From Beckenbauer to Ronaldo and from Cruyff to Zidane, European football has introduced us to some of game’s greatest players and we are here to find out who these players. So join us as we try to determine who are the absolute best European footballers of all time?!
The discussion around the topic of the best player in European football history is one that has been going on since football became a popular sport in Europe. It is an ongoing conversation that has many of the world’s greatest footballers like Johan Cruyff or Zinedine Zidane or most recently Cristiano involved in it and honestly to compile a list of only 10 people would be one of the hardest challenges in this line of work.
Nonetheless, we have taken on that challenge to determine who we think are
best European footballers of all time
. To compile such a list, one must examine all the eras of European football and examine the impact that these players had on the game and the legacy they left behind as well as the trophies and awards they have won. So without further ado let us find out who these players are:
Usually in lists like the best European players of all time, strikers and attackers are bound to get more attention because of the amount of goals they score and the impact they have on winning the games but we have tried our hardest to look at all the areas of the pitch and have veered towards the lasting legacy that these players left rather than those who shone bright but for a little time. Let’s start with one of France’s finest:
Let us kick of our list of best European soccer players with a heavyweight, the King of Highbury himself, Thierry Henry. A product of AS Monaco academy, Henry was already a World Cup winner by the time he was 20 and went on to win almost everything there was in European football after that by playing for Arsenal and Barcelona. As a winger/striker, the impact he had on the game, both when he was a player himself and after he retired, was undeniable with scores of players even today trying to emulate Henry.
After an unsuccessful transfer to Juventus, Henry was then offered a chance atArsenal
in 2000 and it was there that Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger chose to utilize him as a striker instead of his natural winger role, believing he had the qualities of a great forward. Henry quickly adapted to his new role and then the goals just kept coming. He would not experience great success with Arsenal though until the 01-02 season, where he helped Arsenal win the League and FA Cup Double by scoring 32 goals in all competitions. He was then famously snubbed in winning the Ballon d’Or in the following season.
By the 2003-04 season, Henry had become one of the best players in the world and went on to play a huge role in Arsenal’s historic season where the won the league without losing a single match, a record they extended to 49 games. he scored 39 goals in all competition and was named the Player of the Year for the 2nd time in a row. He became the first Arsenal player to win the European Golden Boot and also he was runner-up to the World Player of the Year award. He would help Arsenal immensely as they reached the Champions League final 2 years later, which they ended up losing, and ultimately left the club in 2007.
In his Career at Arsenal, Thierry Henry scored 228 goals in 377 games for Arsenal, winning the Premier League’s Golden Boot 4 times, being the only player to do so, and became Arsenal’s top scorer of all time. his speed, incredible dribbling ability, powerful right-footed strikes and great vision, helped him achieve almost everything that a footballer can. Like Bergkamp and Adams, Henry also has a statue outside Arsenal’s home stadium, but his actions on the pitch and the legacy he left behind are what truly immortalize him and make him one of the best European footballers of all time.
These days there are a lot of talk around strikers leaving behind records and having outstanding finishing abilities but when the words, perfect striker or complete forward gets discussed only one name comes to mind and that is Gerd Muller. The recently deceased legendary striker is the standard that every striker in football wants to reach but usually fails. He excelled at everything a striker should do and he brought about the best years for both Germany andBayern Munich
and he did it all in style, making him still one of the
best European players in 2021
Der Bomber’s career started in his hometown at 1861 Nördlingen where he scored 51 goals in 31 matches. He then moved to Bayern Munich and stayed at the club for 15 years, setting an unbelievable record of 398 goals in 453 matches. he managed to win the Bundesliga four times, the DFB-Pokal four times, the European Champions' Cup in three consecutive seasons, the Intercontinental Cup once, and the European Cup Winners' Cup once.
Over the course of his career, Muller became one of best European soccer players especially between 1969 and 1972, where he twice won the European Golden Shoe in 1969-70 and 1971-72 and the Prestigious Ballon d’Or in 1970. He also won the Euros and the World Cup with WestGermany
In that period and became one of the most decorated players of all time.
Whether it was for his incredible speed or the sheer amount of finishing quality he had in front of the goal, Muller’s legacy will live on as a striker of his quality will never come again. The fact that after all these years players like Messi and Ronaldo are still trying to beat his individual records in goal scoring is further proof of that and it’s the reason why he is considered to be one of the greatest ever.
One of the first names that comes to mind when there is a discussion about the
best European players of all time
is that of the great Eusebio, a record breaker who put Portugal’s name on the map in terms of football. Eusebio’s prime in the 1960 saw the striker help Benfica reach 4 European Cup finals 4 times, of which they won it once. He then helped Portugal finish 3rd in the 1966 World Cup, their best finish ever to date.
During the 1965-66 season which was arguably his best season, Eusebio first won the Ballon d’Or award, then proceeded to win the league with Benfica and make it to the European Cup final. But the summer of 1966 brought the World Cup and it was there that Eusebio immortalized himself by scoring 9 goals in the tournament, winning the Golden Boot of the competition.
Nicknamed The King (O Rei), Eusebio was known for his incredible goal scoring record since he scored 473 goals in 430 appearances forBenfica
which resulted in him winning 2 European Golden Shoes in 1967-68 and 1972-73, all of which along his 1 Ballon d’Or make him one of the best European footballers of all time.
Although his name has been forever tarnished by his time as UEFA chairman that got him banned from football, there is no denying the influence Michel Platini had on French football and European football overall as he was the first French player to ever become a European superstar on that level and leave a legacy of becoming one of the
best European soccer players
of all time.
Although he is known for his time at Juventus, Platini started his career in France where he played over 100 games for Nancy, Saint-Etienne before moving to Serie A giants Juventus where he spent the best years of his career. An attacking midfielder who had a knack for scoring goals, which landed him 3 consecutive Serie A Golden Boots between 1983 and 1985. Coincidentally, those years proved to be his very best years of his career as he achieved an impressive feat of winning the Ballon d’Or three years in a row in 1983, 1984 and 1985.
Platini’s time atJuventus
ended up with him winning 2 Serie A titles, a Coppa Italia, a European Cup and a Cup Winners’ Cup but at International level, Platini helped France win the Euros in 1984 and reach the semi-finals of both 1982 and 1986 World Cups. He may now be remembered mostly for his misdeeds outside the pitch, but when he was on the football pitch, there were seldom any better players than Platini playing for France.
Regarded as the first true superstar of the game, Ference Puskas is a player that even the most casual football fans have heard of. The Hungarian-born striker set the standards of being atop strike for years to come, standards that still hold up today. Known for his beautiful goals, Puskas is one of the best goal scorers of all time both at club and international level, making him one of the best European footballers of all time.
Having started his career at his homeland of Hungary, Puskas played for Kispest and Budapest Honved before moving to Spanish giants Real Madrid in 1958. While he was part of agreat team
that boasted the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano and Raymond Kopa, the 31 year old Puskas was already a superstar since he had led his country to an Olympic Gold medal in 1952 and then two years later to the final of the 1954 World Cup as the spearhead ofHungary
’s infamous team of that era known as the Mighty Magyars.
His move to Real Madrid however cemented Puskas’ place as one of the absolute best players of all time after he helped Los Blancos win 5 La Liga titles as well as 3 European Cups. Puskas was also for the longest time the best goal scorer at the International level with 84 goals scored in 85 matches for Hungary before the Iranian Ali Daei broke his record in 2003. Overall Puskas has scored 806 goals in 793 official games which makes him the 4th best goal scorer of all time and one of the best players ever!
The first defender on our list is Der Kaiser himself, Franz Beckenbauer who happens to be one of the best Bayern Munich players of all time too. The Emperor’s commanding presence and the elegance he brought to the role of the sweeper gave Germany their distinct discipline in the back line during the 60s and 70s and brought about one of the most successful eras of German football to date which is why even today Beckenbauer is considered to be one of the best European footballers of all time.
Having started his professional career at Bayern Munich as youth player, Franz Beckenbauer went on to spend most of his best days as a footballer there. he started first as a midfielder but later would transition to his now-renowned role as the sweeper or a libero. He went on to be extremely effective at the role and now is known for having revolutionized the role of a modern sweeper.
As a player Franz Beckenbauer won 4 Bundesliga titles as well as 4 DFB Pokals with Bayern Munich. He was also the captain of the greatest generation ofBayern Munich players
, the likes of Sepp Maier, Gerd Muller and Rummenigge, and they managed to win an unprecedented 3 consecutive European Cup (Champions League) titles from 1974 to 1976. He also captained Germany first to European Glory in 1972 Euro and then 2 years later to World Cup success in 1974, forever writing his name amongst the greatest footballers of all time.
After his career ended and he became one of the
best European footballers of all time
, Beckenbauer then went on to management where he became one of only 3 people who won the World Cup as both a player and a manager. He also led Bayern to a Bundesliga and a UEFA Cup title a few years later. Perhaps the highest individual honor that Beckenbauer received was his 2 Ballon d’Or trophies after he led Bayern and Germany to every trophy that was available and subsequently managed to impact the game of football. There will simply be no player like him ever again, for Bayern Munich or Germany.
The legendary van Basten follows the likes of Eusebio, who ruled much of the 60s and Gerd Muller who dominated the 70s as absolute goal machines as the Dutchman absolutely set Europe on fire in the 1980s and he did it all before even turning 30. In fact, the Ajax and AC Milan superstar’s place on our list of best European soccer players becomes even more impressive when you realize he retired at 28 because of an ankle injury, and arguably didn’t play in his prime years.
Known for great finishing touch as well as his ability in the air which often resulted in beautiful volley or bicycle kick goals, Marco van Basten is the epitome of a classic center forward. He proved this time and again by winning the European Golden Shoe in 1985-86 while being at Ajax as he managed to help them win three league titles with them
But the bulk of van Basten’s success came at AC Milan where he helped the Italian Giants win 3Serie A
titles and 2 Champions League trophies. This resulted in him amazingly winning the Ballon d’Or three times in 1988, 1989 and 1992, making him one of the best European footballers of all time. He also won the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1992 and it wasn’t until Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo came around that he was dethroned as the most successful player in the world in terms of individual awards.
Van Basten managed to lead Netherlands to glory as they won the 1988 Euros where he managed to score his famous volley against the Soviet Union which is still referenced today as one of the most beautiful goals ever. The fact that he managed to be one of the best footballers of all time just before being 28 speaks volumes about his quality as a player.
There are few footballers who have influenced the beautiful game as much as the legendary Johan Cruyff has. The Dutch maestro helped develop the Total Football as a player and later perfected it as a manager and is often the person who is most associated with the term Total Football. his presence in that Netherlands’ team of the 1970s made the Flying Dutchmen one of the greatest teams of all time and his time at Ajax and Barcelona as a player and later as a manager have made Cruyff an almost mythical figure in football lovers’ minds.
Cruyff was among the crop of players that helped Netherlands’ rise from obscurity in the 60s to their glorious days of the 1970s. Cruyff himself was instrumental in Netherlands reaching the 1974 World Cup final, which they lost, and 2 years later becoming third in the 1976 Euros.
Primarily known for his creativity and technique, Cruyff was a natural goal scorer too as he scored an incredible amount of 416 goals in total for club and country over the course of his career. He won 9 Eredivisie titles and 3 consecutive European Cups from 1970 to 1973 withAjax
, a feat that few players have managed to do, and he is among a handful of players that have won the Ballon d’Or three times in 1971, 1973 and 1974, making him one of the best European players of all time.
Cruyff was named the European Player of the Century and came only second behind Pele in World Player of the Century in 1999. Not enough could be said about his influence on football as a player and a manager as his way of playing and his philosophy of managing is one of the most important components of modern football and it’s only fitting that he is deemed as one of the best European footballers of all time and one of the greatest ever football players ever.
For his elegance, control and genius of playing football as well as his achievements both individually and as a part of a team, Zinedine Zidane is often regarded as one of the greatest ever football players ever. Zizou was a general in the midfield, and it is no surprise that he is this high on our list of best European soccer players ever. Having started his football in Ligue 1 at Cannes and thenBordeaux
, Zidane became an overnight sensation when he opted to join Juventus, following the footsteps of his countryman Platini, and it was in Juventus that he became one of the greatest footballers of his generation.
At Juventus, Zizou won 2 Serie A titles in between 1996 and 1998 and in the Summer of 1998 as the France were hosting the World Cup, he became their key player, leading the Les Bleus all the way to the final to face the defending Champions, Brazil. It was then thatZidane
showed he is a player for big matches as he scored two goals and delivered France the World Cup for the first time ever.
For his impact on France’s tournament as well as his time atJuventus
, Zidane was awarded the Ballon d’Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1998. After winning the Euros in 2000 which earned him another FIFA World Player of the Year award, he joined Real Madrid in 2001 and became a part of the famous Galacticos era of Real Madrid. He won his first Champions League title in his first season at the club by scoring that infamous volly goal in the final.
In 2003, a 31 year old Zidane won the FIFA World Player of the Year award for the 3rd and last time and cemented his place among footballers with most individual trophies. He retired in style with the 2006 World Cup final being his last ever competitive match, having helped France reach the final. Perhaps his last game was a summary of his career, a career which was sublime like the penalty kick he scored in that game and passionate like the red card he received at the end of the game. He has since become one of the most successful managers ever and his story of success continues.
What could be said about this guy that hasn’t been said before?! Possibly the best athlete to ever play football, Cristiano Ronaldo is a force of nature and there is a deep, burning desire inside him to win and to make his mark in the world that is seldom seen among any athletes, barring Michael Jordan. It’s that need that puts him among the best European players in 2021 even though he is 36 now.
But this success didn’t come to Ronaldo overnight as he was just another adequate winger playing for Sporting Lisbon before being discovered by Sir Alex Ferguson. His subsequent move to Manchester United is what set him on his path of glory and it was there that he made a name for himself by helping United win practically everything at club level while also achieving tremendous success at the individual level. But even this amount of success was not enough for him, as is ever the case with Ronaldo, and he made the move to Real Madrid, looking for a new challenge and to play with the best of the best.
It was at Real Madrid that his rivalry with Lionel Messi took both players beyond what anyone imagined a player could do, as they broke records game after game producing a stable 40+ goals a season. both players have frequently stated in their interviews the fact that their rivalry with each other only made them better and was a driving factor in both of them becoming great players and being still two of the
best soccer players in 2021
Ronaldo’s career has continued at Juventus and now his beloved Manchester United again and he has picked up a few trophies whilst still scoring heaps of goals. Having won 5 Ballon d’Ors, 4 European Golden Boot, 2 The Best FIFA Men's Player, 1 Puskas Award and 1 FIFA World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo is a player that could only be rivaled by Lionel Messi and since the Alien is not European, this makes Cristiano Ronaldo the top dog among the
best European footballers of all time
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