Thu 17 December 2020 | 6:30

Best South American footballers of all time

Who are the greatest South American footballers of all time? Who is your favorite player from the southern hemisphere? If you too are wondering about your choices, follow us below as we list some of the best South American football players in history.

Football (or soccer to our American friends) was born in Britain, and the world will be forever thankful for such an amazing gift. But while football was invented in Europe, it has gained quite a special place in the hearts and the culture of South American countries, which has resulted in generations of children aspiring to become the next best players in the world, playing football on every surface with everything they have got.

It is always heartwarming to hear that a professional footballer has brought themselves up from the slums of a country such as


or Argentina, to play at some of the most elite clubs in the world, finally living in a big mansion somewhere in


or Spain. Well, almost everyone trying to become a star in football from South America has endured such difficulties.

Even the greatest South American soccer players of all time have had challenging beginnings, but they managed to overcome the obstacles and become who they are considered to be, the best South American players in soccer history. You might now be curious to know whom we are talking about, which is why we have prepared you a list of the

greatest South American footballers of all time


Of course there are numerous other iconic footballers that we could have named on this list, as South America is quite well-known for raising the brightest of the talents in the world of football. But the ones that are named below are some of the more influential and famous South American players to have ever graced the pitch.

Greatest South American footballers of all time

Here is a shortlist of all the players we will be discussing below. Who among these iconic footballers are your favorite? Which of them have created the most memorable moments in your lives?

  • Ronaldinho

  • Jose Luis Chilavert

  • Carlos Valderrama

  • Roberto Carlos

  • Cafu

  • Zico

  • Alfredo Di Stefano

  • Mane Garrincha

  • Ronaldo Nazario

  • Lionel Messi

  • Diego Maradona

  • Pele

Now that we know who the

best South American footballers of all time

are, let us have a more in-depth look at their lives and illustrious careers.


Is there anyone living in the contemporary era who does not know who Ronaldinho is? Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, or simply Ronaldinho to avoid being so formal, is without a doubt one of the greatest football players in the world to have ever graced the pitch with his sweet poetic style of play. One could not simply stop watching Ronaldinho, as the Brazilian often wowed the viewers by his mesmerizing dribbling abilities, no-look passes, feints, tricks, free-kicks and basically all the beautiful techniques that you could think of.

They say that quality is better than quantity and that is what El Brujo went for during his career as an AC Milan and Barcelona legend and a Brazil international, winning the

Champions League

, the Ballon d’Or and most important of all, the World Cup, which makes the dream treble complete. As one of the

best South American football players in history

, Ronaldinho most notably spent two years at Paris Saint-Germain, five years at Barcelona and three years at Milan.

If you take a look at the overall stats of one of the best South American footballers of all time, you would see that Ronaldinho did not spend too much time playing with the elite, as people expected him to push himself even further just like how players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Gianluigi Buffon and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are doing. But the Brazilian opted to go back to his old roots and play in the Brazilian

Serie A

. Overall, he got to play 543 games for several clubs in the world, scoring 197 goals and providing 162 assists.

Jose Luis Chilavert

While we usually that midfielders and forwards or even defenders get the deserved attention, hype and fame over the years, goalkeepers do not receive the same amount of love that the others do and sometimes their efforts are left underappreciated and underrated. That is why we wanted to remind those who might forget goalkeepers, that Jose Luis Chilavert is undoubtedly one of the

best South American footballers of all time


Born in Luque,


, the 1.88 m (6 ft 2 in) tall keeper began his career with Sportivo Luqueño in his home country and went on to play at several other clubs as well throughout twenty years of his life. Of course not only is Chilavert one of the best goalkeepers of his generation, he is one of the most prolific keepers in the world as well, which is not a trait you would usually expect from a goalie.

During his active years, the Paraguayan managed to score an impressive 67 goals in total, scoring a world record of 8 goals during international duty, which truly shows why he is known to be one of the best South American players in soccer history. The former

Real Zaragoza

keeper hung up his boots and gloves in 2004 playing for Club Atlético Vélez Sarsfield.

Carlos Valderrama

Next on our list of greatest South American soccer players of all time is Carlos Valderrama, also known as El Pibe or the Kid, who as a Colombian international, used to tear down the opposition defense with his playmaking abilities as an attacking midfielder. He was actually selected as one of the greatest living footballers on the list of FIFA 100 by Pele, thanks to his illustrious career.

The now 59-year-old is considered to be one of the most iconic football players of


, especially with his even more iconic hairstyle that would reveal his identity from miles away. While Valderrama played for numerous clubs in his home country such as Deportivo Cali and foreign clubs such as Real Valladolid and Montpelier, his most successful days are believed to be his international caps, as he went on to make 111 international appearances and score 11 goals in the process.

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Roberto Carlos

Considered by many to be the greatest left-back in the history of football, we just had to mention Roberto Carlos on the list of

best South American players in soccer history

as he enjoyed quite a successful career with some of the best clubs in the world, including Inter and most notably

Real Madrid

, with whom he went on to win the Champions League on three occasions. Of course he might prefer to be remembered as the 2002 World Cup winner, since winning the golden trophy is the literal pinnacle of any footballer’s career.

The Brazilian left-back spent eleven years with the Spanish giants and made a total of 527 appearances for Los Blancos, scoring a phenomenal 70 goals and providing a further 88 assists in the process. Few could forget his fierce and extremely powerful long-range free-kicks that used to terrorize the opposition defense and even the goalkeeper. His extraordinary and quite unbelievable goal from a free-kick against France will forever be on the walls of football’s hall of fame. He has truly earned his place on the list of best South American footballers of all time.


While Cafu is certainly remembered by anyone who used to watch football 15 or so years ago, he holds a special place in the hearts of AC Milan fans as the Brazilian had created a solid wall in the back with the help of his teammates, creating one of the most famous back-fours in the history of football. Cafu was a part of the Serie A side’s golden age as they won several trophies through the years, including the UEFA Champions League.

The 1994 and 2002 World Cup winner and one of the 

best South American footballers of all time 

made a total of 142 international appearances and even scored 5 goals. The former 

AS Roma

 and AC Milan right-back is currently 50 years old and is enjoying his life as one of the best defenders in I Rossoneri’s history.


Arthur Antunes Coimbra, usually known as Zico is another one of the Brazilians on the list of

greatest South American soccer players of all time

. Of course it is not so surprising as Argentina and Brazil are considered to be two of the most formidable powerhouses of South America, who have quite an intense history of rivalry. The Brazilian midfielder might not have spent his time at clubs such as

Bayern Munich

, Barcelona or any other one of Europe’s elite, but he did get some European action during his spell at Udinese.

While Zico did not spend much time in Europe, he did get to set high standards by reaching the peak of his career with


in the Brazilian Serie A, playing a total of 506 games with the club, scoring an impressive 378 goals. Zico is one of the most prolific midfielders of his time, as he even got to score a phenomenal 52 goals in 72 international appearances for Brazil, which for some people is the main reason why he should be included as one of the best South American football players in history.

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Alfredo Di Stefano

When current generations of football fans think of Real Madrid legends, they immediately remember

Cristiano Ronaldo

, as he undoubtedly is the ultimate legend of a player at Real. But it might not be the same for older generations, who used to watch football in the 1950s and 60s, as they might recall another player as their first choice; Alfredo Di Stefano. There are many iconic players listed above as the best South American footballers of all time, but you have to be a special kind of an iconic player to have a team name their stadium after you.

Alfredo Di Stefano was an Argentinian footballer who was a true reflection of world domination in football, as he helped Los Blancos continue their absolute reign in Europe for several years, winning the first five European Champion Clubs’ cups, which was the unrevised version of todays’ Champions League. He got to make a total of 396 appearances in Madrid’s jersey, scoring an amazing 308 goals in the process. Sadly, Di Stefano passed away in 2014, after being the for the club at almost every important event.

Mane Garrincha

Manuel Francisco dos Santos, best known as Garrincha is next on our list of best South American footballers of all time, who became the first player to win the Golden Ball, the Golden Boot and the World Cup in the same tournament. Mainly known for his time at


, Garrincha was in fact the lucky charm of the Brazil national team, as they only lost one game when the Talisman was part of the XI.

The two-time World Cup winner was one of the more famous footballers of his time thanks to his immense dribbling abilities that showed the true nature of Brazilian football to the viewers from across the globe. The winger made a total of 345 appearances during his illustrious career, scoring more than a hundred goals in those appearances. But sadly he passed away too soon at the age of 49 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Ronaldo Nazario

Dubbed by the world of football as the “Original Ronaldo”, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima is one of the most decorated players in history, who got to play for the best of the best in Europe, including


, Real Madrid, AC Milan and their sister club,


. But he is best known for his memorable years at Real Madrid, at where he spent most of his career.

It is also praiseworthy that he got to continue tearing through the opposition defense even after coming back from a number of knee injuries which kept him on the sidelines for almost two years. In fact, as one of the original Galacticos, Ronaldo added his second Ballon d’Or to his trophy cabinet in 2002, the first of which he had won in 1997. As one of the best South American footballers of all time, he also helped his country to win two World Cups, one in 1994 and the other in 2002.

Lionel Messi

Dubbed by millions around the world to be the Greatest of All Time (the GOAT), Lionel Messi has certainly earned his place on the list of best South American footballers of all time. The one-club man is one of the most decorated players in the history of football as well, winning the Ballon d’Or a record six times, which might only be matched by his all-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo who currently has five Ballon d’Or awards.

Not many players could achieve what the Argentinian has achieved over the years at Barcelona and as an Argentina international, making over 880 appearances overall and unbelievably scoring more than 700 goals in his career, while also providing 282 assists. What manager would not want to have Lionel Messi on their roster? He has quite an immense versatility and can play on a multitude of positions.

We will have to wait and see how the rest of his illustrious career goes, as the 2020/21 season might be his last as a Barcelona player, with him being rumored to fancy a reunion with Neymar at

Paris Saint-Germain

or with Guardiola at

Manchester City


Diego Maradona

The world into an absolute shock when everyone heard the news about Diego Maradona’s sudden death only a short time after his successful brain operation. No one could deny Maradona a spot amongst the best South American footballers of all time, as he was believed to have single-handedly won the World Cup for his country, Argentina. While football is a team-based game, it kind of seemed as if the sayings were true as the Argentine midfielder took on the opposition defenders one by one, dribbling past the goalkeeper to put the ball into the back of the net.



midfielder's name will forever echo in the football hall of fame thanks to his legendary career. Even though Maradona is no longer with us in the physical world, his legacy will go on to inspire many young Argentinians to one day become the next Maradona and create a memorable moment such as the midfielder’s “Hand of God” goal against England, which is remembered as one of the most iconic moments in the world of football.


One could not argue that the youngest goalscorer in the FIFA World Cup at the age of 17 years and 239 days should and must be included on the list of Best South American footballers of all time. When people talk about football, or the name of this sport is mentioned anywhere in the world, the name of Pele would surely come up as he is believed to be the greatest footballer in history to ever grace the pitch with his mesmerizing footwork and brilliant goal-scoring talents.

While the three-time World Cup winner did not get to spend any time in Europe, he managed to create his legacy with

Santos FC

and his national team, which is far more valuable for his country as he put the Brazilian Serie A on the map, something which many players have refused to do by moving to world-famous clubs in Europe to realize their potential. The now 80-year-old legend of a footballer is one of the top-five highest goal-scorers in the world.

These were only some of the Best South American footballers of all time, as there are surely many more that we could not list here. While players such as Kaka and


were left out, we are bound to see the new generation of South American footballers wow everyone with their beautiful footwork and brilliant goal-scoring techniques.

It is only a matter of time before players such

Vinicius Junior

and Rodrygo Goes become the next hotshots of Brazilain football, but until then, there is still a long way to go for the younger generations to earn their place on such a list full of legendary players.

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