Sun 14 February 2021 | 18:30

Best Football XI of All Time

Talking about the best football XI of all time, and especially, determining it needs a lot of authority. Who are the world's best 11 football players of all time? That’s really a big question, but we are going to answer that in this post.

You might think of top footballers you know, and yet others think of the top footballers they know. That’s really a point of controversy in determining the world's best 11 footballers ever. And it should also be remembered that the number of top legendary players in the world who could be named on best football 11 of all time is not limited actually to 11.

There are several top goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, and forwards in the world, so, there can be even more than one best football XI of all time, if you like it. However, there are top legendary players like Pele or Diego Maradona most people agree upon their deserving to be on the list of world's best 11 footballers ever. And who doubts the skills and abilities of today’s top footballers like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi?

The List of Greatest Football 11 of All Time and Their Formation

The question that which footballers are on the list of

best football XI ever

is one thing and the formation of them is another. You may think of any formation, but we have chosen 4-3-3. Why? Because the number of defenders, midfielders, and forwards in this formation is almost evenly distributed so that we can introduce almost the same number of players in the three major roles, and not because this is the dominant formation or an attacking one.

Lev Yashin (Goalkeeper)

Our goalkeeper on the list of

best football XI of all time

, Lev Yashin is a passed Russian goalkeeper who only served the top Russian club,

Dynamo Moscow

, during his career - actually for 20 years between 1950 and 1970 - and made a total of 326 appearances for them during this time. He also made 74 appearances for the Soviet Union national team between 1954 and 1970. Yashin is the only goalkeeper in football history, in fact to this date, who managed to win the Ballon d'Or trophy; actually in 1963.

Yashin was also named European Goalkeeper of the Year in several years, Goalkeeper of the year in three years, namely 1960, 1963, and 1966, FIFA Goalkeeper of the Century in 2000, and Golden Player of Russia in 2003. He actually appeared in 812 games throughout his career and earned 270 clean sheets which actually translates to almost one clean sheet (exactly 0.99) in every three matches.

Yashin is also a record holder in terms of the number of penalty kicks saved. He actually saved 151 penalty kicks during his career which is the highest number of penalty kicks saved by a goalkeeper in the history of football.

However, all what we just mentioned above are not the only reasons why Yashin is considered the best goalkeeper in the history of football by many people. At the time when goalkeepers always tried to catch the balls, Yashin was one of the first goalkeepers to pioneer punching the ball instead of catching it to avert a threat.

He is also considered as one of the inventors of quick throw which is actually a long throw by a goalkeeper to start a counterattack. He’s also one of the first goalkeepers to practice “active goalkeeping” which incorporates running out to meet the rushing forwards before they had a chance to shoot, coming off the goal line to intercept crosses, and organizing the defense line. He really deserves to be the goalkeeper of best football XI ever.

Franco Baresi (Center Back)

Our first defender on the list of best football XI of all time, Franco Baresi is a 61-year-old retired Italian footballer who is not only considered as one of the legendary footballers but also one of the best defenders ever in the history of the game. He is a product of the Serie A club, AC Milan, and only served the same club during his 20-year career. And as a manager? Although he served the English club,


, for a few months in 2002, he mainly served AC Milan youth team; actually from 2002 to 2008.

Baresi was not generally considered as a strong defender, but he excelled at defensive techniques and was at least strong when it came to tackling. He was also known for his leadership and commanding behavior on the pitch, and although not a tall defender, he was also effective in the air. And when it came to attacking, the top retired Italian footballer could act as a playmaker supporting his teammates from the back.

Baresi captained both AC Milan and Italy’s national team sometime during his career and with the latter he also won 1982 FIFA World Cup. He was named A.C. Milan Player of the Century in 1999 and was inducted both into the Italian Football and AC Milan Halls of Fame; the former in 2013 and the latter it is not yet known.

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Franz Beckenbauer Biography

Franz Beckenbauer (Center Back)

The legendary German footballer is the next defender on our list of best football XI of all time. It is almost impossible you’re a football fan and you don’t know Franz Beckenbauer! Due to his leadership qualities on the pitch, Beckenbauer was often known as der Kaiser during his play time which means “the Emperor” in German. He’s also famed for being the inventor of the modern sweeper role; a role very similar to that of center back but with more fluidity on the pitch which allows the player in the role to even take part in his team’s offensives.

Beckenbauer is the only defender in the history of football to have won the Ballon d'Or trophy twice: Once in 1972 and another time in 1976. He’s also one of the three footballers ever in the history of football to have won World Cup both as a player and as a manager.

Beckenbauer is not only on our list of world's best 11 football players of all time but also he was named on World Team of the 20th Century in 1998, FIFA World Cup All-Star Team in 1966, 1970 and 1974, UEFA Euro All-time XI in 2016, and FIFA World Cup Dream Team in 2002. He is also on FIFA 100 list; a list composed by the Brazilian legend, Pele, for the 100th anniversary of FIFA foundation.

Well, we think that’s enough to get Beckenbauer on the list of

best football 11 of all time

, but if you like to know also about his play style, here it is: Being the inventor of the modern sweeper role, Beckenbauer also played in the same role supporting his teammates in the offense line whenever he could. Other than commanding his defense line, Beckenbauer was known to be a good tackler and even a good striker, plus that his passing and dribbling abilities were no less than his tackling and striking ones.

He was also a composed player and quite easy with the ball at his feet. They say his pace was even higher when in ball’s possession, and he also played a key role in counterattacks.

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Paolo Maldini Biography

Paolo Maldini (Left Back)

They call him the great Paolo Maldini and so we do! Because not only he is considered as one of the greatest defenders ever in the history of football, but also one of the greatest footballers of all time who has also a number of records to his name; what is not common at least among defenders, even those who are considered as top or legendary. So if there is ever a greatest football 11 of all time, there should be a place there in its defense line reserved for the great Paolo Maldini.

As already mentioned above, Paolo Maldini has a number of records to his name. Some of these records are the most number of appearances in the history of

AC Milan

; actually 902 appearances across all competitions, the most number of UEFA Super Cups won (4); he actually shares this record with the top former Brazilian footballer, Dani Alves, fastest goal scorer in the history of UEFA Champions League; Maldini actually scored a goal in 2005 edition of the same competition in only 50 seconds, and the most number of appearances for the Italian national team in World Cup competitions with 23 appearances. And not only this, Maldini has also a number of individual honors and awards to his name.

As for Paolo Maldini’s individual honors, we should say he was named UEFA Club Defender of the Year in 2007, Serie A Defender of the Year in 2004, on FIFA World Cup All-Star Team in 1990 and 1994, and on FIFA 100 list by the Brazilian legend, Pele, just to name a few of his honors. He was also inducted into Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2012 and A.C. Milan Hall of Fame - the year of it is not known.

And if his record of the most number of appearances in Serie A history - actually 647 appearances - was not broken by

Gianluigi Buffon

in 2020, he would remain the holder of the same record and would have just one more record in the bag.

It is also noteworthy to mention that Paolo Maldini ran twice for the Ballon d'Or winner, once in 1994 and another time in 2003, but in both occasions he finished third. Just like Franco Baresi, Maldini is also a product of AC Milan who only served the

Serie A

club during his 25-year club career which lasted from 1984 to 2009, but unlike Baresi, he never managed AC Milan youth team.

The interesting fact about Maldini is that although he was a right-footed player, he could play anywhere in the defense line including left back. Maldini was often known for his intelligence and gentle play rather than physicality and strength, and although he was a defender, he could even support his team’s offensives from the back. Maldini was also known for his precise tackles which actually dispossessed the opposition but rarely presented them with a hard or tight challenge.

Cafu (Right Back)

The first Brazilian player on our list of

best football XI of all time

, Cafu is a 50-year-old former defender - actually right back - who served the top Italian clubs,

AS Roma

and AC Milan, for the majority of his career.

Although not the holder of so many records like the great Paolo Maldini, Cafu has two records to his name: With 142 caps, he is the most capped Brazilian footballer of all time and he’s the only footballer in the world ever to have appeared in three World Cup finals in two of which, namely the finals of 1994 and 2002 World Cups, he actually won the competition with the Brazilian national team, and in one of which - actually 2002 World Cup - he captained the same team.

Cafu was also named South American Footballer of the Year in 1993, on UEFA Team of the Year in 2004 and 2005, on FIFA World XI in 2005 and on the 21st Century World Team. He was also inducted both into AC Milan and AS Roma Halls of Fame. Considered as one of the best full-backs and also one of the greatest footballers of his own time, Cafu was actually an offensive-minded defender.

That means he actually provided support for his team’s offensives either by making attacking runs on the flanks or by sending accurate crosses to his teammates in the opposing half. He was actually so offensive-minded that he was sometimes deployed as a winger. And he was also famed for his pace to the extent that they called him Pendolino - kind of an express train in Italy - when he served Italian clubs.

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Lothar Matthaus Biography

Lothar Matthaus (Defensive Midfielder)

The second German footballer on our list of best football XI of all time, Lothar Matthaus is a 59-year-old retired footballer who played both as a midfielder and defender - actually sweeper - during his career. The club Matthaus served the most during his career was Bayern Munich for whom he actually played for 12 years and in two time periods: Once from 1984 to 1988 and another time from 1992 to 2000. And in between these two periods? He actually served the top Serie A club,

Inter Milan


Matthaus is the first footballer ever and the only German footballer to this date to have been honored with the FIFA World Player of the Year award which actually took place in 1991. And not only this; he has also played the most number of World Cup matches played ever by a single footballer (25), and holds the record of the most number of World Cup competitions a footballer has ever appeared in jointly with Rafael Marquez of Mexico. He actually appeared in five World Cups, namely the 1982 to 1998 editions of the competition.

Matthaus’ individual honors is not limited to this. He also won the Ballon d'Or trophy in 1990, was named the German Footballer of the Year in 1990 and 1999, on Bayern Munich All-time XI, and also on FIFA 100 list by the Brazilian legend, Pele, and was inducted into Inter Milan Hall of Fame in 2018. Other than the 19 club trophies the retired German footballer won with

Bayern Munich

, he also won three international trophies with the German national team including a World Cup in 1990 when he actually captained the team. It is also noteworthy to mention here that Lothar Matthaus is also the most capped German footballer ever, in fact to this date, with 150 caps.

Maybe the best reason why Lothar Matthaus is considered as one of the greatest defensive midfielders of all time is that he was assigned to mark Diego Maradona sometime during his career, and that Maradona himself said about him in his book, I am the Diego: “He is the best rival I've ever had.” Other than his top marking and defending abilities, Matthaus was an accurate passer who was also famed for his powerful shots.

Johan Cruyff (Attacking Midfielder)

A footballer whom we should never leave out on our list of

best football XI of all time

, Johan Cryuff is a passed legendary Dutch footballer who is considered as the best footballer ever in the history of the game - even better than Pele and Diego Maradona - by many. And what is their reason for that? They say while other legendary footballers are celebrated for the skills they exhibited on the pitch, Johan Cryuff is not a footballer to be summed up only by the skills he showed. In fact, he was even beyond that.

Cryuff actually played football with his mind and his thoughtful style of play finally culminated in rewarding moments. He was used to be called “the artist footballer”, “footballer-thinker”, and “Spinoza of football” all for his belief that football is more a mind-body game than a game of physicality. As once the top former French footballer, Eric Cantona, said, Cryuff had been at the heart of a revolution with his football, referring to the fact that the Dutch legend’s style of play was something of his own and at the same time distinctive from other footballers of his own time.

Cryuff is the first footballer ever in the history of football to win the Ballon d'Or trophy three times; actually in 1971, 1973, and 1974. He’s also the first footballer ever to cost more than $2 million. This is actually his transfer fee from


to Barcelona in 1973 when million was not the talk of the day. However, these are not what actually define Cryuff. Cryuff is better defined by his thoughtfulness, style of play, and his strong belief in it rather than the trophies he won.

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Diego Maradona biography

Diego Maradona (Attacking Midfielder)

He doesn’t need introducing! Everyone knows him; both those who like him and those who don’t. The passed Argentinian footballer not only deserves to be among the

world's best 11 football players of all time

but also is considered as the best footballer Argentina has ever produced, though some believe Lionel Messi is his rival or even better than him regarding this.

The name is Diego Maradona, and he’s best known for his extraordinary dribbling skills and also his notorious behavior both on and off the pitch! That’s also a point for him to be liked if you ask us. Maradona is also known for his “Hand of God” goal; the goal he scored with his hand in 1986 World Cup against England which he pretended to score with his head, but later somehow and indirectly admitted that he had scored it with his hand saying that it was not his hand but the Hand of God that had scored the goal!

Despite his notorious behavior, the magic Maradona created on the pitch should never be overlooked. In the same World Cup - we mean 1986 World Cup - and in the same match where he scored the Hand of God goal, Maradona started a run from his own half, dribbled five English players in a row and finally the goalkeeper to score his second goal which won Argentina the game.

Maradona is one of the most decorated Argentinian footballers among whose trophies is the Ballon d'Or trophy he received in 1995. He’s also Napoli’s top scorer of all time with the 115 goals that he scored for them during his career.

Lionel Messi (Forward)

He’s Maradona’s rival; that’s enough to define him! But it should also be noted that


is the only footballer on the list of best football XI of all time, and indeed ever in the history of the game to this date (2021), to have won 6 Ballon d'Or trophies; an achievement that no other footballer has ever been honored with, although Cristiano Ronaldo is close - he has actually earned 5 Ballon d'Or trophies to this date.

Messi is also one of the most decorated footballers both in the world and in Argentina. Other than the 33 club trophies he has won with


and his 6 Ballon d'Or trophies, he has a number of individual honors to his name including 6 La Liga Best Player Awards, 7 La Liga Best Forward Awards, and 6 European Golden Shoes just to name a few.

Messi is a phenomenon both in the Argentine and world football and deserves indeed to be among the

world's best 11 footballers ever

. He’s considered as one of the best dribblers in the world and maybe of all time. Messi’s former manager at the Argentinian national team, Diego Maradona, once said about his abilities: “The ball stays glued to his foot; I've seen great players in my career, but I've never seen anyone with Messi's ball control.”

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Cristiano Ronaldo biography

Cristiano Ronaldo (Forward)

A phenomenon just like Lionel Messi who has every right to be on the list of best football 11 of all time,

Cristiano Ronaldo

is indeed considered by some as Messi’s rival. Some believe Messi is the best footballer in the world - in fact modern footballer, and some Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s no less than Messi and just like Messi, he’s also a prolific goalscorer. He actually scored 450 goals in the 433 appearances that he made for Real Madrid between 2009 and 2018.

450 goals in 433 appearances; that gets Ronaldo a goal-to-appearance ratio higher than 1 - actually 1.03 - and means that he scored a little bit more than one goal in every appearance that he made for

Real Madrid

; a rare occasion in the world of football and what actually Messi has not achieved yet. As already mentioned, Ronaldo is also the five-time winner of the Ballon d'Or trophy and is only one trophy behind Lionel Messi.

Just like Messi, Ronaldo is also a highly decorated footballer and by now has won 29 club trophies with the clubs he has served. He has also a number of individual honors to his name among them are four European Golden Shoe trophies and one Golden Foot trophy which Messi has not yet managed to win. Ronaldo is among the fastest footballers in the world - both with and without the ball at his feet.

He can play on both wings and with both feet and also does well in the middle of the pitch. He’s also an accurate penalty taker, a free kick specialist, and a skilled dribbler who invented the “chops” dribbling trick. Does he deserve to be among the world's best 11 footballers ever? For sure, and maybe more than sure!

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Top facts about Pele

Pele (Forward)

Who is among football fans who doesn’t know Pele? Probably no one! Pele is so big a name in football that if you can ignore the sun in daylight, you can also ignore him! Some believe he’s the best footballer ever produced in the history of football and some believe he has scored more than 1000 goals, although reliable sources say it’s only around 700 goals. Whatever the truth, Pele is a name that will always be remembered in the world of Football.

The interesting fact about Pele is that he never played for a major or top European club during his career and yet he’s considered the best footballer in the world or at least one of the best footballers in the world. Isn’t that Pele’s magic? Pele is not a Ballon d'Or winner, but according to a research France Football - the pioneer of the Ballon d'Or award - carried out in 2015 which assessed the players who could have been the award winner if it had been open to them since 1956, it was revealed that Pele deserved to win the award seven times, even more than Lionel Messi.

And yet all that is not what makes Pele, Pele. As Pele’s counterparts, like Johan Cryuff, Brazilian national team captain in 1970 World Cup, Carlos Alberto Torres, and Pele’s teammate, Tostao, stated Pele was a football genius beyond the boundaries of logic whose secret was improvisation.

What he actually did in a moment could never be repeated again; a simply flawless footballer with a great understanding of the game. And as the legendary German footballer, Franz Beckenbauer, once said about him, there is no other footballer that could be compared with him. We would be idiots if we didn’t include Pele on our list of

greatest football 11 of all time


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