, in 1958 and 1962. Died in 2013, due to complications following a stroke.
- Sergio Livingstone: The first great goalie for Chile, nicknamed "El Sapo" (The Frog) for his jumping style, and quite the trend setter in Chilean soccer. Played from The Thirties to The Fifties in clubs like Universidad Católica and Racing de Avellaneda (Argentina), and once retired, from The Sixties on he became one of the most popular soccer commentators in radio and TV, often being the Straight Man to infamous Large Ham commentators like Pedro Carcuro and later Fernando Solabarrieta. Passed away in 2012, at age 92, and was mourned heavily by all of Chile — and the National Team lost the classifying match they played in the same day he died.
- Claudio Bravo: Of the many goalkeepers who distinguished themselves in the 2014 World Cup, Bravo perhaps benefited the most. He captained the Chileans to wins over reigning world champions Spain before holding Brazil to 1-1 after extra time, only being undone in the penalty shootout. After the cup, keeper-hunting Barcelona snapped him up from Real Sociedad for 10 million pounds. Soon after, he set a Barcelona record in the league with 8 consecutive clean sheets, for a total of 720 minutes without conceding.
- Miguel Calero: late Colombian goalkeeper who played mainly in Atlético Nacional in Colombia and Pachuca in Mexico, where he won basically every competition that he played in. Considered one of the best foreign players in Mexico, Calero led the Pachuca team that won the 2006 Copa Sudamericana (Pachuca, being a Mexican team, belongs to CONCACAF note ; the Copa Sudamericana is a CONMEBOL note cup where Mexican teams only participate by invitation). Calero passed away on 2012 after suffering a brain clot.
- René Higuita: A retired Colombian Goalkeeper who played for many teams in South America, most notably in Atletico Nacional. Highly eccentric, he was known to fans as El Loco (The crazy one/The Madman) because of his unkempt appearance, his frequent attempts to score (leaving the net open and unguarded) and his goalsaving techniques, most especially the "Scorpion Kick" which was considered one of the greatest moves in Football when he pulled it on 1995 in a friendly against England in Wembley. Also had issues around drugs and politics, like his good old buddy Diego Maradona.
- Oscar Cordoba: Retired goalkeeper who won every possible competition with Argentina's Boca Juniors. Cordoba inherited the Colombian team's position from Higuita, albeit less successfully. However, he was part of the team that won the 2001 Copa America and the only GK ever to have a clean sheet in the tournament. Also remembered for his stint at America de Cali in Colombia. He later moved to the Turkish league with the opposing team Beşiktaş at the same time as...
- Faryd Mondragón: With Cordoba, Mondragón alternated for the goalkeeper position during the 90's and 2000's. One of the last bastions of the great national Colombian teams of the 90's, Mondragón was part of the team for 20 years, participating in a record six CONMEBOL qualifying cycles. The last active player of the 1998 World Cup, Mondragón is the only player in the world that has participated in two world cups sixteen years apart (1998-2014) and the oldest player that has participated in the finals at the age of 43. Mondragón was greatly remembered for his stints in Deportivo Cali in Colombia, CA Independiente in Argentina, Galatasaray in Turkey, and 1. FC Köln in Germany.
- Petr Čech: Czech goalkeeper playing for Chelsea. He is currently a Premier League record holder for attaining 100 clean sheets at the least number of games possible (180), and previously held the record for the longest time without conceding a goal (1,025 minutes of play) before it was beaten by Van der Sar. A life-threatening skull fracture saw him out of action for only three months before returning and keeping 810 minutes of play without conceding a goal. Owing to the nature of his injury, he is now required to wear a rugby cap every game as protective headgear, leading fans to nickname him "Batman".
- Peter Schmeichel: Often considered the best keeper in the world ever (at least by anyone not old enough to know of Yashin). Schmeichel defined the idea of a "Stronghold Guardian," a keeper who marshalled his defense meticulously and without second thought for anyone who didn't live up to his expectations. He is also the first keeper to score in the Premier League and holds the highest clean sheets to games ratio in the league ever.
- Alex Stepney: Manchester United's keeper during their 1968 European Cup victory. Six years later, United had slumped to the point where they had a disaster season and were relegated from what is now the Premiership. Stepney had the unenviable distinction of being United's top goalscorer for most of this season: he was invariably called forward to take penalties and scored five.
- Gordon Banks: England's first-choice keeper for most of the 1970's. In the 1970 World Cup, he pulled a seemingly impossible save against Pele that earned unstinting praise from the Brazilian superstar. He played on until well into his forties and was only forced to retire after losing an eye in a car crash. Even then he still played for pleasure. His England place was taken by Leicester City's Peter Shilton, an almost equally gifted goalie who also played until he was nearly fifty.
- David Seaman: Retired goalkeeper who played for Arsenal between 1990 and 2003. Was England's number one through most of his career and regarded as one of the greatest English goalkeepers to grace the game alongside Banks and Shilton and regarded as an integral part of the famous Arsenal defense of Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Keown and Adams. In his first season he played ever game and only conceded 18 goals! Won 3 league titles, 4 FA Cups, 1 League Cup, 3 Community Shields and a Cup Winners Cup (the precursor to the current UEFA Europa League) while at Arsenal. In his later years he was known for his ponytail and some silly mistakes in goal, but was still able to make saves like this despite nearing 40!
- Bert Trautmann: Though he never got to play for West Germany, he was undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers of his time. Joining Manchester City amidst initial protests for being a former Luftwaffe member, his abilities were eventually acknowledged. His most famous performance was during the 1956 FA Cup final against Birmingham City where he continued playing and making incredible saves despite sustaining a broken neck during the match.
- Oliver Kahn: His record - eight German championships, six German cups, UEFA Cup in 1996, Champions League and Intercontinental Cup in 2001. Received four UEFA Best European Goalkeeper awards, three IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper awards, and two German Footballer of the Year awards. At the 2002 FIFA World Cup, he became the first and only goalkeeper in the tournament's history to win the Golden Ball. He was lovingly given the nickname "Der Titan". His record of most clean sheets at Bayern Munich was recently broken by...
- Manuel Neuer: considered one of the best active keepers in the world. In large part thanks to his skills, Schalke 04 reached the semifinals of the 2010-2011 Champions League with a clean sheet. His performance in the two matches against Manchester United must be seen to be believed. Also voiced Frank McCay in the German dub of Monsters University.
- Sepp Maier: Goalkeeping longevity isn’t usually combined with loyalty, but the Cat from Anzing stayed 17 years at Bayern Munich; his whole career. A member of the fantastic Bayern team including the likes of Gerd Müller and Franz Beckenbauer, he won three European Cups in a row with Die Roten. He won 95 caps for West Germany, and was the final link in a team that won the 1972 European Championship, reached the 1976 final, and triumphed over Johan Cruyff’s Netherlands in Munich in 1974 in the World Cup. He debuted in the 1970 World Cup, taking part in the famed “Game of the Century” semifinal, an extra time loss to Italy, 4-3.
- Gianluigi Buffon: Currently plays for the Italian club Juventus. Buffon was declared by Pelé to be one of the 125 greatest living footballers in the world. He has been named the Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year a record eight times and he has also been named the IFFHS goalkeeper of the decade. Due to consistent top quality goalkeeping throughout the last twelve years, he is often considered the best goalkeeper of all time (second to Lev Yashin, at least), especially if you ask anyone outside of the UK. The only major groups of detractors are those who prefer Peter Schmeichel or Oliver Kahn.
- Dino Zoff: The oldest ever winner of the World Cup, Zoff captained the Azzurri to their 1982 triumph. Named in one poll the 3rd best goalkeeper of the 1900s, behind only Gordon Banks and Lev Yashin, Zoff also holds a record of longest playing time between conceding in an international tournament. The six-time winner of Serie A with Juventus, he managed his national team to second place in the 2000 European Championship, as well as a Coppa Italia and a UEFA Cup in 1990.
- Jorge Campos: In a nutshell, he was the Mexican counterpart to Higuita: Acrobatic, charismatic, attacking-prone (he has scored 34 goals throughout his career) and, most of all, eccentric (he himself designed the garish kits he wore on the pitch). He played on a slew of North American teams, but made his name for Pumas UNAM, LA Galaxy (in the early days of the MLS) and, obviously, the Mexican team.
- Francisco Guillermo Ochoa alias Memo: Memo is most notable for his heroic performances in the 2014 World Cup, where he held supposedly unstoppable juggernaut Brazil to a 0-0 draw. This man of the match performance helped to propel them to the round of 16, where in a closely-fought 2-1 loss he was named man of the match again. After his dominant performances, he was able to secure a contract with Spanish top-flight team Málaga.
- Edwin van der Sar: Recognized as one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League. Manchester United player for six years. A legend in his native Netherlands, where he played for the national team from 1994 to 2008. Set a world record in the 2008-2009 season by not conceding in 1,311 minutes of play. Retired now, but whether or not he was THE best keeper was hotly debated; especially by Liverpool fans who prefer their own Pepe Reina.
- José Luis Chilavert: Retired goalkeeper and longtime captain of his national football team, who played mostly for Vélez Sársfield in Argentina and RC Strasbourg in France. A notorious man famous for his noted bravado and temper, he led the goalscoring goalkeeper tally ahead of Higuita and Campos during the 90's and early 00's. He scored more than sixty goals in his career, mostly from free kicks; he continues to hold the all-time record for most goals by a keeper in international matches (nine). His most notorious goal came against River Plate's Germán Burgos, scoring a free kick against him from the middle of the pitch.
- Lev Yashin: Considered to be the best goalkeeper of all time, he is so far the first and only goalkeeper to win the European Footballer of the Year award. Invented some goalie concepts, such as punching the ball away. Reportedly saved over 150 penalties and kept 270 clean sheets throughout his career. Was nicknamed "The Black Spider" and "The Black Panther" due to his amazing reflexes and black jersey he always wore. According to him, there were only two world-class goalkeepers: himself and Trautmann.
- José Reina: Aka "Pepe" Reina. Second vice captain for Liverpool FC. Also widely considered one of the finest goalkeepers in the league and, indeed, the world. He is known for his exceptional shot-stopping and ball distribution and has won several league golden gloves awards. Surprisingly he isn't first-choice keeper for his country. However that is only because he is unfortunate enough to be Spanish, and consequently is competing for a place with...
- Iker Casillas: Real Madrid keeper. He entered the team's youth system when he was a kid, and became a regular in the main team when he was just 18. Most capped goalkeeper in the Champions League. Has been included as the goalkeeper for the UEFA team of the year for four consecutive years at the time of writing. One of the very few players to have won EVERY major club, national AND international championship title. Captain of Spain since the mid-2000s (when he was still in his mid-20s), easily one of best teams in the world at the moment, to the point of winning the World Cup in 2010 (the first time Spain won the ultimate football tournament in its history). Nicknamed "The Saint" or "Saint Casillas" for his almost miraculous ability to stop any shot sent at him, even from the penalty kick point (allowing Spain to pass on penalties against Ireland in 2002, Italy in 2008 and Portugal in 2012).
- Víctor Valdés: Goalkeeper for FC Barcelona and third fiddle for Casillas and Pepe Reina in the Spanish National Squad. Four-time winner of the Zamora Trophy (Spain's golden glove, even Casillas only won this trophy ONCE), he holds the record of being the only Goalkeeper never to be substituted in a La Liga Season and a Club record in 2006 for not conceding a goal for 466 minutes of play. Though many attribute these achievements to his team's (Barça's) impressive defense.
- Andoni Zubizarretta: Zubizarretta, the leading appearance holder for the Spanish league, is a legendary name for all of Athletic Club Bilbao, Barcelona, and Valencia. He was also the most-capped Spanish player, with 126 appearances, a large figure even for a keeper, which is a generally easier sport to be older. The Basque won six La Ligas, as well as the final European Cup before it became the Champions League in 1992 with Barcelona, the club with which he is director of football.
- Tim Howard: Starting goalkeeper for Everton; was also starter for the US Men's National Team before deciding to take a year-long break from international play in summer 2014. Since his arrival in England, Howard has helped Everton continue to compete with the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Manchester United for the Champions League spots, FA Cup, League Cup, etc. During the 2-1 loss against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup, Howard had 16 saves, the most of any goalkeeper in the last half-century of the tournament.
- Brad Friedel: Another American goalkeeper in the Premier League. Friedel is the current record holder for consecutive appearances in the league, with 310, which he achieved via spells with Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa and his current club, Tottenham Hotspur. His replacement was young French international keeper, Hugo Lloris. though Friedel still performs to a high standard as Tottenham's goalkeeper in cup competitions. He is the oldest player ever to play for both Villa and Tottenham Hotspur.
- Brad Guzan: Yet another American keeper, who took over as main keeper for Aston Villa in 2012 (and is probably the biggest reason Villa remain in the Premiership); now the first-choice keeper for the USMNT during Howard's international sabbatical.
- Bruce Grobbelaar: A one-off character who kept goal for Liverpool during their period of European dominance. A former Rhodesian soldier who fought with distinction during the border wars, he came to England after Mugabe's takeover. However, he made a point of playing internationally not for England but for his native Rhodesia - now Zimbabwe - out of conviction that his country should be united and racially equal and that his presence in the national squad should testify to this. His clowning antics in goal were legendary and earned him the love of Liverpool fans. His later career was tainted by allegations of match-rigging and betting scandals.
As in the case of outfield players, there are also women goalkeepers of note:
- Silke Rottenberg: Germany's keeper during their emergence as a world power in the women's sport, helping them to victory in the 2003 World Cup. Remained the first-choice keeper until tearing an ACL shortly before the 2007 World Cup, opening the door for...
- Nadine Angerer: Current captain of the Germany national team. Took over as goalkeeper after Rottenberg's injury, and how—kept a clean sheet for Germany throughout the tournament, making them the first World Cup winners (for either sex) to not concede a goal in the final tournament. Became the first UEFA women's player of the year in 2013, followed up with that year's FIFA Player of the Year award.note Joined Sinclair and Morgan at the Thorns in 2014.
- Briana Scurry: The first-choice keeper for the USA in the late 90s and early 2000s, she has more international appearances than any other women's goalkeeper, and has two Olympic golds to go along with being the keeper on the iconic 1999 World Cup winners. (A recurring theme here—to a large degree, the USWNT is still in the shadow of that squad.)
- Hope Solo: A native of Washingtonnote , Solo has mostly been the USWNT's first-choice keeper since 2005. Has two Olympic golds (2008 and 2012), and has had a stretch where she didn't give up a goal for 1,054 minutes with the national team. Known as something of a free spirit, and also noted for her outspokenness, most famously after being benched in favor of Scurry ahead of the 2007 World Cup semifinal against Brazil (which the USA lost 4–0, their worst defeat ever). Now playing for the NWSL's Seattle Reign. Enough of a celebrity in the States that she's appeared on Dancing with the Stars. More recently, Solo has been involved in a couple of domestic violence controversies. First, her husband (a former NFL player) was arrested just before their wedding in 2012 on suspicion of assaulting her, but was never charged. Then, in the summer of 2014, Solo was arrested for allegedly assaulting her sister and teenage nephew. The USWNT continued to let her play while the case played itself out, leading to charges of a Double Standard in the wake of highly publicized suspensions of NFL players involved in domestic violence cases.
And let's not forget possibly the most notable official of them all:
- Pierluigi Collina: Italian financial advisor during the week, utter badass Bald of Awesome referee at the weekend. You know those footy games that always stick players on the front cover (who promptly get bitten by the Madden Curse)? This guy was the only referee to make a cover (on Pro Evolution Soccer 3 and 4). Incredibly scary - his appearance has been compared to Judge Doom -, utterly respected, and voted the best ref in the world for six straight years.