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These Are Definitely The 24 Biggest Soccer Stars Of All Time

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Although we’re all familiar with names such as Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the world of fútbol, what about the great stars of years past? Here’s a few of the legendary soccer players who have paved the way for today’s major names.

1. Pele

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Not one star has shined brighter than this humble Brazilian, the game’s first true ambassador, who took the world by storm since the 1958 World Cup in Sweden as a young and talented 17-year old. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, his real name, benefitted from the advent of televised coverage of the WC, and his good will and wholeheartedness still has the legend way up there. He played into his 40s, and ended his career in New York.

2. Alfredo Di Stefano

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Born in Argentina, he was known as the “Blond Arrow” for his ability to fend off defenders trying to pry the ball away from him. He made most of his career in Spain with Real Madrid and became a key to the team’s five European Cup titles, scoring in each of the final games. Possessing speed and versatility like few, he played from 1953-64 with Madrid, and FIFA recognized him as one of the greatest all-time stars. He died in Madrid in 2014.

3. Garrincha

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To put things in perspective, be it know that Brazil NEVER lost a match when Pele and Garrincha played together. Manuel dos Santos, nicknamed Garrincha, “little bird” was a dribbler like none playing for his beloved Botafogo in the Brazilian league. With Pele out injured in the 1962 WC, he carried his national team to victory and was named MVP. Unfortunately, he died a heavy drinker at a young age and is survived by an estimated 15 children. He will be forever known as “The People’s Joy” (Alegria do Povo).

4. Didi

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Waldyr Pereira, or simply Didi, was the personification of grace and elegance in the soccer field during the 50s. With Brazil he won 2 WC being named MVP in 1958. His status as one of the greats led to his signing by Real Madrid, but his popularity clashes with DiStefano caused his early departure. Nonetheless, his coaching careers also flourished until his death in 2001. His famous free kick style, called “folha seca” or dry leaf, left goalies puzzled as to what the ball did, simulating a leaf erratically falling in the wind.

5. Teofilo Cubillas

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Scoring a goal in a WC is tough enough, but scoring 5 goals, in TWO different World Cups? Now that’s amazing. The biggest Peruvian star ever, Cubillas played in 3 WC. His career spanned opportunities in Switzerland, Portugal and the just formed NASL Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. His play style was powerful and full of agility. He would face defenders, stop, then bolt in the opposite direction, always heading to the goal line. Named by FIFA as one of the world’s top 100 players of all time.

6. Hector Chumpitaz

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No chump at all here… another Peruvian great, his ruggedness defending was instrumental in Peru’s surge in the world rankings during the 70s. Noted for his vision of the entire field, leadership and technique, most of his career covered several teams in the domestic league, having left only for a couple of years to play with Atlas Club in Mexico. Fearless when facing opposing strikers, many times he forced them into passing to another player, unable to crack loose from Chumpitaz’ hold.

7. Roberto Rivelino

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Bending the ball like few before, this son of Italian immigrants had a fierce kick, dizzying rival goalies. Alongside Pele, he hoisted the 1970 WC in Mexico elevating his stature as one of the games’ all-time greats. Known for his abundant mustache, Roberto had determination, accuracy and vision when leading his team across the field. At home he only played for two teams, Brazilian greats Corinthians and Fluminense, ending his career attracted by the petro-dollars of the Saudi League. His powerful left foot had a cannon!

8. Marcelo Salas

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Tenacious and extremely talented with his left foot, Marcelo is one of Chile’s most beloved soccer stars. He has the distinction of having been champion in all teams he played in, spanning 3 countries. In Argentina he signed with River Plate in a move that was criticized by fans and coaches alike – especially Diego Maradona, who always rooted for rival Boca Juniors. But Salas proved critics wrong leading his team to a prodigal run in the Argentine League and South American regional club championships. Then it was off to Italy to help his club, Lazio, reach the title that had been denied them for 25 years.

9. Elias Figueroa

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A towering presence to intimidate rival strikers, Elias Figueroa is perhaps the greatest Chilean to play the game according to many who saw his fearless style of play in the 60s, 70s and 80s. His biggest asset became the skill shown when stripping the ball from other players and immediately commanding the ball forward to give his team an opportunity to attack. Strong and tall – 6’2” – he starred in homeland Chile, plus stints in Uruguay, Brazil and the United States. Often times he was named MVP of all South America. Figueroa has stayed in touch with the managerial aspect of the game, and at one time even entertained the possibility to run for FIFA president.

10. Mario Kempes

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Having been born in a soccer family, Mario “El Matador” Kempes became a figure in Argentine football at an early age, and by the tender age of 17 was already hitting rival goal nets with an amazing ability and decisiveness. He is one of three players ever to get the unofficial “triple crown” of a World Cup: winning the Cup, earning Top Scorer and MVP honors. He scored the deciding goal of the 1978 final, in Argentina against Netherlands. Playing in Valencia, Spain, he was a top striker in the most powerful league of its time. Briefly returning to Argentina, he remained a super star with River before going back to end his career back in Spain, Austria and Germany. Currently, he’s lead analyst for ESPN Deportes soccer coverage.

11. Kaká

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Let’s leave it at “Kaká”, because Ricardo Izecson Dos Santos Leites maybe a bit too much, as was a lot too much his skillset on the field as a powerful forward-midfielder for Brazil in the earlier part of this century. After winning it all in the Brazilian league with Sao Paulo, he was signed by AC Milan in Italy during 6 seasons after he was traded to Real Madrid for an exorbitant amount of money at the time, almost 70 million euros! With Milan he won the coveted European Champions League in 2007. Once in Spain his star never dulled, although an injury cut short his second season. But coming back stronger than ever, he led Madrid to all but the Champions Cup, having been eliminated twice in semis. His style of play is described as “an effortless glide through the field, which, given his tallness, provided for zipping on and off defenders unable to control him”. He retired in 2017 playing for Orlando, in the MLS.

12. Romario

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Brazil’s beloved star in the 90s, Romario da Souza barely had come of age, when he was top scorer in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, after which he signed with PSV Eindhoven of the Dutch league, winning 3 title in his 5 years there. The big move was his trade to Barcelona, in the 1993 season, where the team went all the way to the Champions League finals as favorites, only to be humiliated by Milan. An impressive socring striker, Romario had mental quickness and an uncanny ability to find the net. He is among the few players in history to have scored over 1,000 goals in his career. For Brazil national team, he is second in scoring, only behind Pele. He is now an avid politician, seeking higher positions for the House of Representatives.

13. Maradona

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Diego Armando Maradona is always controversial. Is he or Pele the best player ever? Is he or Messi the best Argentinian ever? Was he even a good player? Whatever the verdict, he isn’t one to be ignored. After humble beginnings with Argentinos Junior he was transferred to bigtime Boca Juniors in 1981, from where one season later he migrated to Barcelona and became one of the game’s first global superstars, everyone wanted a piece of Maradona! In the WC Mexico ’86, he led the “albiceleste” (baby blue and whites) to win it all and have the world at his feet. Unfortunately, later he run into bad company while in Italy with Napoli, but still managed to display magic with the ball. Short and sometimes chubby, his left foot was prodigious, while his right foot only served as support. Pele is undisputed as best ever, Diego is a close second. No other player in history has a religion named after him, where he is considered God.

14. Ivan Zamorano

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Bam-bam was his moniker due to the power of his fierce attack, both ground and aerial as he was one of the game’s best head scorers. With Figueroa and Salas, he’s the third prong in the Chilean top players. Playing locally for his first 5 years, he transferred out to Switzerland for a couple of years then had the best career years in Spain and Italy, earning top honors in the scoring ranks at both countries. Before ending his career at his beloved Colo-Colo in the homeland, he briefly played for America, of Mexico City, winning the title there too. Currently he’s assisting with play calling duties at Hispanic TV networks in the United States and doesn’t rule out vying for coaching the Chilean national team sometime soon.

15. Carlos Valderrama

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Colombian star Carlos “Pibe” Valderrama would have been noticed even without his trademark soccer skills; that hair of his, wow! An imposing blond dyed afro let defenders always know where he was coming, but that didn’t stop him from commanding deadly attacks on the opposite goal. Starting in his native Colombia, Carlos migrated to France where he had a hard time adapting to a more physical, less technical and artistic, style of play. But his amazing passing got him back on track of becoming a creative force on his team, Montpellier, from where he migrated for a season to Spain, before returning to the homeland. He became one of the founding international players of the US’ MLS in 1996 with Tampa, earning MVP that year. He played as captain for three Colombian WC teams.

16. Enzo Francescoli

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The Prince, as called for his exquisite play style, was Uruguay’s most lauded player in a time where the country’s national team was rather forgettable. Played locally for a couple of years before landing in Argentina’s River Plate and then Europe. To those who saw him on the field, Enzo was graced with control, dribble and smoothness when running, although he wasn’t particularly fast. He compensated with an extraordinary vision of the entire field. He played with Uruguay in 3 WCs, not making much noise due the fact he didn’t have a strong supporting cast. Nonetheless, he also won 3 Copa America with the “celeste”. Many think that his star didn’t shine as much as his potential because of the lack of better footballers around him.

17. Daniel Passarella

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Another huge Argentinian defender, practically impassable on the field, Passarella captained the national team that won the 1978 World Cup, played in his home soil. Armed with a very well-trained foot, as a defender he was one of football’s best scorers. Although not a tall presence, he had skills beyond stature to strike many goals with the head. Daniel Alberto spent the first decade of his prolific career in Argentina, then went to Italy for 6 more years returning to his country for the last games in his storied resume. As a coach he also earned several titles with River, and also in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2003. Also, he was president of beloved River Plate, winning by a narrow margin the club elections.

18. Ronaldo

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Known as “The Phenom”, this man, Ronaldo Luiz Nazario de Lima, was only 17 when Brazil won the 1994 WC in the USA, and from then on, the sky would be the limit. Possessing great speed, agility and vision, he would glide effortlessly into enemy territory in route to another score. His weight was always a concern for the media, never for his loyal throng of followers and coworkers. His skills were such that before turning 21, twice had he broken the world transfer record, first in a short stint with Barcelona, then in Italy with Inter, where he became the mega star the world was enamored with. Injuries plagued him throughout his career, and after the 1999 he had to be sidelined for a lengthy period. In 2002 he signed for Real Madrid, forming part of the legendary “Galacticos”, that conquered all club competitions in Europe. He retired in homeland Brazil in 2011. “My body quit on me”, he was quoted as saying at the time.

19. Roberto Carlos

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It’s not unusual to have players begin their careers at one position, then wind up elsewhere on the field. For Roberto Carlos da Silva, although he migrated to the defensive side of the game, he never really lost the offensive aspect. Considered the best ever to play as left-back, his left foot free-kick – clocked at over 105 mph, and bending like crazy, is still poetry in motion. Featuring laser-like vision and passing skills, he quickly left Brazil for Europe, first in Italy then consolidating his career at Real Madrid, where he won everything during his 11-year tenure there. He returned to Brazil playing until retirement in 2012. He has also coached in Turkey and India.

20. Zico

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Arthur Antunez Coimbra, let’s leave it at “Zico”, ins widely considered in Brazil as the white version of Pele. A formidable attacking midfielder, sadly, he’s considered the best player ever to have never won a World Cup because of the fact that Brazil was sliding internationally during his years on the field. Having played put his career mostly at home, he migrated briefly to Italy, before returning. Dubbed by the media as a creative playmaker, full of technical abilities and a vision for the goal on top of his accuracy passing. After retiring in 1994, he turned to coaching all over the world: Japan, Turkey and Russia mainly, with stints in the Middle East. He is also interested in the managerial side of football as would consider the possibility of running for FIFA president at some time.

21. Gabriel Batistuta

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A striker needs to be fierce, and few like Batistuta, or “bati-GOL”, when scoring into rival goal lines. After playing the local league in Argentina just 3 seasons, Gabriel was transferred to Italy with Fiorentina, where he became a living legend during his 9-year tenure, although he never won a league title there. He was revered by fans, who even made him a real-life bronze statue in appreciation. He transferred to Roma for a brief stint in 2000, and there he finally savored the glory of a title in Italy. With the Argentinian national team, he’s the only player in history to score two hat-tricks (3 goals in a match) in different World Cups. His style of play featured a keen eye for attack and quickness to get open to receive an assist. He retired in 2005 and still makes the odd commercial here and there due to his striking good looks, although privately he is anything but outgoing. He runs his own construction firm and plays golf in his leisure time.

22. Rivaldo

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Tall, sleek and deadly in enemy large box, Rivaldo Ferreira was a dreaded presence in Brazil’s national team during the 90s and beyond. Mostly a forward-midfielder, he attacked from a wide position and let everyone in the other team know his one and only objective: score. Having lost the WC finals to France in 1998, he relentlessly continued his rise until finally hoisting FIFA’s highest honor in 2002, when Brazil beat Germany in a convincing 2-0 where both goals were Rivaldo assists. Playing in 17 teams during his 24 seasons as pro, being Barcelona his major sporting achievement. His almost 6’3” height allowed for his above par vision of the field, always handy when fending off defenders. He was second scoring in Spain several seasons before transferring to Italy. The final decade of his career was spent wandering about Europe and the Middle East. Rivaldo is considered one of the best ever to play the game.

23. Hugo Sanchez

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Mexico’s only entry into the list of greats, Hugo Sanchez had his eyes set on major achievements since a very young age. He played for UNAM in his beginnings, then a short time with San Diego, in the US, before signing with Atletico Madrid in Spain where he had the greatest years in his career. He won the “Pichichi” trophy, to best scorer in Spain, 5 consecutive years, one with Atletico, and the remaining 4 with crosstown rivals Real Madrid, with whom he won it all in Spain and Europe. Athletically gifted, his left foot had pinpoint accuracy and speed. He is the only player from CONCACAF region to be featured in FIFA’s list of best players in the 20th century. Playing 3 WC for Mexico, he later in his career coached the national squad for a short period having been fired due to poor results. He now does color comments for ESPN Deportes.

24. Lionel Messi

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Still active, still hungry, but still without a major win for Argentina, “Lio” is an enigma on and off the field. Signed by Barcelona almost as a child, he is a gifted individual on the field, but rather lonely both on and off the field. Coaches design teams to be his sidekicks, everything has to go through him to make it work, and that has taken a toll on this young man’s performance. Only 30, and has been on the center stage since 17, he won the coveted Gold Ball in 2007 alongside FIFA World Player of the Year honors. Although winning all possible titles with Barcelona is of course a highlight anywhere, it’s with the Argentinian national team where he has yet to be successful. As is the case with Maradona, Messi has a right foot and leg only for support, as the magic comes from his left side. Deadly and accurate, he slivers his way into the opposite field and passes like few before him. The Russia 2018 World Cup will become a defining moment in his legacy.

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