After a 3-year spell in Brazil at his youth club of Gremio, Ronaldinho finally came to everyone’s attention as a forward at PSG before moving to Barcelona, where the Brazilian forward really shone. He was once the best player in the world, winning the Ballon d’Or award in 2005 before going onto win the Champions League with Barcelona the year after against Arsenal in Paris.
9. Thierry Henry
Arguably Arsenal’s best ever player and confirmed as their highest scorer, beating Ian Wright’s record in October 2005 against Sparta Prague. Despite spells at Monaco and Juventus, Henry really made a name for himself at Arsenal as part of the invincibles team in 2004 and became runner-up for the 2003 World Player of the Year. He was signed by Barcelona in 2007 and was part of their 2009 Champions League winning side that beat Manchester United.
Raul was a true great of the Real Madrid line-up which won two Champions Leagues in the turn of the century. The legendary Spanish forward racked up 323 goals in 741 appearances for Real Madrid before joining Schalke. He was never sent off in his career and was the first player to fifty Champions League goals and still remains the all-time top goalscorer with 71 goals from 144 matches. In his time at Real Madrid he won 6 La Liga’s and three Champions League winners medals as well as coming runner-up in the Ballon d’Or in 2001.
7. David Beckham
Possibly one of the best endorsements for the world game is David Beckham, his time at Manchester United shot him to the stars and ensured he was announced on the world stage. He soon became England captain and led the team into three major tournaments as well as playing in the 1998 World Cup. Beckham was part of the Treble winning team at United in 1999 and won 7 league titles, with one being at Real Madrid. He has since moved to LA Galaxy in order to promote football in North America with a couple of loan spells at AC Milan. He was picked in FIFA 100 as part of a selection of the greatest living footballers along with six other players on this list.
Kaka blossomed into a true great and one of the greatest players of the past ten years when he guided AC Milan to two Champions League finals, beating Liverpool in 2007 after losing to the English club two years prior. Kaka isn’t your conventional Brazilian in his physique and playing style as he is an attacking playmaker and has won the World Cup and picked up just the one league title in his career, at AC Milan in 2004.
Ronaldo has done it all in professional football. The Brazilian forward made a name for himself with his Messi-esque scoring record as he scored 47 goals in 49 matches in his one and only season at the Nou Camp before moving on for five-year spells for Inter Milan and Real Madrid. Despite his brilliant goalscoring record, he hasn’t won much silverware in his career totaling to just a league title at Real Madrid whilst lifting two World Cups and two Copa America’s in his illustrious career which ended last year.
4. Steven Gerrard
Steven Gerrard has turned into a true great with his peaking moment being in the 2004-05 Champions League campaign where he saved Liverpool not only once against Olympiakos but twice when he initiated the famous fightback against AC Milan. A goal in the last minute against West Ham helped lift the FA Cup in 2006 as the English midfielder came third in the Ballon d’Or in 2005. Gerrard has captained his country and will feature in the upcoming European Championships which could be his international swansong.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo
Little was known about Cristiano Ronaldo when he was signed by Alex Ferguson in the summer of 2003 from Sporting Lisbon. However, four short summers later, he had matured into the best player both United and Portugal had at their disposal. He netted 42 times in 49 matches for United in a record breaking season which saw him lift the Champions League as well as three league titles in his time in Manchester. He won the Ballon d’Or in that record breaking year of 2008 before Messi took his mantle. Ronaldo went onto become the most expensive player, being signed for 80 million from Real Madrid and averaging nearly a goal a game in over 100 games in the three year spell at the club. There’s still a lot from this man and unfortunately will have to live in Messi’s shadow for some time.
2. Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane may have ended his career on an all-time low having been sent off and losing a World Cup final all in the same night in 2006. However, the highs such as scoring the winning goal in a 2002 Champions League final for Real Madrid after appearing in two finals for Juventus. He netted twice in a World Cup final after he lifted the World Cup and European Championship for France within a couple of years of each other. Zidane won the Ballon d’Or in 1998 and was named as the best Champions League player of the past 20 years by UEFA last year and received many lifetime and honorary awards over the past couple of years.
1. Lionel Messi
Despite his short career, Lionel Messi has fast become, in seven and a half years, the best player in the world right now and possibly the best player to have ever lived behind the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona. He has become the second player to win the Ballon d’Or in three successive years recently (alongside Michel Platini) and has picked up two Champions League winners medals in 2009 and 2011 and multiple domestic honours with Barcelona. He ranks as the sixth highest Champions League goalscorer, netting 43 times in 62 matches and will surely surpass Raul in his career. Messi’s goalscoring record is unparalleled, netting 211 times in 298 games for club and this season has averaged over a goal a game.