Every fan has an opinion about the world’s best soccer players, but nearly everyone agrees on a few players. Many of these stars play for the elite soccer teams — Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Manchester figure prominently in this list — and a few of them are already considered legends, like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. All of them contribute to the global appeal that soccer fans call the “beautiful game.”
- Name: Lionel Andrés Messi
- Nationality: Argentinean
- Date and Place of Birth: June 24, 1987, in Rosario, Argentina
- Position: Playmaker
- Current Club: Barcelona (La Liga)
- Previous Club: Newell’s Old Boys (1995-2000)
- International Career: 2005 to present
Messi performed better at the 2014 World Cup, where he guided Argentina to the final, before losing agonizingly to Germany in extra-time.
Finishing joint third top scorer, alongside Neymar and Robin van Persie, Messi was awarded the Golden Ball for the outstanding player of the tournament, which triggered much debate given the performances of James Rodriguez, Arjen Robben and several of the Germany team. But Messi created more chances than any other player, with only Andrea Pirlo completing as many through-balls.
Messi scored just once in the 2015 Copa America but helped his side through to the final only to suffer more heartbreak in the form of a penalty shoot-out defeat to hosts Chile.
- Name: Cristiano Ronaldo
- Nationality: Portuguese
- Date and Place of Birth: February 5, 1985, in Funchal, Portugal
- Position: Winger/Striker
- Current Club: Real Madrid (La Liga)
- Previous Clubs: Sporting Lisbon (2001-2003), Manchester United (2003-2009)
- International Career: 2003 to presentThe following campaign was to prove his best in a Red Devils shirt. Ronaldo scored a stunning total of 42 goals in 49 games as United won the Premier League and Champions League. He dovetailed beautifully with Wayne Rooney, while Carlos Tevez helped make the team’s attack one of the most prolific in the world game that season.But rumors had already started circulating about a move to Real Madrid. Manchester United stood firm that summer, retaining Ronaldo for one last season and at the turn of the year he won the FIFA World Player of the Year award for the first time.
Twenty-six goals in all competition helped United to another Premier League title and an appearance in the Champions League final where the English club was beaten 2-0 by Barcelona.
But it was no secret that Ronaldo was looking for pastures new and on June 26, 2009, Real Madrid confirmed that he would be joining them in a world record deal.
The Barcelona striker is not everyone’s cup of tea, but his ability is not up for debate. Luis Suarez is a master at weaving his way into the penalty box, deadly in one-on-one situations, and an excellent free-kick taker. His link-up play with teammates is of the highest order, and he is a fighter who will always give 100 percent for the cause. A penchant for conning referees remains his Achilles heel, but that did not stop Barcelona from paying Liverpool $128.5 million for the player in July 2014. Suarez quickly helped them to the treble.
Teams: Uruguay, F.C. Barcelona
Team number: 9 (both teams)
Birthdate: Jan. 24, 1987
A consummate finisher, Sergio Aguero was part of Argentina’s run to the 2014 World Cup finals, where they lost to Germany. Aguero has been key in the two title wins under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, scoring that famous late winner against QPR in 2012 to seal the Premier League. Quick, with an excellent first touch and ability to bring others into play, the Argentine has few weaknesses and is arguably the best signing since Manchester City was taken over by the Abu Dhabi United group in 2008.
Teams: Argentina, Manchester City F.C.
Team number: 11 (Argentina), 10 (Manchester)
Birthdate: June 2, 1988
Hands down the best goalkeeper in the world, Manuel Neuer exudes confidence in everything he does. Bayern fans were not initially convinced when the club signed him from Schalke in 2011, but few doubters inhabit the Allianz Arena these days. Neuer is superb in one-on-one situations and capable of stunning reflex saves. He is also good technically and boasts excellent distribution. Neuer led his German national team to the 2014 World Cup title over Argentina.
Teams: Germany, F.C. Bayern Munich
Team number: 1 (both teams)
Birthdate: March 27, 1986
Gareth Bale, the Welsh attacker, is a supreme dribbler who boasts the pace and skill to beat multiple opponents. Bale is also a great finisher and capable of scoring consistently from long range. His performance in the 2016 UEFA Champions League title game win over Atlético Madrid is a career standout, as is his goal against Barcelona in the 2014 Copa del Rey final.
Teams: Wales, Real Madrid
Position: Midfield/Forward (Wales), Forward (Real Madrid)
Team number: 11 (both teams)
Birthdate: July 16, 1989
Soccer fans of all stripes agree that Andres Iniesta is one of the classiest midfielders in the game. The short, eye-of-the-needle passing he produces can pierce holes in even the most stubborn of rearguards. Iniesta is also very modest, never creating problems for his coaches. Iniesta scored the winner in the 2010 World Cup final against the Netherlands and helped Barcelona to two trebles in 2009 and 2015.
Teams: Spain, F.C. Barcelona
Team number: 6 (Spain), 8 (Barcelona)
Birthdate: May 11, 1984
Expect the unexpected with the mercurial Swede. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is perhaps the moodiest player in world soccer, but completely unplayable when on his game. Just witness his stunning overhead kick against England in 2012. “Ibra,” as fans call him, has won league titles in Holland, Italy, Spain, and France with six different clubs and is something of a lucky charm for those willing to invest in his considerable talents. One of Sweden’s top stars, he has won that nation’s Golden Ball award for the best soccer player a record 11 times.
Teams: Sweden, Manchester United F.C.
Team number: 10 (Sweden), 9 (Manchester United)
Birthdate: Oct. 3, 1981