He was the most expensive player in the world when he moved from Juventus to Real Madrid. Now he’s in his second spell as manager of the Spanish giants, after previously winning three Champion’s Leagues in a row. When time passes by it’s easy to forget how good somebody was. Zinedine Zidane is up there with the best ever to lace up a pair of boots.
While his international career is definitely remembered for that extraordinary headbutt against Marco Materazzi – he’d scored an ice-cold penalty earlier in the game – it’s not the full story. No, go back to 1988 when he scored twice to help France get past tournament favourites Brazil in the final. A volatile brilliant genius.
The fourth-highest goalscorer in World Cup history, Just Fontaine has the record for most goals scored in a single tournament with a wild 13. The Moroccan-born French international only played in one tournament, back in 1958, but that was enough to make an impact on the biggest stage in football. Striking up a partnership with Raymond Kopa, he was devastating.
Bizarrely, he still didn’t make it into the team of the tournament because of a weird voting system. It’s going to take something special to break that outrageous scoring record though.
Many believe that Garrincha is the greatest player of all time. Whereas Pele was a marketing dream, Garrincha was a volatile genius. Before he eventually retired to look after his army of illegitimate children, Garrincha was phenomenal. He actually had a genetic trait that left him with crooked legs. This only helped him twist and turn his opponents.
While he played a big part in his country’s 1952 win, it was 1962 where he had his greatest moment. Garrincha stepped up to score four as Brazil went and won the tournament. He became the first player to win the World Cup, Golden Boot and Golden Ball all in one go.
Cafu changed how people think about fullbacks. More of a wingback than an out-and-out defender, he marauded up and down the wing for Brazil and Roma. The most capped Brazilian footballer of all time (142), he won the World Cup in 1994 and 2002, captaining his side in the second tournament.
The Brazilian’s career lasted for 16 years. Unlike Roberto Carlos, he could actually defend well too. Cafu was reliable and consistent, perfectly balancing a blend of attack and defence. It’s crazy to think of now, but he only played in 1994 because Jorginho got injured in the World Cup final.
A massive reason why West Germany won the World Cup in 1974, Beckenbauer captained his side to the Jules Rimet Trophy, beating Johan Cruyff’s Netherlands side in the final. He was a classy, tidy sweeper during an era of rough pitches and crunching tackles that would have caused half of today’s primadonnas to go join ballet classes instead of football.
Beckenbauer scored five times in 1966 as West Germany reached the final against England. He finished third with his nation in 1970. Then in ’74 he finally got his hands on the trophy with a magnificent display of defending in the final. A top player and a legend of the game.
Possessing one of the worst haircuts in World Cup history, Ronaldo was a force of nature in his prime. The tragedy of the Brazilian is that injuries decimated his career, or else he’d be higher up this list. We all know about 1998 when he was brilliant in the tournament but the night before the final fell ill. Brazil lost 3-0 to France as Ronaldo was a ghost of himself.
In 2002 he made up for it. After missing the entire qualification campaign with a cruciate injury he stepped up to the plate, leading to that haircut to take eyes off his injury record. The only team to keep him out was England and Ronaldo would score the winner in the World Cup final against Germany, despite a valiant performance from Oliver Kahn. The second-highest goalscorer in World Cup history also won a winner’s medal in 1994, without playing.
Germany never lost a game where Miroslav Klose scored. And he scored a lot of goals. At club level he was reliable, but in the international game, he was absolutely lethal. Polish-born Klose is the top-scorer in men’s World Cup history with an astounding sixteen goals across four World Cups. Oh, and he’s also Germany’s top-scorer. They still haven’t replaced him.
Klose scored five goals in 2002, blasting Germany to the World Cup final, which they would lose to Brazil. He’d win the Golden Boot in 2006, popping in another five. In 2010 he scored four, and then finally in South Africa, 2014, scored two, to overtake Ronaldo as the top scorer in World Cup history. Oh and more importantly for him, he also got his hands on the actual trophy.
Yeah, you know who this guy is. Pele is one of the greatest players ever – and definitely the first to build a big brand around his name. Pele made his first appearance at a World Cup in 1957, as a 17-year-old. He played a big part in winning that World Cup, including two goals in the final against Sweden. Injuries prevented him from playing a full part in the next two campaigns.
So it was in 1970 that he cemented his status as one of the greatest World Cup players ever. This was Pele in his prime; powerful, clinical, dynamic and imaginative. The audacity of some of the tricks he tried like that shot from the halfway line and allowing to the ball to run left past the Uruguay goalkeeper as he ran right. Spectacular.
And now we’re finally at number one. Diego Maradona is the greatest player in World Cup history. Pele might have won more than the little Argentinian, but he never dragged his side to the final in swashbuckling style as Maradona did. In 1986, Maradona was the talk of the world for the way he helped guide Argentina to World Cup glory.
There are just so many iconic moments. The Hand-of-God which England still haven’t got over, that gorgeous mazy finish that left half the England team on their backsides, he was just outstanding. After playing in four World Cups, Maradona sealed his status as the greatest player in World Cup history by being off his face and going crazy in the stands while Argentina played Nigeria. A true legend.