Discover the football legends who left an indelible mark on the world. Explore the top 10 international players of all time in this definitive list.
Football has borne witness to the emergence of many legends throughout its storied history. These athletes have not merely etched their names in the annals of their own nations’ sporting lore. They have also exerted a profound influence on a global scale. In the following article, we pay tribute to the best international players of all time, commemorating their exceptional skill, unwavering passion, and contributions.
10. Paolo Maldini (Italy)
Paolo Maldini’s international career for Italy was marked by remarkable achievements. He earned a record 126 caps, making him one of Italy’s most revered defenders.
Maldini played a pivotal role in Italy’s third-place finish in the 1990 FIFA World Cup and their runner-up position in Euro 2000. Notably, he was part of the Italian squad that lifted the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
9. Xavi Hernandez (Spain)
Xavi Hernandez’s international career was illustrious. He earned 133 caps for Spain, becoming an icon in midfield.
Xavi played a central role in Spain’s golden era, winning Euro 2008, the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and Euro 2012. His precise passing, vision, and control were instrumental in Spain’s possession-based style of play, earning him a reputation as one of the greatest midfielders in football history.
8. Ferenc Puskás (Hungary)
Ferenc Puskás’ international career was remarkable. He represented Hungary with distinction, earning 85 caps and scoring an astonishing 84 goals, a record that stands the test of time.
Puskás played a pivotal role in Hungary’s ‘Magical Magyars,’ leading them to the 1952 Olympic gold medal and the final of the 1954 FIFA World Cup. His goal-scoring ability and skillful play made him one of the sport’s all-time greats.
7. Zinedine Zidane (France)
Zinedine Zidane’s international career was defined by brilliance and memorable moments. He earned 108 caps for France, showcasing his exceptional skills as a midfielder.
Zidane’s crowning achievement came in the 1998 FIFA World Cup. He played a pivotal role in leading France to their first-ever World Cup victory, scoring two goals in the final against Brazil. Zizou also played a crucial part in France’s run to Euro 2000 glory and the final of the 2006 World Cup.
6. Johan Cruyff (Netherlands)
Johan Cruyff’s international career was marked by his innovative play and impact on the Netherlands. He earned 48 caps and scored 33 goals for the national team.
Cruyff was instrumental in the Dutch national team’s run to the 1974 FIFA World Cup final, where they played mesmerizing “Total Football.” Though they didn’t win the tournament, his influence left an indelible mark. Cruyff also helped the Netherlands clinch the 1974 UEFA European Championship and reached the World Cup’s second round in 1978.
5. Franz Beckenbauer (Germany)
Franz Beckenbauer’s international career was nothing short of iconic. Earning 103 caps, he was a cornerstone of West Germany’s defense and often captained the team.
Beckenbauer led his nation to victory in the 1974 FIFA World Cup, not only as a player but also as the team’s manager in 1990. He is the only person to have won the World Cup both as a player and manager. His elegant style of play, vision, and ability to read the game revolutionized the role of a defender, earning him the nickname “The Kaiser.”
4. Diego Maradona (Argentina)
Diego Maradona’s story is etched in footballing lore. With 91 caps for Argentina, he led his country to victory in the 1986 FIFA World Cup, where his ‘Hand of God’ and ‘Goal of the Century’ remain legendary moments.
Maradona’s mesmerizing dribbling, playmaking abilities, and personality set him apart from the best international players. He also guided Argentina to the final of the 1990 World Cup and played a pivotal role in multiple Copa America campaigns.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Cristiano Ronaldo’s international career has been nothing short of spectacular. With over 199 caps, he is Portugal’s all-time leader in appearances and goals.
Ronaldo’s consistency and ability to deliver on the biggest stages have solidified his status as one of the greatest in history. The forward played a pivotal role in Portugal’s Euro 2016 and 2019 Nations League triumphs. But what truly sets him apart is his extraordinary goal-scoring prowess. He has scored over 120 goals to date, making him the leading goal scorer in international men’s football.
2. Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Lionel Messi’s international career reached its pinnacle in 2022 when he captained Argentina to victory in the FIFA World Cup, securing his first major international title with the national team. This triumph followed his pivotal role in Argentina’s 2019 Copa America win.
With over 170 caps and 100 goals, Messi’s international bucket list is complete. His journey reflects his relentless commitment to his country. His exceptional skill, vision, and goal-scoring ability continue to elevate Argentina’s footballing legacy on the world stage.
1. Pelé (Brazil)
Pelé tops our list of the best international players. His career was the stuff of legend. With 92 caps for Brazil, he secured three FIFA World Cup titles in 1958, 1962, and 1970.
Pelé’s goal-scoring prowess and flair made him a global icon. He remains the only player to have won three World Cups, and his incredible contribution to Brazil’s success on the international stage is unparalleled. His skill, vision, and charismatic style of play continue to inspire generations of footballers worldwide, solidifying his status as one of the all-time greats of the sport.