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Who’s The GOAT At Every Position in Football

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi
© Ace Football

When it comes to football discussions, none are more fierce than the GOAT debate. Everyone has their opinion, and it’s impossible to prove who’s right and who’s wrong, apart from those who pick Nicholas Bentler as the best ever. So, who’s the GOAT in every position?

Goalkeeper: Lev Yashin.
Honorary mention: Iker Casillas.

These days, any goalkeeper who spent his entire career at Dynamo Moscow wouldn’t be in the GOAT debate. But football, and the world, was a very different place in Lev Yashin’s days. Despite never playing in Western Europe, Yashin is the best goalkeeper in history, nicknamed the “Black Spider” because of his all-black kit. The shot-stopper from the Soviet Union revolutionized his position. Yashin was a real presence between the posts. He closed down strikers in one-on-ones and helped his team start attacks. He organized his defense and came off his line to catch crosses. Now, those things might sound pretty normal in 2020, but they were rare when he started doing them in the 1950s. Yashin’s reflexes were incredible. They helped him keep more than 270 clean sheets between 1950 and 1970. He was a penalty-saving expert, keeping out over a hundred and fifty spot kicks in his career. Iker Casillas pushes him close. The Spain legend is the best goalkeeper of modern times. But Yashin is the only one to have won the Ballon d’Or. That says it all.

Right Back: Dani Alves.
Honorary mention: Cafu.

Many of the contenders at right back are from Brazil: Djalma Santos, Carlos Alberto, and Cafu, who deserves an honorary mention. But the GOAT at right back is another Brazilian: step forward, Dani Alves. Alves definitely wasn’t the first attacking right back; Djalma Santos was breaking forward in the 1950s. Cafu took it to another level in the 1990s. But Alves attacked in a different way. He didn’t just rely on speed and physicality; he also had world-class technique. At Barcelona, he was a playmaker at right back. His relationship with Lionel Messi was superb. Alves’ importance to Pep Guardiola’s legendary Barça team shouldn’t be underestimated. His collection of medals is pretty ridiculous too. Alves has won 43 trophies in his career, making him the most decorated footballer in history.

Centre-Backs: Franco Baresi and Franz Beckenbauer.
Honorary mentions: Bobby Moore and Alessandro Nesta.

Italians are known as the kings of defending, and Franco Baresi was the best Italian to ever do it. Baresi had everything. He was a complete centre-back despite being only five foot nine, much smaller than most players in his position. Baresi was strong in the air, top in the tackle, and an intelligent reader of the game. He could win physical battles with strikers, but he usually didn’t have to. The master Italian was always one step ahead. Baresi was also comfortable in possession. He had a fantastic range of passing and helped start attacks from the back. He wasn’t the best ball-playing centre-back ever, though. That honor goes to Franz Beckenbauer. The German spent most of his career playing as a sweeper. We don’t really see that role these days because of changes to the offside law. Beckenbauer played behind the defensive line and swept up loose balls. His reading of the game was fantastic, and strikers rarely got the better of him. Beckenbauer’s other function was to carry the ball up the pitch and start attacks. He was a genius at doing this. Beckenbauer was a better dribbler than some wingers. Beckenbauer won three European Cups with Bayern Munich, as well as the World Cup and the Euros with West Germany. England legend Bobby Moore deserves a mention. He was a classy defender who was ahead of his time. Alessandro Nesta was excellent too, but Baresi and Beckenbauer are the GOATs at the back.

Left Back: Roberto Carlos.
Honorary mention: Paolo Maldini.

Roberto Carlos wasn’t only a world-class left-back, but he transformed the position, too. Fullbacks did attack before Roberto Carlos came along, but he took it to a whole new level. His powerful runs up and down the flank were a key feature of Real Madrid’s play for years.

Central Midfielders: Zinedine Zidane and Xavi Hernandez.
Honorary mentions go to Clarence Seedorf and Andres Iniesta.

Whether he played as a number 10 or in a more withdrawn role, Zinedine Zidane was one of the best playmakers we’ve ever seen. Zizou oozed creativity. He was an artist on the pitch, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t effective. Zidane had plenty of end product to go with his silky dribbling and smooth passing. He was a big-game player, too. Zidane rose to the occasion in the 1998 World Cup final, scoring twice against Brazil to help France win the tournament for the first time. Zidane was a scorer of great goals. His best was a left-footed volley against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League final. But he wasn’t even left-footed, for goodness sake. His partner is Xavi Hernandez. Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were arguably the best team ever, and Xavi was their heartbeat. The Spaniard once said he worried that there was no longer a place in the game for a small, technical midfielder like him. He solved the problem by transforming the game. Suddenly, everybody wanted their own pass master in the middle of the pitch. Xavi was better than anyone at setting the tempo of the play. He knew when to speed things up and when to slow things down. “Xavi plays in the future,” Danny Alves once said. Now, it’s hard to talk about Xavi without mentioning his partner in crime, Andres Iniesta. He was another midfielder who won everything there was to win with Barcelona and Spain. But Xavi was even more important. We’ve got to mention Clarence Seedorf too. He’s the only player to win the Champions League with three different clubs: Ajax, Real Madrid, and AC Milan. Seedorf was brilliant and sometimes doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

Attacking Midfielder: Diego Maradona.
Honorary mention: Alfredo Di Stefano.

Now, this is where it gets a bit interesting. Choosing the GOAT at attacking midfield isn’t easy. How can it be when you got legends like Michel Platini, Zico, and Alfredo Di Stefano to choose from? Di Stefano is especially unlucky to miss out. Just because he played a long time ago doesn’t mean he wasn’t world-class. The Real Madrid icon was a true great. But the GOAT in this position is Diego Maradona. Now, he wasn’t always well-behaved off the field, but on it, he was a genius. Maradona led Argentina to World Cup glory almost single-handedly. He then did the same at Napoli, winning the club’s first two Serie A titles. Maradona was one of the most technically gifted players ever. He was also one of the best dribblers. The ball looked like it was glued to his foot. It’s a shame he never got a true crack at the European Cup. But when it comes to attacking midfielders, Maradona was the greatest.

Right Wing: Lionel Messi.
Honorary mention: Garrincha.

Lionel Messi is far more than just a right-sided forward. He’s not always played in that position either. But it’s the role that fits him best. The Barcelona forward has been playing at a world-class level for more than a decade. Even if he’d never scored a goal in his life, his dribbling and passing would make him one of the best ever. Fact is, though, he’s also scored quite a few goals. More than 700 for club and country. One underrated aspect of Messi’s brilliance is his decision-making. You know, he rarely makes a bad choice. That’s part of why he’s so great. If Messi wasn’t an alien, Garrincha would probably claim this spot. As the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano once wrote, “In the entire history of football, no one made more people happy.” But as good as Garrincha was, Messi is in a league of his own. His six Ballon d’Ors make that abundantly clear.

Left Wing: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Honorary mention: Johan Cruyff.

In his early years, Cristiano Ronaldo was an exciting winger. He loved to dribble with the ball and pull out tricks and flicks. Ronaldo was entertaining to watch back then, but he was known more for stepovers than goals. Not anymore. Ever since his last two seasons at Manchester United, Ronaldo has been a scoring machine. He’s got almost 800 goals to his name and recently became the top scorer in football history. He also has an elite mentality. Ronaldo produces in the biggest games, time and time again. He’s carried his teams over the finish line at times. CR7 is world-class, technically, physically, and mentally. Now, we couldn’t cover this position without mentioning Johan Cruyff. The Dutchman could play in any attacking position and is one of the best to ever do it.

Striker: Pele.
Honorary mention: Ronaldo.

Pele was an all-round attacker who drifted all over the pitch, but he did his best work upfront. Pele claims he scored more than a thousand goals during his career. It’s not that many in official games, but he definitely got more than 700. He could score with his right foot, left foot, and head. But he wasn’t just a goal scorer. He created chances, too, and was an amazing dribbler. He’s also the only player to win three World Cups, a record that might never be beaten. Some people underrate Pele these days. Maybe that’s inevitable, given that he retired almost 50 years ago. But make no mistake about it, Pele was the greatest striker of all time. Now, if it wasn’t for injuries, Ronaldo might have overtaken him. R9 deserves a mention, but Pele is still the king.

Manager: Alex Ferguson.

There’s only one man who can lead this team. Alex Ferguson is the undisputed GOAT when it comes to managers, and he’d be the perfect person to bring out the best in this team of superstars. Ferguson did an unbelievable job at Manchester United. In 27 years in charge, he won 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, and two Champions Leagues. Fergie managed many high-profile players during his time at Old Trafford, but he always kept the egos in check. This team is packed full of world-class footballers, but there’d only be one boss inside this dressing room.