Every major football side in the world has had a brilliant Brazilian play for them and most still do. PSG has Neymar, Barcelona has Phillipe Coutinho, Liverpool has Firmino and Manchester City has Gabriel Jesus. For decades, the Samba nation has been one of the world’s great football nations.
But who are the greatest Brazilian footballers of all time? With five World Cup wins, there are a whole host of legends to choose from. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the 30 best Brazilian footballers of all time. We’ve tried to look at it from multiple eras so you might think some players are hard done by to miss out.
And our number one pick is controversial, we know. But we’re sticking with it. Check it out below.
30. Daniel Alves
Alves would be higher up this list if he had a World Cup win on his CV. Other than that elusive trophy he’s won pretty much everything else on offer in the game. He’s played for some of the biggest clubs in the world: Barcelona, Juventus and PSG. His move to Barcelona came with a period of some of the biggest sustained success in their history.
He’s won the league six times with Barcelona as well as three Champion’s Leagues. Then add in league titles with Juventus and PSG, as well as innumerable domestic cup wins and you can see why he is one of the most decorated Brazilian footballers ever.
Regarded as one of Brazil’s greatest ever strikers, Careca was prolific, fast and powerful. He made his name in Europe with Napoli where he struck up a potent partnership with Gianfranco Zola. He was there during Maradona’s time at the Sicilian club and would win a Scudetto and a UEFA Cup.
He really established himself in world football in 1986, when he finished behind Gary Lineker to win the Silver Boot at the Mexico World Cup. He’d go on to score two goals at Italia 90′ as well. While his name might not be the most famous on this list, for sheer ability Careca is one of the best.
A Brazil captain, baby-faced Thiago Silva has been a rock at the heart of the defense for Brazil and PSG for the past decade. He first moved to Europe to join AC Milan and was one of their canniest signings over the past fifteen years. Letting him go – even for a record fee of €42 million proved to be a big mistake for the Italian side.
He’s gone on to captain the French side to sustained domestic success over the last decade. The 34-year-old was arguably the best defender on the planet in his prime. Over the course of his 82 caps for Brazil, he’s captained them to a Confederation’s Cup win.
Kicking off this list is one of Brazil’s best ever fullbacks. The former Real Madrid defender is probably best known for winning the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan. There’s also that insane swerving free kick that he definitely didn’t mean. He spent 11 seasons at the Bernebau, making 584 appearances for Los Galacticos.
Described as one of the most offensive fullbacks of all time, Carlos paved the way for modern defenders. His stamina, cardio, and ability to hit the ball all contribute to make him an all-time great and his place on this list is a no-brainer. With 125 caps for Brazil, he has the second-most in the history of his nation.
An enigma and a tragic genius, Heleno De Freitas spent most of his club career at Botafogo in Brazil. He scored 209 goals for the club, the majority of which were with his head. The Brazilian played between 1939 and 1951, and would eventually die of untreated syphilis in 1959 after struggling with addictions.
Why is he on this list? 19 goals in 18 appearances for Brazil should answer that question. He was the joint top scorer in the 1945 Copa America tournament and would finish as runner-up twice with his country in the tournament. With De Freitas, it’s a case of what could have been.
A member of Brazil’s legendary 1970 World Cup-winning side, Clodoaldo was primarily a hard-tackling defensive midfielder for both club and country. The majority of his club career was spent with the most famous team in his home nation, Santos FC where he racked up 510 appearances. He’d also play for Tampa Bay Rowdies in the US and Nacional.
Clodoaldo played a massive role in their 1970 World Cup win in Mexico. He scored the equalizing goal against Uruguay in the semi-final and had a big part in one of the greatest goals of all-time. Carlos Alberto Torres might have got the finish, but Clodoaldo beat four men on the way to that remarkable finish.
Brazil just keeps producing legendary strikers. Vava is one of those and deserves more respect. He’s one of just four players to score in four world cups, alongside footballing royalty like Zinedine Zidane, Paul Breitner and his legendary countryman Pele. Vava scored 15 goals in just 20 appearances for his nation, winning two world cups, in 1958 and 1962.
He was also one of the first Brazilians to make a significant impact in Europe. 31 goals in 71 appearances for Atletico Madrid is by no means a bad return. He’d also play for the likes of Vasco De Gama and Palmeiras in a glittering club career. One of the best.
As part of Brazil’s triple-axis with Ronaldo and Ronaldinho at the 2002 World Cup, Rivaldo was one of the best players in the world. The attacking midfielder/auxiliary forward won the tournament for his nation and was also named the best player at the 1999 Copa America.
His hat trick for Barcelona against Valencia in 2001 is often cited as the greatest hat trick of all time, finished off with a sensational bicycle kick. As well as winning La Liga with the Catalans he’d go on to win the Champion’s League with AC Milan. A true legend of the game.
A phenomenal defender, Lucio first came to Europe with Bayer Leverkusen who he would score for in a Champion’s League final loss to Madrid. Then it was onto Bayern Munich who he helped win three leagues and five cups. Bizarrely he was discarded by Louis Van Gaal and joined Inter Milan where he was a vital cog of Jose Mourinho’s success.
He led Inter to a Champion’s League final win over his former employers Bayern in 2009-10. A 2002 World Cup winner, Lucio also won two Confederation’s Cups with his nation. Rugged, strong, powerful, Lucio had all the attributes of a top defender.
Winner of the Golden Ball in 1959, Waldyr Pereira played at three world cups for Brazil. Better known as Didi, he was also nicknamed the Ethiopian prince because of his immense speed and stamina. Didi was a dead-ball specialist, inventing the dead-leaf technique later used by the likes of Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo, causing the ball to suddenly swerve in an unexpected direction.
Two world cup wins and a European Cup victory with Real Madrid shows just how good Didi was. He played 68 times for Brazil and would score 20 goals for the South American nation.
One of Brazil’s two best twenty-first-century fullbacks, Marcelo has nailed down the left-back position for club and country over the past five seasons. After a difficult start, he has become a club legend for Real Madrid, winning four league titles and four Champion’s Leagues with the Spanish giants.
As attacking a fullback as they come, Marcelo is known for his trickery and skill with the ball. Regarded as one of the best left-backs ever, it’s only his international record that tarnishes his record. One Confederations Cup win in 58 appearances shows Brazil’s decline over the past few years.
Leovegildo Lins da Gama Júnior understandably became best known by his last name. The Brazilian midfielder is a Flamengo legend. With 857 appearances for the team, he also has the record for most appearances in the club’s history. Junior won four Brazilian Championships, a Copa America, and an Intercontinental Cup during his time in red and black.
He’d later move to Italy and play for Torino, where he was named Serie A Player of the Year in 1984. He played at two world cups for Brazil, although would not win a major tournament with his nation. Despite this, he’s one of Brazil’s best ever.
Gerson was nicknamed ‘Canhotinha de Oura’ for a reason. Literally ‘Golden left foot’, he is widely known as being the brain behind the 1970 World Cup-winning team in Mexico. The midfielder won numerous national trophies Flamengo, Botafogo, Sao Paulo, and Fluminense.
Considered one of the best passers in World Cup history, he was an intelligent holding midfielder, looking to retain the ball and pass it forward in the mold of a Xavi or Xabi Alonso. He would dictate the pace of the play with his precise passing and his wicked left shot gave him his nickname.
Widely considered to be the best Brazilian footballer of the pre-Pele era, the attacking midfielder came to prominence at the 1950 World Cup. He was regarded as a complete player, with incredible dribbling, passing, and two-footed shooting ability. His international reputation was tarnished by Brazil’s shock defeat to Uruguay in that World Cup.
He scored 30 goals in 53 appearances for his national side. Pele himself said that Zizinho was the best player that he ever saw. Zizinho played for Flamengo, Bango, and Sao Paulo, as well as a brief period in Chile. He’s also the joint top scorer in Copa America history with 17 goals.
As well as possessing one of the greatest names in the history of the sport, Leonidas was also a magnificent player. He appeared at two World Cups for Brazil, in 1934 and 1938, and was the top scorer at the latter. He’s one of several players credited with the mainstream fame of the bicycle kick, scoring one in 1939 against Independiente.
Known as ‘The Black Diamond’ Leonidas is one of the most important players of the twentieth century. He was one of the first black players to break into the then-elitist Flamengo team. He’d also play for Sao Paulo who he would spent the latter part of his career until retiring.
One of the best footballers of his generation, Kaka was absolutely sensational for AC Milan, who he helped to a period of glory in the mid-2000s. He won the Champion’s League with the Italian giants in 2007, in a famous revenge victory over Liverpool, and would also claim a Serie A title in 2003.
The attacking midfielder was a Ballon d’Or winner in 2007 after that magnificent campaign. A record-breaking move to Real Madrid would come next, but this is where the wheels came off for the Brazilian maestro. Injuries shattered his chances at the Bernabeu. After a brief return to Milan and Sao Paulo, he’d become an MLS superstar with Orlando City.
The AS Roma Hall of Famer is one of the best Brazilian players of the 1980s and was also once the world’s highest-paid footballer. He helped the Roman side to a rare Serie A title as well as a pair of Coppa Italia’s during his time in the Italian capital. He’d also star for Internacional in Brazil, making 158 appearances for the Porto Alegre side.
Elegant and technically gifted, Falcao normally played as a deep-lying playmaker. His passing and creativity allowed the team to move forward thanks to his vision and game-control. Despite never winning a major tournament with Brazil, he’s still held in high regard there thanks to his natural ability.
A 1958 and 1962 World Cup Winner, Nilton Santos is one of the greatest defenders in the history of the game. Marcelo is a very good left back but Nilton Santos was brilliant and had the international success that the Real Madrid man can only dream of.
A one-club man with Botafogo, he made 723 appearances for the Rio De Janeiro side. One of his most iconic moments was when he ran the entire pitch against Austria in 1958, before scoring a phenomenal finish. He went to four World Cups and scored 11 goals for the club and 3 for his country.
Love him or loathe him, Neymar earns a place on this list by virtue of his incredible form for Brazil, where he is third in the nation’s top scoring ranks. 60 goals in 97 games are sensational. Only 27-years-old, you can bet that he will beat that record soon. He won every on offer with Santos and Barcelona and has helped PSG to domestic success.
Neymar is also the most expensive player in the history of the game, costing €222 million when he signed for PSG from Barcelona. While his attitude has been condemned by fans, there’s no doubting his talent and he’s considered one of the most influential sports people on the planet today.
As famous for his big mustache as he was for mastering the flip-flap, Rivelino was one of the great Brazilian players of the 70s. The attacking midfielder is regarded as one of the most graceful players ever to play the game and was a massive inspiration for Diego Maradona’s as a young man.
Another 1970’s World Cup Winning star, Rivelino spent most of his career at Corinthians. He also starred for Fluminense for their excellent 1970s side. He also managed Shimizu S-Pulse in Japan after retiring from professional football.
Scorer of arguably the greatest international goal of all time, Carlos Alberto was a magnificent defender who captained Brazil to 1970 World Cup glory. That goal came to define Brazil as a footballing nation, with Carlos Alberto putting the finishing touch to a sensational nine-man move.
The vast majority of his career was spent at Santos, where he made 445 appearances. He’d also play for New York Cosmos with Pele later in his career. A refined, yet tough-tackling center-half, Carlos Alberto is one of Brazil’s greatest ever defenders.
Does any player in the world personify a position on the pitch like Cafu? If you’re an attacking right back you can immediately expect yourself to be compared to Cafu. With 142 appearances, he’s the most capped Brazilian of all time. He won the 1994 and 2002 World Cups, captaining Brazil at the latter.
As a player, he was renowned for his dynamism, energy, pace, and tactical intelligence. He was famed for his overlapping runs and is especially famous in Europe for his spells with Roma and Italy where he is one of the best defenders to play in Serie A.
The Hurricane was a quick, skillful, and powerful right-winger and a member of the legendary Brazilian national team that won the 1970 World Cup. He was one of only four players in World Cup history to have scored in every game his country played.
He played most of his club football in Botafogo, replacing his idol Garrincha for both club and country. He played in three consecutive World Cups: 1966, 1970, and 1974. After a spell at Marseille, he made a few appearances for South Africa’s Kaiser Chiefs, before coming back to Brazil.
One of the greatest midfielders ever to play the game, Socrates was a symbol of cool for an entire generation. That haircut, headband, and beard combination made him physically distinctive on the pitch. That’s even before we talk about how good he was as a player.
The attacking midfielder captained Brazil at the 1982 World Cup, playing in midfield alongside Zico, Eder, and Falcao. This is considered the greatest Brazilian team to never to win a World Cup. Just to sum up how good he was, the former South American Footballer of the Year’s signature move was a no-look backheel pass. Pure class.
Another remarkable striker, Romario starred for Brazil in their 1994 World Cup win and was named FIFA World Player of the Year the same season. He was also a member of Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team, where had ah a special partnership with Hristo Stoichkov. 30 goals in 33 matches during his first season in Spain helped him to L Liga.
55 goals in 70 appearances for Brazil show just how gifted he was. He was lethal in confined spaces and became famous for his toe-poke finishes. Romario is one of the few strikers in the world to have scored over 1000 goals in their careers.
A joy to watch, Ronaldinho played every game with a smile on his face and was one of the most naturally gifted players ever to wear a Brazilian shirt. Who can ever forget his freekick against David Seaman? Or the time he was actually applauded by the Santiago Bernabeu faithful after putting on a stellar performance by hated rivals Barcelona?
Although he was a notorious party animal, Ronaldinho made the ridiculous look effortless. He first came to Europe with PSG, before moving to Barcelona and then AC Milan, before a nomadic journey around the world. Two FIFA World Player of the Year awards and a Ballon D’Or shows just how good the World Cup winner was.
Arguably the best player in the world during the 1970s and 1980s, Zico was renowned for his remarkable ability to bend the ball wherever he wanted it to go. The 1981 and 1983 World Player of the year spent 13 seasons in his first spell at Flamengo and come back for five more on either side of a spell at Udinese.
The sensational attacking midfielder was basically loved wherever he went, though he would struggle with injuries throughout his career. He’s also adored at Kashima Antlers, one of Japan’s most successful clubs, where a statue is outside their stadium in his honor.
Oh, what could have been. It’s bizarre that a footballer who played for Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter, and AC Milan while shooting his team to world cup glory could be regarded as an underachiever. Yet that’s the truth with Ronaldo, who could have been the greatest player ever, nevermind just in Brazil if it hadn’t been for his own body letting him down.
He won two world cups, with 2002 being his finest moment as he scored the winner in the final against Germany. Remarkably, despite all the major clubs he played for, he never won a Champion’s League and his highest domestic success were two La Ligas with Real Madrid. Serious knee injuries would be his tragic downfall.
Controversial we know, but the most famous Brazilian footballer ever is in second place on this list. While the name Pele is synonymous with football, there’s no denying that his self-promotion has helped his rise to legendary status. That’s not saying he wasn’t great: he was magnificent. 650 goals in 694 recorded club appearances is an outstanding record.
The Santos legend won three world cups with Brazil, scoring 77 goals in 92 appearances for his country. Capable of the absolutely sublime, he’s a national hero in his home nation. The argument against him being the best ever is because many Brazilians will tell you that the next man on this list epitomized the magic of football.
Brazil never lost a game while fielding both Pele and Garrincha. While the former definitely is more famous and is usually ranked as one of the greatest players ever, we genuinely believe Garrincha was just a bit better. Described as a sensation, he was Brazil’s best player in 1962, scoring four goals in the tournament and winning the Golden Ball.
He won two world cups and a host of domestic competitions with Botafogo. Renowned for his skill and invention, Garrincha scored four goals direct from corners in his career. The Brazilian’s personal life gives him an anti-hero aura. He’s known to have fathered at least fourteen children with different women and suffered alcohol abuse throughout his life. Pele was the establishment. Garrincha fought against the establishment.