All-Time Best Starting 11 in Soccer History
The world only comes to a grinding halt for one sport. Soccer. Say what you want about the popularity of the four professional sports leagues in North America, but nothing compares to the worldwide fervor for soccer and the players who define the game.
Putting the best of the best to ever play soccer into one all-time starting lineup is the goal here — three midfielders, three forwards, four defenders, one goalkeeper, three substitutes and one coach. This is soccer's all-time greatest starting lineup.
Midfielder: Diego Maradona
Born: Oct. 30, 1960 (Lanus, Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Experience: 21 years (1976-97)
Teams: Argentinos Juniors (1976-81), Boca Juniors (1981-82), Barcelona (1982-84), Napoli (1984-91), Sevilla (1992-93), Newell's Old Boys (1993-94), Boca Juniors (1995-97), Argentina national team (1977-94)
Career highlights: World Cup champion (1986), World Cup runner-up (1990), FIFA World Cup All-Time Team (1994), FIFA Player of the Century (2000)
Bottom Line: Diego Maradona
Raised in a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Diego Maradona rose up from abject poverty to become arguably the greatest soccer player of all time and one of the most controversial, dynamic athletes in sports history.
Maradona played in four World Cups, winning it all in 1986. His second goal in a 2-1 win over England, in which he dribbled 66 yards through five England defenders to score was named "Goal of the Century" by FIFA in 2002.
Maradona's struggles with cocaine abuse played out in the public eye as well, but that doesn't take anything away from his skills on the soccer field.
Midfielder: Zinedine Zidane
Born: June 23, 1972 (Marseille, France)
Experience: 17 years (1989-2006)
Teams: Cannes (1989-92), Bordeaux (1992-96), Juventus (1996-2001), Real Madrid 2001-06) France national team (1994-2006)
Career highlights: World Cup champion (1998), World Cup runner-up (2006), European Cup/Champions League champion (2002), Ballon d'Or (1998), three-time FIFA World Player of the Year (1998, 2000, 2003)
Bottom Line: Zinedine Zidane
The most celebrated, famous French athlete in history, Zinedine Zidane is a three-time FIFA World Player of the Year, but he will always be most well-known for his play in the World Cup.
In 1998, Zinedine led France to its first World Cup championship with the final held in Paris, and after a 3-0 win over Brazil, over 1 million people celebrated around the Arc de Triomphe, which had the words "Merci Zizou" projected onto it.
In 2006, Zinedine's last World Cup, he gained equal measures of fame after being ejected in the 110th minute of the final against Italy for laying out Marco Materazzi with a headbutt.
Midfielder: Johan Cruyff
Born: April 25, 1947 (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Died: March 24, 2016 (Barcelona, Spain)
Experience: 20 years (1964-84)
Teams: Ajax (1964-73, 1981-83), Barcelona (1973-78), Barcelona (1973-78), Los Angeles Aztecs (1978-79), Washington Diplomats (1980-81), Levante (1981), Feyenoord (1983-84), Netherlands national team (1966-77)
Career highlights: World Cup runner-up (1974), three-time European Cup/Champions League champion (1971-73), three-time Ballon d'Or winner (1971, 1973, 1974), FIFA World Cup All-Time Team (1994)
Bottom Line: Johan Cruyff
One of the most influential soccer players in history, Johan Cruyff could have made this starting lineup at either midfielder or forward — a testament to his dedication to the "Total Football" philosophy espoused by longtime coach Rinus Michels.
Cruyff was a three-time Ballon d'Or winner and at the peak of his career led Ajax to three consecutive European Cup championships and a World Cup runner-up finish in 1974.
After Cruyff died of cancer in 2016, King Willem-Alexander paid tribute to the soccer icon by saying "he belonged to all of us."
Born: Oct. 23, 1940 (Tres Coracoes, Minas Gerais, Brazil)
Experience: 21 years (1956-77)
Teams: Santos (1956-74), New York Cosmos (1975-77), Brazil National Team (1957-71)
Career highlights: Three-time World Cup champion (1958, 1962, 1970), Copa America runner-up (1959), FIFA Player of the Century (2000)
Bottom Line: Pele
The conversation for soccer's GOAT usually comes down to Pele and Diego Maradona, and Pele can always point to his three World Cup titles (Maradona has one) as the difference.
Perhaps the most well-known athlete in the history of sports, Pele has the record for goals in top division games (541), and his 1,279 career goals, including friendlies, is in the Guinness Book of World Records.
It's worth pointing out that before 1995, only European players were eligible for the Ballon d'Or, so Pele should have a couple of armfuls of those as well, which has been acknowledged by the very people who give out the award.
Forward: Lionel Messi
Born: June 24, 1987 (Rosario, Argentina)
Experience: 17 years (2003-present)
Teams: Barcelona (2003-present), Argentina National Team (2005-present)
Career highlights: World Cup runner-up (2014), four-time European Cup/Champions League champion (2006, 2009, 2011, 2015), Olympic Gold Medal (2008), six-time Ballon d'Or winner (2009-12, 2015, 2019), FIFA World Player of the Year (2009)
Bottom Line: Lionel Messi
At just 5-foot-7, Lionel Messi's height doesn't indicate what a giant he has been in his sport — not unlike fellow Argentinian superstar Diego Maradona.
Messi was the first player to win four consecutive Ballon d'Or trophies and has won the award a record six times. The all-time goals leader for Barcelona, he's led the legendary club to four Champions League titles in his career, but there is still a big gap on his resume — he's never won a World Cup.
In August 2020, Messi asked for his release from Barcelona after 18 years with the club.
Born: Sept. 18, 1976 (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Experience: 18 years (1993-2011)
Teams: Cruzeiro (1993-94), PSV (1994-96), Barcelona (1996-97), Inter Milan (1997-2002), Real Madrid (2002-07), Milan (2007-08), Corinthians (2009-11), Brazilian national team (1994-2011)
Career highlights: Two-time World Cup champion (1994, 2002), World Cup runner-up (1998), two-time Copa America champion (1997, 1999), two-time Ballon d'Or winner (1997, 2002), three-time FIFA World Player of the Year (1996, 1997, 2002)
Bottom Line: Ronaldo
Ronaldo is the youngest player to ever win the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year. He's also the best player of his generation.
Ronaldo won two World Cups, including one in 2002 after he came back from major knee surgery. He is second only to Pele on Brazil's career scoring lists, and Ronaldo's ability to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates made him unguardable in his prime.
If not for "convulsive fits" before the 1998 World Cup final, Ronaldo likely ties Pele's mark with three World Cup championships.
Defender: Paolo Maldini
Born: June 26, 1968 (Milan, Italy)
Experience: 25 years (1984-2009)
Teams: AC Milan (1984-2009), Italian national team (1988-2002)
Career highlights: World Cup runner-up (1994), five-time European Cup/Champions League champion (1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007)
Bottom Line: Paolo Maldini
It's incredible how Paolo Maldini spent the entirety of his 26-year career with his hometown club, Milan, helping lead them to five European Cup/Champions league championships along the way.
Maldini was built like an NFL defensive back at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds and used his intimidating physical presence to earn a reputation as one of the greatest defenders to ever step on the pitch.
In all, Maldini played in four World Cups for Italy and was the national team's captain for eight years.
Defender: Franz Beckenbauer
Born: Sept. 11, 1945 (Munich, Germany)
Experience: 19 years (1964-83)
Teams: Bayern Munich (1964-77), New York Cosmos (1977-80, 1983), Hamburger SV (1980-82), West Germany national team (1965-77)
Career highlights: World Cup champion (1974), World Cup runner-up (1966), three-time European Cup/Champions League champion (1974-76), two-time Ballon d'Or winner (1974, 1976), FIFA World Cup All-Time Team (1994)
Bottom Line: Franz Beckenbauer
The conversation surrounding who the greatest defender in soccer history begins and ends with Franz Beckenbauer, the only defender to win the Ballon d'Or twice.
Beckenbauer is credited with changing the game of soccer because of his ability to defend and also go on the attack offensively when needed — essentially the creation of the modern "sweeper" position.
Beckenbauer is also one of just three men to win the World Cup as a player, then as a manager.
Defender: Bobby Moore
Born: April 12, 1941 (Essex, England)
Died: Feb. 24, 1993 (London, England)
Experience: 21 years (1958-78, 1983)
Teams: West Ham United (1958-74), Fulham (1974-77), San Antonio Thunder (1976), Seattle Sounds (1978), Herning Fremad (1978), Carolina Lightnin' (1983), England national team (1962-73)
Career highlights: World Cup champion (1966), Ballon d'Or runner-up (1970), FIFA World Cup All-Time Team (1994)
Bottom Line: Bobby Moore
Bobby Moore might be the most beloved player in the history of England. A statue of Moore sits outside of Wembley Stadium in honor of his role as captain of the 1966 team that won the World Cup, which was played in England that year.
There are a lot of athletes (across all sports) who made their careers for being calm under pressure. Perhaps none could equal Moore's ice-in-his-veins demeanor, most perfectly demonstrated by his two assists in the 1966 World Cup final against West Germany — one to tie the game and one for the game-winner in extra time.
Defender: Franco Baresi
Born: May 8, 1960 (Travagliato, Italy)
Experience: 20 years (1977-97)
Teams: AC Milan (1977-97), Italy national team (1982-94)
Career highlights: World Cup champion (1982), World Cup runner-up (1994), three-time European Cup/Champions League champion (1989, 1990, 1994), A.C. Milan Player of the Century (1999), Ballon d'Or runner-up (1989)
Bottom Line: Franco Baresi
Franco Baresi is regarded as one of the greatest defenders in soccer history in no small part to a 20-year career spent with just one club — A.C. Milan — and bringing home three Champions League titles in that span.
Baresi was known for having next-level stamina so it's ironic that the biggest failure of his career was blamed on fatigue. He returned from an injury to play in the 1994 World Cup final against Brazil, but when it was his turn in the penalty shootout, he missed badly due to severe cramps and fatigue.
Goalkeeper: Lev Yashin
Born: Oct. 22, 1929 (Moscow, Russia, Soviet Union)
Died: March 20, 1990 (Moscow, Russia, Soviet Union)
Experience: 20 years (1950-70)
Teams: Dynamo Mosco (1950-70), Soviet Union national team (1954-67)
Career highlights: UEFA European Championship winner (1960), three-time Soviet Cup champion (1953, 1967, 1970), Olympic gold medal (1956), Ballon d'Or (1963), European Goalkeeper of the Year (1956, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1966), FIFA World Cup All-Time Team (1994), FIFA Goalkeeper of the Century (2000)
Bottom Line: Lev Yashin
Seemingly dressed head-to-toe in black on the pitch (it was actually navy blue), Lev Yashin became known as the "Black Spider" throughout the world for his incredible play in goal for the Soviet Union and for Dynamo Moscow.
Yashin, at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, was a goalkeeper that would have dominated in any generation and is still the only goalkeeper to win the Ballon d'Or.
When asked what his secret was, Yashin, who also won a Soviet Cup title as the goaltender on Dynamo Moscow's hockey team in 1953, said to simply "have a smoke to calm your nerves, then a stiff drink to stretch your muscles."
Substitute: Cristiano Ronaldo, Forward
Born: Feb. 5, 1985 (Funchal, Madeira, Portugal)
Experience: 18 years (2002-present)
Teams: Sporting CP (2002-03), Manchester United (2003-09), Real Madrid (2009-18), Juventus (2018-present), Portugal national team (2003-present)
Career highlights: Five-time European Cup/Champions League champion (2008, 2004, 2016-18), five-time Ballon d'Or winner (2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017), FIFA World Player of the Year (2008)
Bottom Line: Cristiano Ronaldo
The first soccer player to earn $1 billion, Cristiano Ronaldo is also the career leader for goals (130) and assists (40) in Champions League history.
One of the few players to make over 1,000 career appearances, Ronaldo became the first player to win five Champions League titles — the first with Manchester United, then the next four with Real Madrid.
Few players in the history of sports have seen their legacies tied together like Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, which is somewhat fitting as both players lack a World Cup title.
Substitute: Ronaldhino, Midfielder/Forward
Born: March 21, 1980 (Porto Alegre, Brazil)
Experience: 17 years (1998-2015)
Teams: Gremio (1998-2001), Paris Saint-Germain (2001-03), Barcelona (2003-08), Milan (2008-10), Flamengo (2011-12), Atletico Mineiro (2012-14), Queretaro (201-15), Brazilian National Team (1998-2013)
Career highlights: World Cup champion (2002), Copa America champion (1999), European Cup/Champions League champion (2006), two-time FIFA World Player of the Year (2004, 2005), Ballon d'Or (2005)
Bottom Line: Ronaldhino
Ronaldhino was simply a magician with the soccer ball. If you watched him play, you know that every time he stepped on the pitch there was the chance he was about to do something you'd never seen before.
To soccer, he was essentially what Magic Johnson was to basketball, a skilled passer and great teammate who could also score and do what he needed to in order to lead his teams to wins, including a World Cup championship for Brazil in 2002 followed by a Champions League title for Barcelona in 2006 that ended a 14-year drought.
Substitute: Gianluigi Buffon, Goalkeeper
Born: Jan. 28, 1978 (Carrara, Tuscany, Italy)
Experience: 26 years (1995-present)
Teams: Parma (1995-2001), Juventus (2001-18, 2019-present), Paris Saint-Germain (2018-19), Italy national team (1997-2018)
Career highlights: World Cup champion (2006), two-time UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year (2003, 2017), Ballon d'Or runner-up (2006)
Bottom Line: Gianluigi Buffon
You didn't read that wrong. By 2020, Gianluigi Buffon's professional career had spanned 26 seasons.
While Buffon's legend has grown over the decades, he is best remembered for his play in leading Italy to the 2006 World Cup championship, when he set the record with just two goals allowed in seven matches.
Buffon has played in a record five World Cups, has the most caps for the Italian national team (176) and is one of the few players in soccer history to record over 1,000 professional appearances.
Coach: Rinus Michels
Born: Feb. 9, 1928 (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Died: March 3, 2005 (Aalst, Belgium)
Experience: 32 years (1960-92)
Teams: JOS (1964), A.F.C. (1964-65), Ajax (1965-71, 1975-76), Barcelona (1971-75, 1976-78), Los Angeles Aztecs (1979-80), FC Koln (1980-83), Bayer Leverkusen (1988-89), Netherlands National Team (1974, 1984-85, 1986-88, 1990-92)
Career highlights: FIFA World Cup runner-up (1974), European Cup/Champions League champion (1970), UEFA European Championship champion (1988) FIFA Coach of the Century (1999)
Bottom Line: Rinus Michels
Rinus Michels went into coaching after his 12-year professional career with Ajax and time playing for the Netherlands national team was over, and became known as the greatest coach in the history of soccer.
Michels is credited with inventing the concept of "Total Football" — solely based on the theory that any player on the pitch can take over for any other at any time, and he had four separate stints as the coach of the Netherlands national team.
He won a European Cup championship with Ajax, won a Spanish League title with Barcelona and guided his country to a runner-up finish at the World Cup in 1974.
Midfielder (Honorable Mention): Michel Platini
Born: June 21, 1955 (Joeuf, France)
Experience: 15 years (1972-87)
Teams: Nancy (1972-79), Saint-Etienne (1979-82), Juventus (1982-87), France national team (1976-87)
Career highlights: World Cup third place (1986), European Cup/Champions League champion (1985), three-time Ballon d'Or winner (1983-85), FIFA World Cup All-Time Team (1994), French Player of the Century (1999)
Bottom Line: Michel Platini
Michel Platini is widely regarded as one of the greatest soccer players of all time with the bona fides to back it up.
He won three consecutive Ballon d'Or trophies in the early 1980s, led France to back-to-back World Cup semifinals and led Juventus to a Champions League title in 1985.
Platini's legendary status as a player won't get the shine as some of his contemporaries because of his fall from grace as UEFA president. He was banned from soccer until 2023 after his role in a widespread corruption case against FIFA.
Midfielder (Honorable Mention): George Best
Born: May 22, 1946 (Belfast, Northern Ireland)
Died: Nov. 25, 2005 (London, England)
Experience: 21 years (1963-84)
Teams: Manchester United (1963-74), Jewish Guild (1974), Dunstable Town (1974), Stockport County (1975), Cork Celtic (1975-76), Los Angeles Aztecs (1976-78), Fulham (1976-77), Fort Lauderdale Strikers (1978-79), Hibernian (1978-79), San Jose Earthquakes (1980-81), Sea Bee (1982), Hong Kong Rangers (1983), Bournemouth (1983), Brisbane Lions (1983), Osborne Park Galeb (1983), Nuneaton Burough (1983), Tobermore United (1984), Northern Ireland (1964-77)
Career highlights: European Cup/Champions League champion (1968), Ballon d'Or (1968), FWA Footballer of the Year (1968)
Bottom Line: George Best
We love the antihero in movies, television and sports. And rarely has there been a better antihero in sports than George Best.
The brilliant player who inspired no less than Diego Maradona is widely thought of as the greatest player to never play in the World Cup. Best was hamstrung by lesser talent in his native Northern Ireland. By 1968, at 22 years old, Best had won a European Cup with Manchester United and every significant individual honor, including the Ballon d'Or.
Alcoholism derailed Best's career at its peak and ultimately took his life. He died of massive organ failure in 2005 at 59 years old.
Midfielder (Honorable Mention): Luis Suarez
Born: May 2, 1935 (Galicia, Spain)
Experience: 20 years (1953-73)
Teams: Deportivo La Coruna (1953-54), Espana Industrial (1954-55), FC Barcelona (1955-61), Inter Milan (1961-70), Sampdoria (1970-73), Spain national team (1957-72)
Career highlights: UEFA European Championship first place (1964), two-time European Cup/Champions League champion (1964, 1965), Ballon d'Or (1960)
Bottom Line: Luis Suarez
One of Spain's most beloved soccer stars, it is really unfortunate that Luis Suarez shares a name with the Uruguayan soccer star Luis Suarez who has a habit of biting his opponents.
The original Luis Suarez was a great passer, but the thing that really separated him from his contemporaries was he had an absolute cannon for a leg, and he led Inter Milan to back-to-back European Cup trophies in 1964 and 1965.
Known as "The Architect" for his ability to put together a complete game, Suarez became the first Spanish-born player to win the Ballon d'Or in 1960.
Forward (Honorable Mention): Gerd Muller
Born: Nov. 3, 1945 (Nordlingen, Germany)
Experience: 18 years (1963-81)
Teams: 1861 Nordlingen (1963-64), Bayern Munich (1964-79), Fort Lauderdale Strikers (1979-81), West Germany national team (1966-74)
Career highlights: World Cup champion (1974), UEFA European Championship winner (1972), European Cup/Champions League champion (1974-76), Ballon d'Or (1970), German Footballer of the Year (1967, 1969)
Bottom Line: Gerd Muller
Gerd Muller was Germany's career scoring leader for almost 40 years until Miroslav Klose broke his record in 2014, and he needed almost double the number of matches to do so.
Nothing about Muller looked impressive on the surface because he was short and squatty. This was total subterfuge as he dominated opponents unlike few players in soccer history.
Muller, who held the record for World Cup career goals for 32 years, scored the winning goal in the 1974 World Cup final, and he led Bayern Munich to three consecutive European Cup championships from 1974 to 1976.
Forward (Honorable Mention): Marco van Basten
Born: Oct. 31, 1964 (Ultrecht, Netherlands)
Experience: 14 years (1981-95)
Teams: Ajax (1981-87), Milan (1987-95), Netherlands National Team (1983-92)
Career highlights: UEFA European Championship first place (1988), two-time European Cup/UEFA Champions League champion (1989, 1990), Ballon d'Or (1988, 1989, 1992), FIFA World Player of the Year (1992)
Bottom Line: Marco van Basten
Even though injuries forced him out of soccer at just 28 years old, Marco van Basten is still considered one of the greatest soccer players of all time — a three-time Ballon d'Or winner who led Milan to back-to-back Champions League trophies in his prime.
His combination of size (6-foot-2) and strength made him almost unmarkable for opposing teams. Perhaps van Basten's true legacy is akin to Steve Young and Troy Aikman, NFL quarterbacks who had their careers cut short by concussions and forced the league to change rules on how quarterbacks were protected.
After van Basten retired, soccer rules became much more strict on slide tackles, especially those from behind and where you can see the studs of the cleats.
Forward (Honorable Mention): Alfredo Di Stefano
Born: July 4, 1936 (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Died: July 7, 2014 (Madrid, Spain)
Experience: 21 years (1945-66)
Teams: River Plate (1945-49), Huracan (1945-46), Millionarios (1949-53), Real Madrid (1953-64), Espanyol (1964-66), Argentina national team (1947), Colombian national team (1948), Spain national team (1957-62)
Career highlights: Five-time European Cup/Champions League champion (1956-60), two-time Ballon d'Or winner (1957, 1959)
Bottom Line: Alfredo Di Stefano
Just like another legendary player, Northern Ireland's George Best, Alfredo Di Stefano never played in a World Cup. Unlike Best, it wasn't because he didn't have a good group of countrymen to play with.
Di Stefano jumped countries like some people change socks, first playing for his native Argentina, then Colombia and then, finally, Spain, where he finally qualified for the World Cup in 1962 but was sidelined because of injury.
That being said, he is arguably the most dominant Champions League player in history, winning five straight titles from 1956 to 1960 with Real Madrid and two Ballon d'Or trophies in 1957 and 1959.
Defender (Honorable Mention): Fabio Cannavaro
Born: Sept. 13, 1973 (Naples, Italy)
Experience: 19 years (1992-2011)
Teams: Napoli (1992-95), Parma (1995-2002), Internazionale (2002-04), Juventus (2004-06, 2009-10), Real Madrid (2006-09), Al Ahli (2010-11), Italy national team (1997-2010)
Career highlights: World Cup champion (2006), FIFA World Player of the Year (2006), Ballon d'Or (2006)
Bottom Line: Fabio Cannavaro
Fabio Cannavaro is the only defender to win FIFA World Player of the Year, and you can take his play in 2006 and put it up against the greatest single-season performances in any sport — he won the World Cup, FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d'Or.
Cannavaro was electric on the pitch and became renowned for not only his calm demeanor but his athleticism and leaping ability. He was soccer's equivalent of Spud Webb or Nate Robinson going up to dunk over people.
But instead, Cannavaro could outleap bigger opponents, and his ability to play multiple positions flummoxed other squads.
Defender (Honorable Mention): Carles Puyol
Born: April 13, 1978 (La Pobla de Segur, Spain)
Experience: 15 years (1999-2014)
Teams: FC Barcelona (1999-2014), Spain national team (2000-13)
Career highlights: World Cup champion (2010), UEFA European Championship first place (2008), three-time European Cup/Champions League champion (2006, 2009, 2011), FIFA World Cup Dream Team (2010)
Bottom Line: Carles Puyol
Carles Puyol was on Spain's national team for two of its greatest moments — the 2008 Euro championship and the 2010 World Cup championship.
Puyol was an elite defender who could play on either flank or in the center and captained FC Barcelona for six La Liga titles and three Champions League titles.
Known for his leadership and work ethic, Puyol was soccer's version of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu throughout his career, replete with long, flowing hair just like Polamalu.
Defender (Honorable Mention): Sergio Ramos
Experience: 16 years (2004-present)
Teams: Sevilla (2004-05), Real Madrid (2005-present), Spain national team (2005-present)
Career highlights: World Cup champion (2010), two-time UEFA European Championship (2008, 2012), four-time European Cup/Champions League champion (2014, 2016-18), two-time UEFA Defender of the Year (2017, 2018), five-time La Liga Defender of the Year (2012-15, 2017)
Bottom Line: Sergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos made his La Liga debut for Sevilla when he was just 17 years old and has been playing at the highest level of professional soccer ever since, establishing himself as not just one of the greatest defenders of his generation, but of all time.
Ramos also might be the fastest soccer player to ever step on the pitch. He was once clocked sprinting at 30.6 kilometers per hour, which roughly translates to a 4.3- or 4.4-second time in the 40-yard dash.
Ramos is also a player that you shouldn't trifle with. He's received more red cards than any player in Champions League history.
One World Cup and four Champions League titles say whatever he's doing works.
Defender (Honorable Mention): Cafu
Born: June 7, 1970 (Itaquaquecetuba, Brazil)
Experience: 17 years (1989-2006)
Teams: Sao Paulo (1989-95), Zaragoza (1995), Juventude (1995), Palmeiras (1995-97), Roma (1997-2003), Milan (2003-08), XOFC (2018), Brazil national team (1990-2006)
Career highlights: Two-time World Cup champion (1994, 2002), World Cup runner-up (1998), two-time Copa America champion (1997, 1999), European Cup/Champions League champion (2007), South American Footballer of the Year (1994)
Bottom Line: Cafu
Cafu played in four consecutive World Cup tournaments for Brazil and is the only soccer player in history to play in three consecutive World Cup finals, winning twice.
What did Cafu bring to some of the greatest teams in soccer history? He brought balance. He was praised for his leadership skills and work ethic throughout his career, which was something sorely needed on a team that had some pretty big personalities on it.
Cafu knew he had a lot of scorers on his team and loved to distribute the ball to those players — and help mark some of the game's greatest scorers in return.
Goalkeeper (Honorable Mention): Iker Casillas
Born: May 20, 1981 (Madrid, Spain)
Experience: 21 years (1999-2020)
Teams: Real Madrid (1999-2015), Porto (2015-20), Spain national team (2000-16)
Career highlights: World Cup champion (2010), Two-time UEFA European Championship winner (2008, 2012), three-time European Cup/Champions League champion (2000, 2002, 2014), La Liga Goalkeeper of the Year (2009, 2012)
Bottom Line: Iker Casillas
Iker Casillas retired in February 2020 after accomplishing as much as any goaltender in the history of soccer, including winning three Champions League titles and a World Cup championship in 2010.
Casillas is one of the few soccer players, ever, to make 1,000 career appearances and retired with the career records for clean sheets in both Champions League play and for the Spanish national team.
He also has the record for consecutive seasons played in the Champions League (20) and was the youngest goaltender to play in a Champions League final when took the pitch for Real Madrid at 18 years old in 1999.
Substitute (Honorable Mention): Bobby Charlton, MIdfielder/Forward
Born: Oct. 11, 1937 (Northumberland, England)
Experience: 24 years (1956-80)
Teams: Manchester United (1956-73), Preston North End (1974-75), Waterford (1976), Newcastle KB United (1978), Perth Azzuri (1980), Blacktown City (1980), England National Team (1980)
Career highlights: World Cup champion (1966), European Cup/Champions League champion (1968), Ballon d'Or winner (1966), Ballon d'Or runner-up (1967, 1968), FWA Footballer of the Year (1966)
Bottom Line: Bobby Charlton
Bobby Charlton survived the 1958 Munich air disaster that killed 23 passengers, including eight of his Manchester United teammates. Charlton actually switched seats with a teammate, Tommy Taylor, who died in the crash, and was pulled from the wreckage by goaltender Harry Gregg.
Charlton and made his debut for Manchester United at just 19 years old and went on to become one of the most decorated players in soccer history.
He led England to a World Cup title in 1966, then led Manchester United to a European Cup title in 1968.
Substitute (Honorable Mention): Romario, Forward
Born: Jan. 21, 1966 (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Experience: 24 years (1985-2009)
Teams: Vasco de Gama (1985-88, 2000-02, 2005-07), PSV Eindhoven (1988-93), FC Barcelona (1993-95), Flamengo (1995-96, 1997-99), Valencia (1996), Fluminese (2002-04), Al Sadd (2003), Miami FC (2006), Adelaide United (2006), America Football Club (2009), Brazil national team (1987-2005)
Career highlights: World Cup champion (1984), two-time Copa America champion (1989, 1997), Olympic silver medal (1988), FIFA World Player of the Year (1994)
Bottom Line: Romario
When you watch Romario highlights, one thing begins to stand out pretty quickly — he was lethal with the ball if he got it anywhere near or approaching the penalty box.
Romario was the player who inspired Ronaldo, his teammate for a short while, and Brazlian star Neymar, who wears No. 11 in tribute to Romario.
Romario's critics throughout his career harped on his lack of commitment to training and conditioning and pined over what kind of player he could have been. Romario saw it differently.
"The night was always my friend," he told The Guardian in 2007. "When I go out, I'm happy. And when I'm happy, I score goals."
Substitute (Honorable Mention): Xavi, Midfielder
Born: Jan. 25, 1980 (Terrassa, Spain)
Experience: 22 years (1997-2019)
Teams: FC Barcelona (1998-2015), Al Sadd (2015-19), Spain national team (2000-14)
Career Highlights: World Cup champion (2010), Olympic silver medal (2000), four-time European Cup/Champions League champion (2006, 2009, 2011, 2015), World Soccer Player of the Year (2010)
Bottom Line: Xavi
One of the greatest Spanish players ever and standing at just 5-foot-7, Xavi built his reputation on a tireless work ethic and humble personality that endeared him to fans and teammates alike.
Xavi finished in third place in Ballon d'Or voting three years in a row, including in 2010 when he helped lead Spain to the World Cup title. It's not out of the realm to think that Xavi might be the greatest passer in the history of the game.
He perfected the "tiki taka" style of play and was a genius at finding open spaces to place the ball or himself.
Coach (Honorable Mention): Alex Ferguson
Born: Dec. 31, 1941 (Glasgow, Scotland)
Experience: 39 years (1974-2013)
Teams: East Stirlingshire (1974), St. Mirren (1974-78), Aberdeen (1978-86), Scotland (1985-86), Manchester United (1986-2013)
Career highlights: Two-time European Cup/Champions League champion (1999, 2008), 13-time Premier League champion (1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999-2001, 2003, 2007-09, 2011, 2013), UEFA Manager of the Year (1999)
Bottom Line: Alex Ferguson
The only football manager more well-known in the history of soccer than Alex Ferguson is perhaps one of his predecessors at Manchester United — the legendary Matt Busby.
Ferguson has won more trophies than any manager in the history of professional soccer, and in his 26 years coaching Manchester United, he won 13 Premier League titles, two Champions League titles and broke Busby's record as the club's most-tenured manager.
In 1999, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his service to the game.