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The greatest Brazilian footballers of all time

With five World Cup wins, the Selecao has a whole host of legends to choose from. Read on to find out who the best Brazilian football players of all time.
The greatest Brazilian footballers of all time

Brazilian footballers have often been adored and viewed as larger-than-life characters who possess the power to make one forget about life and dream about the beautiful game.

It was reported that when the Seleção, as hosts of the 2014 World Cup, were knocked out in a crushing 7-1 defeat to Germany, the whole country was plunged into mourning.

But even after the national team's darkest hour, the Brazilian people continue to love the sport unconditionally.

Brazil is the Most Successful Side in World Cup History but who are the best Brazilian football players of all time?

Ronaldo, Pele, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo have been voted the four greatest Brazilian footballers of all time - with Ronaldo Nazario edging out Pele to claim the top spot.

Pele, however, is known as the king of football in Brazil who owns the three World Cup winners' medals.

Neymar, currently third on Brazil's highest goalscorer list behind that pair, couldn't quite crack the top 10. He was eliminated in the quarter-final stage with quite a high percentage of the vote, earning him 11th place.

The following is the list of the best Brazilian football players of all time:

The list overall shows the incredible depth of Brazilian talent, which arguably no other nation can match.

Ronaldo

The greatest Brazilian footballers of all time

Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, born 18 September 1976, commonly known as Ronaldo, is  the president of La Liga club Real Valladolid, and a retired professional footballer who played as a striker. Popularly dubbed in Portuguese O Fenômeno meaning ‘The Phenomenon.’ He is widely considered one of the best Brazilian footballers of all time.

As a multi-functional striker who brought a new dimension to the position, Ronaldo has been the influence for a generation of strikers that have followed.

Ronaldo’s individual achievements include being named FIFA World Player of the Year three times, and winning two Ballon d'Or awards.

For many, Ronaldo is the greatest player of all time and he was given serious consideration, but there are a few factors which prevent him from taking top spot of all time.

Unquestionably, as the most exciting talent to emerge during the 1990s, Ronaldo was an almost unplayable fusion of speed, power and skill.

Ronaldo is a feared No.9 who regularly blitzed defenders and force commentators to scramble through the words to find more superlatives to better describe him and his performance.

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The greatest Brazilian footballers of all time

While Ronaldo scored eight goals to help Brazil win the World Cup in 2002, there is still a big question regarding his professional career.

Despite all his skills and goals, particularly that superhuman season at Barcelona during which he scored 47 goals in 49 games, he was strangely unfulfilled by the time he retired.

Of course, a lot of this wasn't his fault. It wasn't his fault that he succumbed to a life-threatening seizure on the eve of the '98 World Cup, nor was it his fault he suffered a near career-ending injury in 1999.

However, like many other hyped Brazilian footballers, his attitude towards training and discipline, to try and prolong his career, ultimately knocked points off his score.

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Pele

The greatest Brazilian footballers of all time

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, born 23 October 1940, known as Pele, is a Brazilian retired professional footballer who played as a forward.

Widely regarded as the greatest Brazilian footballers of all time, he was among the most successful and popular sports figures of the 20th century. During his playing days, Pelé was for a period the best-paid footballer in the world.

Perhaps surpassed by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the greatest of all time, Pelé remains the model to whom up-and-coming Brazilians aspire.

He was the complete striker, a player not only of almost unmatchable technical quality but of immense mental fortitude.

Pelé exploded onto the global scene as the 17-year-old who took the 1958 World Cup by storm, scoring six goals – five of which came in the semi-final and final – as Brazil were crowned world champions for the first time.

Having missed the 1962 tournament before disappointment four years later, Pelé lifted his second World Cup in 1970 in one of the greatest attacking teams ever assembled; alongside Gérson, Rivellino, Jairzinho and Tostao.

Pele is still Brazil's leading scorer with an enviable record of 77 goals in 92 caps.

Spare a two-year stint with New York Cosmos before retiring, Pelé's entire club career was spent with Santos, where he won 25 titles in 18 years including six Campeonato Brasileiro Série A titles and two Copa Libertadores.

Despite the fact that Messi and Ronaldo may have surpassed Pele in recent years but, according to many, he is the greatest Brazilian footballer of all time.

Ronaldinho

The greatest Brazilian footballers of all time

Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, born 21 March 1980, commonly known as Ronaldinho Gaúcho or simply Ronaldinho, is a Brazilian former professional footballer and ambassador for Barcelona.

He played mostly as an attacking midfielder, but was also deployed as a forward or a winger. Perhaps as football's most flamboyant showman, Ronaldinho was a special talent.

Ronaldinho was a reminder that football remains a game, something to be played and enjoyed. He took the ball at his feet like a child in the playground, painting a picture in his head of what he wanted to do with it and, more often than not, executing it.

Having shot to prominence with Paris Saint-Germain, Ronaldinho became an icon at Barcelona, winning two league titles and a Champions League for the team, and a host of accolades – including the Ballon d'Or – for himself.

Ronaldinho would be even higher on this list were it not for a frustratingly nomadic latter half to his career as a World Cup winner in 2002 with Brazil.

Seemingly in decline by the time he joined Milan in 2008, he turned out for Flamengo, Atlético Mineiro, Querétaro, and Fluminense before his retirement in 2018.

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Rivaldo

The greatest Brazilian footballers of all time

Rivaldo Vítor Borba Ferreira, born 19 April 1972, known as Rivaldo, is a Brazilian former professional footballer. He played mainly as an attacking midfielder but also as a second striker.

Often considered one of the best Brazilian soccer players of all time, Rivaldo is also regarded as one of the greatest of all time.

Labelled a "bandy-legged genius" by The Guardian (due to being bowlegged), although he was predominantly left footed he was capable of playing on either flank, and was on occasion deployed as a wide midfielder or as a winger.

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 and 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 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.

Garrincha

The greatest Brazilian footballers of all time

Manuel Francisco dos Santos, 28 October 1933 – 20 January 1983, nicknamed Mané Garrincha, simply known as Garrincha, was a Brazilian footballer who played as a right winger.

Garrincha is widely regarded as one of the greatest Brazilian players ever, and by some others, the greatest dribbler ever. Garrincha is extremely popular in Brazil where some older football fans even regard him as a better player than Pelé.

Garrincha was the greatest dribbler the game has ever seen and one of the most lavishly gifted footballers of all time.

Garrincha came to the fore at the same time as Pelé, at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. While his team-mate became the poster boy for that tournament, Garrincha was the hero four years later in Chile, functioning as Brazil's star man with Pelé missing through injury.

Garrincha's career was a triumph of spirit over anatomy. Certified a cripple by a doctor when he was young because of his left leg being six centimeters longer than the right, he still managed to become an elite sportsman.

While he was far from a model athlete – as a heavy drinker and smoker and serial womanizer – Garrincha continues to be rightly regarded as one of the most uniquely brilliant players to ever come out of Brazil.

Zico

The greatest Brazilian footballers of all time

Arthur Antunes Coimbra, born 3 March 1953 in Rio de Janeiro, better known as Zico, is a Brazilian coach and former footballer who played as an attacking midfielder.

Often called the "White Pelé", he was a creative playmaker, with excellent technical skills, vision, and a goalscorer, who is considered one of the best Brazilian soccer players of all time.

As another all-time great football player who never managed to lift the World Cup, Zico was an astonishingly consistent performer for club and country throughout his career.

Having overcome his slight build in his formative years, he helped Flamengo win the Copa Libertadores in 1971, eventually going on to win seven state titles and four Brazilian championships in two separate spells which included 800 games and 500 goals.

Zico is widely considered the greatest free-kick taker the game has ever seen as well as a pass master with exceptional vision.

His story with the national team was one of pain, however, having been part of that 1982 side that fell short while also failing to find success in 1978 and 1986. Despite that, he is rightly considered one of the greatest Brazilian footballers ever.

Even still, his record of 48 goals in 71 games shows what a clinical presence he was in midfield.

Romario

The greatest Brazilian footballers of all time

Romario de Souza Faria, born 29 January 1966, known simply as Romário, is a Brazilian politician who previously achieved worldwide fame as a professional footballer. As a prolific forward known for his clinical finishing, he is regarded as one of the best Brazilian football players of all time.

Few players mastered the art of goalscoring quite like Romário. While there are certainly question marks over the validity of his 1000-goal haul, there can be no disputing the striker's brilliance in the penalty area, possessing the touch, and finish that allowed him to score vital goals.

Romario's best hour came at the 1994 World Cup when he scored five goals during Brazil's triumphant campaign in the United States, a haul that contributed to him being awarded the Golden Boot.

He found tremendous success at European clubs, too, helping PSV Eindhoven to three Eredivisie titles before joining the focal point of Johan Cruyff's ‘Dream Team' at Barcelona in 1993.

In his first year at the Camp Nou, Romário scored 30 goals in 33 games as Barça won La Liga and also had spells at Valencia, several clubs back in Brazil, Miami FC, and Adelaide United before his retirement announcement in 2009.

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Cafu

The greatest Brazilian footballers of all time

Marcos Evangelista de Morais, born 7 June 1970, known as Cafu, is a Brazilian former professional footballer who played as a defender. With 142 appearances for the Brazil national team and with the most internationally capped title, he is among the greatest Brazilian players of all time.

With so many of Brazil's legends attack-minded players, it's a testament to Cafu's impact and consistency over such a long stretch that he comfortably breaks into the top ten.

Cafu is the only player to appear in three consecutive World Cup finals, winning in 1994 and 2002, captaining his country in the latter.

Cafu is Brazil's most-capped player with a staggering 142 to his name. He is best remembered as the indefatigable presence at right-back who helped Roma to the Scudetto in 2001.

Cafu clinched his second Serie A title with Milan in 2004 and was a veteran member of the Rossoneri's Champions League winners in 2007.

Cafu is, quite simply, one of the greatest right-backs ever remembered for his great pace, tactical intelligence, and technical skills.

Kaka

The greatest Brazilian footballers of all time

Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, born 22 April 1982, commonly known as Kaká or Ricardo Kaká, is a Brazilian retired professional footballer who played as an attacking midfielder.

Owing to his performances as a playmaker, Kaká is widely considered as one of the best Brazilian football players of all time.

Kaka was the perfect attacking midfielder and thoroughly dominated his own generation’s players. His effortless approach won him plenty of admirers with several standout performances in 2007 earning him the coveted Ballon d’Or.

We should not underestimate the phenomenal talent he has. Ricardo Kaká was among, without doubt, the best Brazilian football players of all time for a short period of time.

At the 2007 Ballon d’Or ceremony, the Brazilian playmaker was remembered as such, beating by a large margin Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the two stars who would conquer the game for the next decade.

Some of his achievements include the 2006-07 Champions League, the 2007 Super Cup, and the Club World Cup 2007 with AC Milan. The part of Milan consisted of some fine players, but Kaká was their driving power.

Neymar

The greatest Brazilian footballers of all time

Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, born 5 February 1992, known as Neymar, is a Brazilian professional footballer who plays as a forward for Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain and the Brazil national team. He is widely recognized as one of the top Brazilian football players of all time.

Neymar has earned a place on any list of the best Brazilian footballers ever by virtue of his incredible form. He is third in the nation’s top scoring ranks with 60 goals in 97 games that is sensational even seen through the eyes of critics.

Only 28-years-old, you can bet that he will beat that record soon. He won various titles with Santos and Barcelona and has helped PSG to several domestic achievements.

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 behavior has been condemned by so many, there’s no doubt that he is a talented sportsman and rightly is considered one of the best Brazilian football players of all time.

 

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