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).
Football in the UK:
Football in Europe
Football in America
What to do at a football game:
Famous football players
- Eat pies
- Drink beer
- 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"). 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.
Some of the most famous football players in the world:
- 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.
- 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 in Japanese soil to watch Argentina's games.
- 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
- 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 Gordon Banks. Banks pulled off one of the greatest saves of all time - from Pele in the 1970 World Cup.
- Some of them turned up, unannounced, in an episode of Renford Rejects.
- 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.
- 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 a TV football commentator, and his somewhat large ears.
- George Best. Formerly of Manchester United, now deceased. Pele thought his good friend Best was better than him. Very popular in his native Northern Ireland where they say "Maradona good, Pele 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.
- Fritz Walter. Captain of the 1. FC Kaiserslautern and the "Heroes of Berne", 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 Internazionale 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 is the all-time top scorer for the German national team, along with Miroslav Klose. note
- The slang term "Mullered" was coined because of him.
- Thomas Müller is 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.
- Miroslav Klose. Fourteen World Cup goals, making him tied with Müller and second only to the great Brazilian Ronaldo. 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. He is now tied with Muller in international goal tallies. Germany has also never lost a game when Miroslav Klose scored. note
- 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.
- Philipp Lahm. Current captain of both Bayern Munich and 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. 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) is 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.
- Garrincha, whose real name is Manuel Francisco dos Santos. 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 that (or maybe because of that, since such deformities made it easy for him to dribble, which was his trademark skill) he was one of the top players in the world back in the 50s/early 60s. He won two World Cups with Brazil, and played for most of his life at Brazilian team Botafogo. He had problems with alcoholism, dying of cirrhosis in 1983.
- 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.
- 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. During one season for Arsenal, in August 1997, Bergkamp held the top 3 goals of the month on Match of the Day. A feat no other player has yet to achieve.
- 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.
- Alfredo di Stefano. 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. At 84 years old, he's now the President of Honour of Real Madrid and has a stadium named after him.
- 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. Currently plays for the New York Red Bulls.
- 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.
- Similarly, László "Ladislao" Kubala, a lightning fast striker and freekick specialist, also born in the golden age of Hungarian football. Urban legend says he 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.
- Any Portuguese/Brazilian called Ronaldo or some variation (well, not all of them, but three of them made mainstream popularity in World Football). Full names included for distinction:
- 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.
- 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 Atlético Mineiro after leaving Flamengo due to a huge contractual mess-up; and
- Cristiano Ronaldo (Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro) from Portugal, 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 ArchEnemy, so expect a lot of discussion and rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona fans, as well as fans of the players themselves.
- Likewise, the two players who go as Falcao are noteworthy on their own:
- Paulo Roberto Falcão was one of the greatest central midfielders in history, who played mostly for Internacional in Brazil and AS Roma in Italy; at one time he was the world highest paid footballer, and
- The striker named after the latter, Colombian Radamel Falcao García 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 and Atletico Madrid in Spain; he currently plays in the French league for AS Monaco. 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".
- 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 Colombian 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 Jose Luis Chilavert, also mentioned in this list).
- Eusébio. The best player ever from Portugal, albeit born in Mozambique. His goals at the 1966 World Cup led Portugal to the third place, and him to the top spot of the goalscorers' chart.
- 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.
- Zinedine Zidane, even compared to Platini, 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.
- Romário, 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).
- For not letting Romário join the team that represented Brazil at the 2002 World Cup, Coach Scolari became target of criticism but silenced them all when his team won not only the cup but all games (without overtime).
- 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.
- 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 original Ronaldo's single-season goal-scoring team record for F.C. Barcelona and has recently become the team's top goalscorer EVER in the same season he just won his fourth Ballon D'Or, an award the FIFA gives to the best player of the year. Something no (male) player has ever done before.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wayne Rooney: is a gifted player from Everton who made career records at a very young age. Widely noted today at 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. He's done it a lot for United though.
- 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 Chicharitonote , following Latin American custom of using nicknames for football jerseys. 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.
- Ivan 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.
- 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.
- 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. Chelsea's highest-ever goal scorer, with over 200 goals and counting.
- Steven Gerrard: Second Striker/Midfielder 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 one of the victims 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 Vice-Captain of the English Team.
- 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 whose behavior does not deserve the respect accorded to a football great.
- Ryan Giggs: A Welsh winger for Manchester United who has played for the club since he was 15. Giggs has 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's still doing the business, having assisted in or scored some vital goals over the last few years. His list of personal awards and winner medals at every level of club football are staggering. As of 2013, he has scored in the English Premier League every year since its inception in 1992. 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 Ryan 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.
- 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, 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.
- 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).
- 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?
- 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 yet while playing on the pitch.
- 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 Squad. 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.
- Landon Donovan: Formerly of Everton, now playing for 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 has become arguably the face of US football. Recently, he 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's been 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).
- 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.
- Robin van Persie: Very much the unsung hero of the football pitch in a 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 Heney and Cesc Fábregas. 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.
- Gareth Bale: Welsh left winger now playing for Real Madrid, who acquired him from Tottenham Hotspur at the end of the summer 2013 transfer window for a world-record fee of €100 million (£85 million). 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.
- Neymar (Neymar da Silva Júnior): Probably the most well known South American player at the moment, apart from Messi, 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 thought of him and Messi coming at them will be the worst nightmare of many, many defenders for many years to come.
- Zlatan Ibrahimović: Swedish striker of Bosnian and Croat descent who 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. Though often temperamental, and sometimes criticized for his workrate in big matches, "Ibra" is the only player to have scored for six different clubs in the Champions League.note
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:
- 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, Kristine Lilly and Christie Rampone, have more international caps than her - Lilly has 352 caps and Rampone has 287 (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 one of only two women (the other being fellow American Michelle Akers) to be selected by Pelé as one of the top 125 players of all time.
- 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 163 and counting). Also the 2012 Women's World Player of the Year.
- 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.
- Homare Sawa: Captain of the World Cup-winning Japanese team. Won the 2011 Women's World Player of the Year award.
- 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 (146), behind Wambach and Hamm, but is three years younger than Wambach.
- 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, when the U.S. Soccer Federation named its male and female players of the year for 2012, Morgan was chosen over Wambach.
- 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 Hamm and Lilly.
- Kristine Lilly: A classic example of Overshadowed by Awesome, as she was a teammate of Hamm and Akers for most of her career, and then saw the rise of Wambach and the dawn of Morgan. Played with the USWNT for 23 years (1987–2010), and retired with the most international caps in football history (352) and the second-most international goals of all time (behind Hamm). 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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...
- 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. 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 and national championship title. Captain of Spain, easily one of best teams in the world at the moment.
- 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 this achievements to his team's (Barça's) impressive defense.
- 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.
- 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".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jose Luis Chilavert: Retired Paraguayan 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 German Burgos, scoring a free kick against him from the middle of the pitch.
- 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 Chilavert, Campos and Higuita, most of his goals come from free kicks and penalties.
- David Seaman: Retired English 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!
- 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.
- Tim Howard: Starting goalkeeper for Everton and the US Men's National Team. 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 Champion's League spots, FA Cup, League Cup, etc.
- 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); also serves as Tim Howard's backup for the US National team.