Best Soccer Players by Country
What constitutes true greatness in a soccer player? It can be the sheer number of goals, unmatchable skills, leadership ability or inspirational character. The greatest players in soccer history possess at least one of these qualities. Some exhibit them all.
But who is the best soccer player in their country? The answer can be an endless debate. Argentina has Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. France produced Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane. Whoever is chosen depends on the eye (or age) of the beholder.
Other countries are easier. The Netherlands has produced many great soccer players, but all bow down to Johan Cruyff. Much the same goes for Franz Beckenbauer in Germany, while the likes of Austria’s Matthias Sindelar and Uruguay’s Obdulio Varela speak to a football era before worldwide television.
Today, FIFA has 211 teams around the world. They represent 191 of the 193 United Nations-member states. And one footballer still can inspire millions. To evaluate the game's most legendary talents, we have condensed the globe to 60 nations, based on FIFA's world rankings. Meet the greatest soccer player ever from each of these countries.
Bolivia — Marco Etcheverry
Born: Sept. 26, 1970, in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
Clubs: Destroyers, Bolivar, Albacete, Colo Colo, American de Cali, DC United
Bolivia has qualified for just one World Cup tournament (United States in 1994), but its star player, Marco Etcheverry, was recovering from a serious injury.
After just four minutes on the field as a substitute, Etcheverry, a player of combustible temperament, was red-carded for a foul.
The American World Cup missed out on a player who went on to become one of the greatest players in Major League Soccer history.
Finland — Jari Litmanen
Born: Feb. 20, 1971, in Lahti, Finland
Clubs: Reipas, HJK, MyPa, Ajax, Barcelona, Liverpool, Lahti, Hansa Rostock, Malmo, Fulham, Lahti, HJK
Jari Litmanen’s vision and creativity made him an idol at Ajax Amsterdam, on a team that won the Champions League in 1995, bringing back memories of that club’s 1970's golden era.
Injuries hampered a career that never matched the heights of his early days in Amsterdam, as he moved to Barcelona and Liverpool. But he once was a delight to watch.
Ecuador — Antonio Valencia
Born: Aug. 4, 1985, in Lago Agrio, Ecuador
Clubs: El Nacional, Villarreal, Recreativo Huelva, Wigan, Manchester United
Few players possess the brute strength and physical frame of Antonio Valencia, a player who captains both club and country.
First as a speedy winger, bought to stand in for Cristiano Ronaldo, and then as a fullback, Valencia has been a mainstay for Manchester United since 2009.
Egypt — Mohamed Salah
Born: June 15, 1992, in Nagrig, Egypt
Clubs: El Mokawloon, Basel, Chelsea, Fiorentina, Roma, Liverpool
Mohamed Salah's 2017-18 season ended with a shoulder injury in the Champions League final that Liverpool lost to Real Madrid. Until then, his 44-goal effort was one of the most spectacular individual seasons not produced by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
And before that, aside from a failed move to Chelsea, Salah had shone in Swiss and Italian football.
Cameroon — Roger Milla
Born: May 20, 1956, in Yaounde, Cameroon
Clubs: Eclaire de Douala, Valenciennes, Montpellier, Saint-Etienne, Bastia, Monaco
Roger Milla is the oldest player to ever score in a World Cup match, notching a goal against Russia in the 1994 tournament.
His mastery of the goalscorer’s art is best shown by his performances at the 1990 World Cup. There, he scored four goals, snapped up with a poacher’s expertise, as Cameroon became the first African team to reach the quarterfinals.
Qatar — Sebastián Soria
Born: Nov. 8, 1983, in Paysundu, Uruguay
Clubs: Liverpool de Montevideo, Al-Gharafa, Qatar SC, Lekhwiya, Al-Rayyan SC
His career was a little ill-timed, in that he missed out on Qatar winning 2019’s Asian Cup, as his soccer plays days are ticking down.
But Sebastián Soria, an emigre from Uruguay who became naturalized for the Arab state, is the most capped player in Qatari soccer history and also has scored the most goals.
Jamaica — Ricardo Gardner
Born: Sept. 25, 1978, in Saint Andrew Parish, Jamaica
Clubs: Harbour View, Bolton, Preston
Ricardo Gardner spent 14 years at Bolton, including 11 in the Premier League, as a versatile player who made contributions to attack and defense.
Jamaica’s "Reggae Boyz" reached their sole World Cup in 1998, and a 20-year-old Gardner was able to make his name ahead of the move to Bolton.
Ghana — Tony Yeboah
Born: June 6, 1966, in Kumasi, Ghana
Clubs: Asante Kotoko, Cornerstones Kumasi, Okwawu United, Saarbrucken, Eintracht Frankfurt, Leeds, Hamburg, Al-Ittihad
Tony Yeboah is famous in England for his spectacular goals in a Leeds shirt, including a pair of blockbusters against Liverpool and Wimbledon, but Yeboah also is an idol in German football.
Powerful and adept at the art of being a modern striker, he was a leading light in the wave of African talent that became prominent in European football in the 1990s.
Hungary — Ferenc Puskas
Born: April 2, 1927, in Budapest, Hungary
Died: Nov. 17, 2006, in Budapest, Hungary
Clubs: Honved, Real Madrid
One of the best players of the 20th century, the "Galloping Major" was captain of Hungary's "Golden Teams" of the 1950s and was a fearsome striker of a ball.
Ferenc Puskas played for Honved (which became the Hungarian Army team in the late 1940s) and led his country in the 1954 World Cup, where its loss in the final to West Germany was a huge shock.
After moving to Spain after the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian uprising, Puskas became a great at Real Madrid and scored four goals in the 1960 European Cup final.
Congo DR — Ndaye Mulamba
Born: Nov. 4, 1948, in Lulabourg, Belgian Congo
Died: Jan. 26, 2019, in Johannesburg, South Africa
Clubs: Renaissance de Kasai, AS Bantous, AS Vita Club
Ndaye Mulamba died in poverty in January 2019. His death brought back memories of the Zaire team he captained that qualified for the 1974 World Cup.
The same year, Mulamba scored a record nine goals at the finals of the African Cup of Nations, but in Germany, he was controversially sent off in the second group match against Yugoslavia in what was a case of mistaken identity.
Russia — Lev Yashin
Born: Oct. 29, 1929, in Moscow, Russia
Died: March 20, 1990, in Moscow
Clubs: Dynamo Moscow
A former ice hockey goalkeeper, Lev Yashin was the star of a Soviet Union team that came to prominence in the late 1950s and 1960s, finishing fourth at the 1966 World Cup and winning the inaugural European Championships in 1960.
His black uniform and physical presence made him stand out, but it was his organization of his defense that made him a pioneer for those who would follow in his position.
Norway — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Born: Feb. 23, 1973, in Kristiansund, Norway
Clubs: Clausenengen, Molde, Manchester United
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a brilliant reader of the pattern of the game being played in front of him. Sir Alex Ferguson said so himself.
Known for coming off the substitutes' bench, Solskjaer scored a goal against Bayern Muniuch in the 1999 Champions League final that showcased his opportunism. This goal, and many others, made him an idol at Manchester United, where is currently manager.
Bulgaria — Hristo Stoichkov
Born: Feb. 8, 1966, in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Clubs: Hebros, CSKA Sofia, Barcelona, Parma, Barcelona, Al-Nassr, Kashiwa Reysol, Chicago Fire, DC United
Barcelona’s "Dream Team" of the 1990s won four consecutive Liga titles and the club’s first European Cup in 1992, and the bull-like Hristo Stoichkov scored many of the goals.
Few players have been as fiery in temperament and finishing, and he inspired his country to the semifinals of the 1994 World Cup, where he scored six goals and the was joint top scorer in the tournament with Russia's Oleg Salenko.
Montenegro — Dejan Savicevic
Born: Sept. 15, 1971, in Titograd, SFR Yugoslavia
Clubs: Budu?nost Podgorica, Red Star Belgrade, AC Milan, Red Star Belgrade, Rapid Vienna
The goal Dejan Savicevic scored for AC Milan in the 1994 Champions League final against Barcelona, volleyed from 35 yards out, was one of the finest moments ever on that stage. Savicevic, who led his team to a 4-0 win, ran the show with typical mastery of the ball and skill.
In his day, few players were such a pleasure to watch, his dribbling ability truly bewildering at times.
Nigeria — Nwankwo Kanu
Born: Aug. 1, 1976, in Owerri, Nigeria
Clubs: Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Ajax, Inter Milan, Arsenal, West Brom, Portsmouth
Nwankwo Kanu’s height betrayed a light touch on the ball. He could be a magician, capable of some truly spectacular goals.
He won a UEFA Champions League medal, a UEFA Cup medal, three FA Cup Winners medals, two African Player of the Year awards and Olympic gold in soccer at the Atlanta Games in 1996.
Greece — Theodoros Zagorakis
Born: Oct. 27, 1971, in Lydia, Greece
Clubs: Kavala, PAOK, Leicester, AEK Athens, Bologna
Greece winning Euro 2004 still registers as the most seismic shock in international tournament football history, and Theodoros Zagorakis, the captain, was the engine of the success.
His drive from midfield and will to win embodied a team effort that defied all previous logic.
Czech Republic — Pavel Nedved
Born: Aug. 30, 1972, in Cheb, Czech Republic
Clubs: Skoda Plzen, Sparta Prague, Lazio, Juventus
When Juventus sold Zinedine Zidane to Real Madrid in 2001, they managed to replace him with a player who is just as cherished in the Italian city of Turin.
Pavel Nedved won the European Footballer of the Year award in 2003, the year he was denied playing in the Champions League final by a yellow card in the semifinal. He also led his country to the semifinals of Euro 2004.
Morocco — Mustapha Hadji
Born: Nov. 16, 1971, in Ifrane Atlas-Saghir, Morocco
Clubs: Nancy, Sporting Lisbon, Deportivo La Coruna, Coventry, Aston Villa, Espanyol, Emirates Club, Saarbrucken, Fola Esch
One of the first North African players to become prominent in the English Premier League, Mustapha Hadji was a hero to fans of Coventry City.
He was African Footballer of the Year in 1998, the same year he starred for his country at the World Cup in France.
Australia — Tim Cahill
Born: Dec. 6, 1979, in Sydney, Australia
Clubs: Millwall, Everton, New York Red Bulls, Shanghai Shenhua, Hangzhuo Greentown, Melbourne City, Millwall, Jamshedpur
Position: Attacking midfielder
With his trademark shadow boxer’s goal celebration, Tim Cahill was a prolific goalscorer for Millwall and Everton before beginning a world tour of other destinations.
For his country, Cahill scored at three different World Cup tournaments and was known across the globe for his heading ability.
Turkey — Hakan Sukur
Born: Sept. 1, 1971, in Adapazari, Turkey
Clubs: Sakaryaspor, Bursaspor, Galatasaray, Torino, Galatasaray, Inter Milan, Parma, Blackburn, Galatasaray
When Turkish football made its breakthrough in the 1990s and 2000s, Hakan Sukur was at the forefront.
A supreme finisher, he starred as Galatasaray won the 2000 UEFA Cup and Turkey finished third at the 2002 World Cup finals. There, in the third-place playoff against South Korea, he scored the fastest-ever World Cup goal, notching it after 10.8 seconds.
Scotland — Kenny Dalglish
Born: March 4, 1951, in Glasgow, Scotland
Clubs: Celtic, Liverpool
An idol in Glasgow with Celtic, Kenny Dalglish became even more of a deity at Liverpool, where he ended his first season by scoring the winning goal in the 1978 European Cup final.
In 1985-86, he was a player-manager as Liverpool won a league and FA Cup double, scoring the goal to secure the league title.
Dalglish — who played for Scotland at three World Cups (1974, 1978, 1982) — has the most Scottish caps with 102 and netted a record 30 goals, tied with Denis Law as his country's top scorer.
Iceland — Gylfi Sigurdsson
Born: Sept. 8, 1989, in Reykjavik, Iceland
Clubs: Reading, Hoffenheim, Tottenham, Swansea, Everton
Position: Attacking midfielder
Iceland’s rise to international promise in recent times has owed much to the cogent, creative contributions of Gylfi Sigurdsson, a player who has become one of most respected playmakers in Premier League football.
Everton was prepared to pay 40 million pounds ($51.4 million today) for those qualities in the summer of 2017.
South Korea — Park Ji-sung
Born: Feb. 25, 1981, in Goheung, South Korea
Clubs: Kyoto Purple Sanga, PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, QPR
Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary Manchester United manager, made full use of Park Ji-sung's work ethic and versatility, as did Guus Hiddink, the coach who took co-hosts South Korea to the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup.
Park's nickname was "Three Lungs," for energy levels that at times appeared limitless.
Costa Rica — Keylor Navas
Born: Dec. 15, 1986, in San Isidro de El General, Costa Rica
Clubs: Saprissa, Albacete, Levante, Real Madrid
Keylor Navas has won three Champions League titles with Real Madrid, a club where he came off the reserves bench to replace the legendary Iker Casillas.
Navas also was a leading light and inspiration of the Costa Rican national team that reached the quarterfinals of 2014 World Cup.
Northern Ireland — George Best
Born: May 22, 1946, in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Died: Nov. 25, 2005, in London, England
Clubs: Manchester United, Stockport County, Cork Celtic, Los Angeles Aztecs, Fulham, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Hibernian, San Jose Earth
The most talented player born in the British Isles, George Best was European Footballer of the Year in 1968 and burned brighter than anyone else of his generation.
His career was lost by his mid-20s as the ravages of alcohol took hold, and he left Manchester United to become a traveling gun for hire.
Bosnia and Herzegovina — Hasan Salihamidzic
Born: Jan. 1, 1977, in Jablanica, Bosnia
Clubs: Hamburg, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Wolfsburg
His career came at a time his home country was divided by conflict in the Balkans, but as an emigre to German football, Hasan Salihamidzic was celebrated for his energy, versatility and intelligence.
Since retiring in 2012, he has become a sporting director at Bayern, a club he served with high distinction.
Republic of Ireland — Roy Keane
Born: Aug. 10, 1971, in Cork, Ireland
Clubs: Cobh Ramblers, Nottingham Forest, Manchester United, Celtic
One of football’s born leaders, Roy Keane was a fearsome presence in Manchester United’s midfield, a player who drove his teammates on to higher planes of achievements. He won seven league titles, four FA Cups and a Champions League.
He is known for his fire and power, but he also was a player of genuine class and poise.
Paraguay — Jose Luis Chilavert
Born: July 27, 1965, in Luque, Paraguay
Clubs: Sportivo Luqueno, Guarani, San Lorenzo, Real Zaragoza, Velez Sarsfield, Strasbourg, Penarol
Jose Luis Chilavert was one of the best goalkeepers in world football for over a decade, but he is probably best known for his outfield achievements.
A free-kick specialist and penalty taker, he scored 67 goals, the second most of any goalkeeper in professional football history.
Venezuela — Salomon Rondon
Born: Sept. 16, 1989, in Caracas, Venezuela
Clubs: Aragua, Las Palmas, Malaga, Rubin Kazan, Zenit Saint Petersburg, West Brom, Newcastle
For a nation better known for its baseball players, Salomon Rondon has been a standard bearer and ambassador for Venezuelan footballers.
Few players in the game have his capability at holding up the ball as a target-man striker, and he has proved himself well suited to Premier League football.
Japan — Hidetoshi Nakata
Born: Jan. 22, 1977, in Kofu, Japan
Clubs: Shonan Bellmare, Perugia, Roma, Parma, Bologna, Fiorentina, Bolton
Hidetoshi Nakata was a star of Italy’s Serie A in the late 1990s, the first Japanese player to succeed in what was then the world’s strongest league.
Nakata retired young in 2006, at age 29, after tiring of the game. But he did so as one of Asia’s finest players of all, playing in three World Cups.
Iran — Ali Daei
Born: March 21, 1969, in Ardabil, Iran
Clubs: Esteghlal Ardabil, Taxirani, Bank Tejarat, Persepolis, Al-Sadd, Arminia Bielefeld, Bayern Munich, Hertha Berlin, Al Shabab, Persepolis, Saba Battery, Saipa
Ali Daei holds the Iranian record for most international goals with 109 in 149 matches and is one of the greatest Asian players in soccer history.
At a time when it was rare for Middle Eastern players to make their way to Europe, he became a respected striker in Germany’s Bundesliga and was signed by Bayern Munich.
Serbia — Dragan Stojkovic
Born: March 3, 1965, in Nis, Serbia
Clubs: Radnicki Nis, Red Star Belgrade, Marseille, Hellas Verona, Nagoya Grampus Eight
A series of injuries stopped Dragan Stojkovic from reaching his staggering potential when he starred for Yugoslavia at the 1990 World Cup. But he still was his country’s captain — at France 1998 and Euro 2000 — as guile replaced his youthful flair.
In Japan, where he later took up coaching, Stojkovic is considered perhaps the best imported soccer player of all.
Ukraine — Andriy Shevchenko
Born: Sept. 29, 1976, in Dvirkivshchyna, Ukraine
Clubs: Dynamo Kyiv, AC Milan, Chelsea, AC Milan, Dynamo Kyiv
With speed to burn, and huge variety to his finishes, Andriy Shevchenko was the supreme striker of the late 1990s and early 2000s in European football, first for Dynamo Kyiv and then for AC Milan.
He won the Champions League with Milan in 2003 and remains a legend of both clubs.
Slovakia — Marek Hamsik
Born: July 27, 1987, in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia
Clubs: Slovan Bratislava, Brescia, Napoli
Position: Attacking midfielder
Marek Hamsik has become a Neapolitan hero, captaining a club precious to the heart of that Italian city.
An athletic, skillful attacking midfielder with a fierce shot and supreme technique, he also captains his country and led them to their most famous day, knocking defending champion Italy out of the 2010 World Cup with a dramatic 3-2 win.
Tunisia — Radhi Jaidi
Born: Aug. 30, 1975, in Tunis, Tunisia
Clubs: Esperance, Bolton Wanderers, Birmingham City, Southampton
Position: Central defender
Radhi Jaidi was a central cog in his country's 2004 African Cup of Nations win.
He went on to become a respected and powerful defender with three English Premier League clubs.
And with 105 national team appearances, Jaidi also is Tunisia's most-capped outfield player.
United States — Landon Donovan
Born: March 4, 1982, in Ontario, Calif.
Clubs: Bayer Leverkusen, San Jose Earthquakes, LA Galaxy, Bayern Munich, Everton, LA Galaxy, Leon.
Position: Winger/attacking midfielder
From being named best young player at the 2002 World Cup to 2010, when he scored the late goal against Algeria that guided the United States men's national team to the knockout round of the 2010 tournament, Landon Donovan was the star for his nation.
His pace and skill also made him one of the finest players to grace Major League Soccer.
Romania — Gheorghe Hagi
Born: Feb. 5, 1963, in Sacele, Romania
Clubs: Farul Constantja, Sportul Studentesc, Steau Bucharest, Real Madrid, Brescia, Barcelona, Galatasaray
Position: Attacking midfielder
Gheorghe Hagi was known as the "Maradona of the Carpathians," and he possessed much of the same skill set as the Argentinian legend, as an inspirational, elemental force capable of scoring from anywhere.
Though Romania usually saw the best of Hagi rather than his clubs, he enjoyed late-period success in Turkey with Galatasaray.
Senegal — El Hadji Diouf
Born: Jan. 15, 1981, Dakar, Senegal
Clubs: Sochaux, Rennes, Lens, Liverpool, Bolton Wanderers, Sunderland, Blackburn Rovers, Rangers, Doncaster Rovers, Leeds United, Sabah FA
His country’s ride to the last eight of the 2002 World Cup final equalled the best performance by an African team.
El Hadji Diouf played the game on the edge of sportsmanship, and never stayed for too long at his clubs, but his speed and skill could trouble any defense.
Austria — Matthias Sindelar
Born: Feb. 10, 1903, in Kozlov, Austria-Hungary
Died: Jan. 23, 1939, in Vienna, Germany (age 35)
Clubs: Austria Vienna
Austria was once one of the world’s great football powers — a fact lost in the haze of the 1930s. Matthias Sindelar, a creative talent and goalscorer ahead his time, was the star of the "Wunderteam" that was swallowed up by Nazi Germany.
Sindelar died young under mysterious circumstances in 1939.
Peru — Teofilo Cubillas
Born: March 8, 1949, in Lima, Peru
Clubs: Allianz Lima, Basel, Porto, Fort Lauderdale Strikers
Position: Striker/attacking midfielder
A master of free kicks and an explosive finisher, Teofilo Cubillas remains the most famous Peruvian footballer of all after several soccer generations.
Cubillas played in three World Cups. He lit up the 1970 renewal in Mexico and was second-highest goal scorer at the 1978 tournament.
Poland — Grzegorz Lato
Born: April 8, 1950, in Malbork, Poland
Clubs: Stal Mielec, Lokeren, Atlante, Polonia Hamilton
Poland finished third in the 1974 and 1982 World Cups, and on a team of real talent and grit, Grzegorz Lato, a winger, stood out with his speed and finishing ability.
Lato was the top scorer at the 1974 tournament, the only Pole to achieve that honor.
Wales — John Charles
Born: Dec. 27, 1931, in Swansea, Wales
Died: Feb.n 21, 2004, in Wakefield, England (age 72)
Clubs: Leeds United, Juventus, Leeds United, Roma, Cardiff City, Hereford United, Merthyr Tydfil
Position: Center forward/central defender
Gareth Bale may have won multiple Champions League titles with Real Madrid, but no Welshman is held in higher regard on the European continent than John Charles.
He moved to Juventus in the late 1950s and became one of the Italian club's greatest and most-loved players.
Italy — Paolo Maldini
Born: June 26, 1968, in Milan, Italy
Clubs: AC Milan
Position: Fullback/central defender
Paolo Maldini was unlucky enough to be too young and then too old to be part of his country’s 1982 and 2006 World Cup triumphs, but in a country where defending is cherished above all, Maldini was the best, either as a fullback or a central defender.
He won five Champions League titles and seven Serie A crowns during the most glorious era of AC Milan, his sole club.
Mexico — Hugo Sanchez
Born: July 11, 1958, in Mexico City, Mexico
Clubs: UNAM, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, America, Rayo Vallecano, Atlante, Linz, Dallas Burn, Celaya
His taste for spectacular goals, scored with volleys and flying headers, made Hugo Sanchez recognized across the world.
The first Mexican to become a soccer star across the Atlantic, he was a prolific goal scorer and idol at both major Madrid clubs.
Germany — Franz Beckenbauer
Born: Sept. 11, 1945, in Munich, Germany
Clubs: Bayern Munich, New York Cosmos, Hamburg
Nicknamed "Der Kaiser," or "The Emperor," Franz Beckenbauer was the leader of the West German team that won the 1974 World Cup, marshalling the squad from the back as a sweeper. He moved back there after beginning his career as a supremely talented attacking midfielder.
Beckenbauer was calm personified — with the hardest of competitive edges.
Netherlands — Johan Cruyff
Born: April 25, 1947, in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Died: March 24, 2016, in Barcelona, Spain (age 68)
Clubs: Ajax Amsterdam, Barcelona, LA Aztecs, Washington Diplomats, Levante, Ajax, Feyenoord
Position: Forward/attacking midfielder
When Johan Cruyff died in 2016, he was hailed rightfully as the greatest European player of the 20th century.
Both Ajax and Barcelona continue to play with the philosophy he promoted as a coach, which was an extension of his supreme intelligence as player.
The balance of Rudolf Nureyev and the speed of a sprinter made him irresistible.
Sweden — Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Born: Oct. 3, 1981, in Malmo, Sweden
Clubs: Malmo, Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, LA Galaxy
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is more famous in his home country than the Swedish prime minister.
He has made himself a global brand through aggressive self-publicity, but at his best, he has been a spectacular striker and prolific to watch, and one who became better after his 30s began.
Chile — Alexis Sanchez
Born: Dec. 19, 1988, in Tocopilla, Chile
Clubs: Cobreloa, Udinese, Colo Colo, River Plate, Barcelona, Arsenal, Manchester United
At his best, Alexis Sanchez can be a one-man forward line, a function he has fulfilled in being the star of two Copa America titles for Chile.
While he has found life difficult at Manchester United since moving there in January 2018, there is no doubting his talent and his achievements with his national team.
Colombia — Carlos Valderrama
Born: Sept. 2, 1961, in Santa Marta, Colombia
Clubs: Union Magdalena, Millionarios, Deportivo Cali, Montpellier, Real Valladolid, Independiente Medellin, Atletico Junior, Tampa Bay Mutiny, Miami Fusion, Colorado Rapids
Position: Central midfielder
The bubble-curled hairstyle made him stand out, but then again so did his ability to control a match with his careful, always intelligent passing from midfield.
Carlos Valderrama was twice South American Footballer of the Year, and the leader of a national team asserting itself on the international stage for the first time.
Argentina — Lionel Messi
Born: June 24, 1987, in Rosario, Argentina
Some Argentinians will tell you Diego Maradona, the inspiration behind their country’s 1986 World Cup win, was the greatest ever.
However, Lionel Messi, despite the lack of a world crown, has lifted the game to unseen heights with Barcelona. He cannot be ignored.
Denmark — Michael Laudrup
Born: June 15, 1964, in Frederiksberg, Denmark
Clubs: KB, Brondby, Lazio, Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Vissel Kobe, Ajax
Position: Forward/attacking midfielder
A teenage prodigy, Michael Laudrup ended up playing for some of Europe’s leading lights and inspired Denmark to the quarterfinals of the 1998 World Cup in his final matches as a professional.
This forward player with huge creative talents has the rarity of being idolized at both Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Spain — Xavi
Born: Jan. 25, 1980, in Terrassa, Spain
Clubs: Barcelona, Al Said
Position: Central midfielder
The midfield metronome of a Spain team that lifted a sequence of Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
He fulfilled the same function for Barcelona’s Champions League winners in 2009 and 2011.
Xavi would pass opponents into submission.
Switzerland — Stephane Chapuisat
Born: June 28, 1969, in Lausanne, Switzerland
Clubs: Malley, Lausanne, Bayer Uerdingen, Borussia Dortmund, Grasshoppers, Young Boys, Lausanne
An intelligent and prolific striker, Stephane Chapuisat followed the route most of the best Swiss footballers follow, into Germany, and ended up winning the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund.
Chapuisat was selected as the Golden Player of Switzerland in European governing body UEFA’s 50th year celebration in 2003.
Uruguay — Obdulio Varela
Born: Sept. 20, 1917, in Montevideo, Uruguay
Died: Aug. 2, 1996, in Montevideo, Uruguay (age 78)
Clubs: Deportivo Juventud, Montevideo Wanderers, Penarol
One of the first black players to come to international prominence, Obdulio Varela was the towering presence and inspirational force behind one of soccer’s greatest shocks: Uruguay winning the 1950 World Cup in the backyard of hosts and overriding favorites Brazil.
Portugal — Cristiano Ronaldo
Born: Feb. 5, 1985, in Funchal, Portugal
Clubs: Sporting Lisbon, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Juventus
Few have worked harder to get to the top than Ronaldo, who built himself from a tricksy, willowy winger into a goal machine with the physique of a supreme athlete.
He has plundered goals relentlessly wherever he has played and led Portugal to win Euro 2016 and won five Champions League titles.
England — Bobby Charlton
Born: Oct. 11, 1937, in Ashington, England
Clubs: Manchester United, Preston North End
Position: Forward/attacking midfielder
A survivor of the 1958 Munich Air Disaster, which killed eight teammates, Bobby Charlton went on to be the leading light of the England team that won the World Cup in 1966.
With Manchester United, where he spent the majority of his career, Charlton became the first captain to lift the European Cup for an English club.
Croatia — Luka Modric
Born: Sept. 9, 1985, in Zadar, Croatia
Clubs: Dinamo Zagreb, Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid
Position: Central midfielder
The player who broke the Lionel Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo decade-long stranglehold on the global individual awards in 2018 was Croatia’s inspiration as his country was runner-up in the World Cup.
He also has been the engine behind four Champions League titles for Real Madrid.
Brazil — Pele
Born: Oct. 23, 1940, in Tres Coracoes, Brazil
Clubs: Santos, New York Cosmos
He competes with Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff for the title of greatest player of the 20th century.
Pele won three World Cups and scored 650 goals in 694 league matches.
He carried his boxer’s build with balletic grace, and was a global star from the moment he graced the 1958 World Cup as a 17-year-old.
France — Zinedine Zidane
Born: June 23, 1972, in La Castellane, France
Clubs: Cannes, Bordeaux, Juventus, Real Madrid
Position: Attacking midfielder
Zinedine Zidane, or "Zizou," paired brutish physical strength, silky skills and a truly explosive temperament.
He signed off at the very top with a red card for a flying headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final, but that action should not mar his superb performances throughout that tournament.
In 1998, two headed goals in the final lifted France to its first world title.
Belgium — Eden Hazard
Born: Jan. 7, 1991, in La Louvière, Belgium
Clubs: Lille, Chelsea
Position: Attacking midfielder/forward
One of the top performers in the 2018 World Cup finals, where Belgium finished third, Eden Hazard is the dominant star of a Chelsea team that has won two Premier League titles in recent years.
Hazard may not be a towering presence at 5-foot-8, but he is one of the giants of the modern game — a great individual talent, dribbler and goal scorer.