Top 10 players of all time: Forwards
The quality of strikers in the history of the beautiful game is breath taking, epitomised by the fact that the following forwards miss out on this top ten: Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, Gary Linekar, Hristo Stoichkov, Thierry Henry, Jean Pierre Papin, Arthur Friedenreich. All are legends of the game, and there are arguments for each one.
As an aside, Lionel Messi was genuinely my number 11 on this list, but I simply couldn’t find a way to get him in, purely because of the brevity of his career. I do genuinely think, for what it is worth, that if he continues as he has started he will be in the top ten players of all time (covering all positions). Before that happens, he needs to impact at the World Cup, and score a goal in the semi-final stage or later of the Champions League. He may do that in the two hours after I write this. (which, of course, he did. But you already know about him. So it’s ten plus Messi, yeah?)
Anyway, here goes:
10) Marco Van Basten
It seems ridiculous that we open our list with such a modern great, but that is the quality of such a line up.
In a career tragically cut short by a recurring ankle injury, MVB scored 277 in 370 club games and 24 goals for his country. Famously, he scored one of the greatest ever goals in the European Championships final in Euro 88.
By the end of his career, Van Basten had won the Ballon D’Or three times and been named FIFA World Player of the Year in 1992.
Club record: 277 goals in 370 games
International record: 24 goals in 58 games
I promise that I won’t say this for every entry, but how can a player that scored over a thousand goals be at number 9?
On the field, Romario was the ultimate poacher, described by Van Basten as the King of the Area. He was named World Player of the year in 1994, and also the Golden Ball award at the World Cup in the same year, helping his country to win the trophy. Domestically, he became something of a nomad, eventually playing in six countries.
Off the pitch, last year Romario was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in the Brazilian Socialist Party.
‘Official’ club record: 873 goals in 1031 games
International record: 56 goals in 74 games
8 ) Gerd Muller
Franz Beckenbauer may well have been the rock of the all-conquering West Germany side, but it was Der Bomber who was the finisher.
One of the few players to have scored more goals than games played at international level, he scored an unbelievable fourteen goals in the World Cup, a record that stood for over thirty years. His goalscoring wasn’t much less than perfect domestically either, spending the large majority of his career with Bayern Munich.
Club record: 572 goals in 669 games
International record: 68 goals in 62 games
During the sixties, Eusebio was Portuguese football. With Benfica, he won eleven league titles, five cups and two European Cups, being on the losing side another three times.
With his country he reached the World Cup semi-finals in ’66, and was named European Footballer or the Year in 1965. In that World Cup in England he was the top scorer with nine goals. Finally, he was the top scorer in the European Cup three times in six years.
Club record: 485 goals in 512 games
International record: 41 goals in 64 games
6) Fernando Peyroteo
In terms of sheer marksmanship, no one can match this Portuguese who you may or may not have heard of. More of the exact statistics later, but to give you an idea of his prowess, he scored nine goals in a game, eight goals in a game, and scored four goals or more in a game on a mental 39 times in his career. And that’s not a typo.
Playing the majority of his career in the 1940s, it is difficult to determine how he would have fared in today’s game, but quite frankly, the goal record speaks for itself
Club record: 371 goals in 219 games
International record: 14 goals in 20 games
5) Alfredo di Stefano
In truth, di Stefano could have featured in our midfielder list, because he seemed to float deep to collect the ball, in a similar way to Wayne Rooney’s style now, but without the tattoos, grandmother hookers and a face like a bag of spanners.
Greedily, di Stefano managed to play for not two but three countries, but it was at Real Madrid that he shone brightest, winning eight league titles and five European Cups.
Missing out on the World Cup on four separate occasions is potentially the biggest footballing shame of the previous century. It could have made him the best player ever.
Club record: 375 goals in 522 games
International record: 29 goals in 37 games
4) Ferenc Puskas
Any player that was part of the Hungarian side of the late fifties and the Real Madrid side of the sixties is likely to be seen as a great, and Ferenc Puskas was the best player in both of those sides.
Throughout his career he won ten league titles and three European Cups, played for two different countries, and helped Hungary to the final of the World Cup in 1954.
Genuinely regarded as the greatest shooter of all time.
Club record: 616 goals in 620 games
International record: 84 goals in 89 games
And now, for only the second time, we branch into the nineties.
I have no shame in announcing that the number two on our list is my favourite footballer of all time. In thirty years we will perhaps look back and see exactly how good Ronaldo was.
Lionel Messi is 23. By the time Ronaldo was that age he had scored 36 international goals, had won the World Player of the Year twice, been named the best player at the 1998 World Cup and won the European Golden Boot.
He went on to win the World Player of the Year again, and all with the most incredible smile that portrayed the simple but iconic joy of scoring goals, despite knee injuries hampering him for his whole career.
Oh, and no one has ever scored more goals than him at World Cups.
Club record: 352 goals in 517 games
International record: 62 goals in 97 games
2) Diego Maradona
No, there are no real surprises in the top two, to be honest.
Diego Maradona divides people, this much is evident. But even if you judge him as a drug-riddled, arrogant cheat, it must be said that he had an unbelievable football talent.
With Napoli and Barcelona, Maradona won a Spanish Cup, two Serie A titles, an Italian Cup and a UEFA Cup. In World Cup 1986, against England, Maradona scored perhaps the greatest ever goal and the most infamously awarded goal within two hours. It summed up the little wizard perfectly.
In sport, unpredictability and genius should be celebrated, and Diego Maradona is the epitome of this. Despite his flaws, the tragedies of Hillsborough and Heysel meant that Eighties football needed a magician to lift us out of this pathos. Maradona was that man.
Club record: 311 goals in 589 games
International record: 34 goals in 91 games
It’s an obvious choice, but Pele is the best player to ever play the game, so what can you expect.
The only reason to put Maradona ahead of him would be to question whether playing in Brazil for the majority of his career meant that scoring goals was easier, but users of this argument need just to look at his World Cup record.
His trophy haul is almost unsurpassed: eleven league titles, three World Cups and fifteen domestic cups. He was top scorer in the Brazilian league on eleven occasions, and scored three goals in World Cup finals, including two in 1958 at seventeen years of age.
And if you needed any more conclusive evidence that he is superhuman, he can even give you advice on how to avoid having a droopy penis.
Club record: 1151 goals in 1227 games
International record: 77 goals in 92 games