Ranked! The 101 greatest football players of the last 25 years: full list
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101. Matt Le Tissier
“Our house was obsessed with him. A half-hour TV programme showed Premier League highlights and he was on. Every. Single. Week. Outrageous, sickening goals: top corner, a flick, an incredible free-kick. ‘This guy, Le Tissier, is outrageous,’ we used to say to each other. ‘And he stays at Southampton. He could play for anyone.’” Xavi, FFT 263
100. Mohamed Salah
Some called Liverpool mad to pay a club-record £36.9m for the once-erratic winger known to Chelsea fans as ‘Sally’. Nobody says that now. Mo’s irrepressible verve, low centre of gravity and fearsome strike rate have led some fans to dare compare him against Kenny Dalglish – and at Anfield, no praise is higher.
99. George Weah
“I had the pleasure of playing against him. History shows he was one of the best players of the past 20 years. He was a complete player – a powerful striker who scored a lot of goals and was very hard to stop.” Dietmar Hamann, FFT 183 (November 2009)
98. Miroslav Klose
What’s the opposite of a flat-track bully? Ungainly and bang-average at club level, Klose hit 71 goals (16 at World Cups, a record) in his 137 caps for Germany. They never lost when he scored, and they rarely lost because he nearly always scored.
97. Paul Gascoigne
Gazza’s brilliance was always about more than just the football. Sure, there was the wiggle of his hips, instinctive skill and basic love of the game, but it was Gascoigne’s mischievous sense of fun which won every heart. The tears of Turin and Euro 96’s dentist’s chair remain English football’s first crossover moments at a time when the beautiful game became cool again.
96. Tony Adams
“The way he walks, the way he talks, the way he lives his life – he is a born captain. I scored a remarkable goal past him against England at Wembley. The fact that in scoring such a goal I defeated Tony Adams made it all the more special.” Dennis Bergkamp, FFT 126 (February 2005)
95. Fernando Hierro
“A leader. He has great positional sense and he is a fantastic passer. At Real Madrid he was a legend – the man who organised everything, pushed us forward and led us to so many trophies.” Fernando Morientes, FFT 137
94. Lilian Thuram
“When I faced him, it was the only time I didn’t win a single challenge with an opponent. That never happened before or again. He had great ability, he was a good tackler, he had good positioning and he never stopped running. Great longevity, too.” Christian Ziege, FFT 185 (January 2010)
93. Yaya Toure
Manchester City were poor and flaky; then they were rich and flaky; then they signed Toure. City’s own Eric Cantona, he made them into winners, because at his best he resembled a 16-year-old idly bossing an under-11s game. For a crucial half-decade there was nobody to touch him. They couldn’t get near.
92. Juan Roman Riquelme
All Argentine No.10s live in a shadow – but Riquelme was nothing like Maradona. Languid (or lazy, if you weren’t a fan) and fonder of the pass than the dribble, ‘the bullfighter’ was the last great enganche, directing operations with grace, flair, beauty, vision and maybe five tackles in two decades.
91. Davor Suker
The career of the shotputter’s son and future president of the Croatian FA can be reduced to mere fragments. That shirt, that chip, and that underwhelming Premier League spell. But throughout, he combined physicality with grace and a left foot like a cliché. At Sevilla, the striker was given a melon every time he scored for them. He got a lot of melons.
90. Diego Godin
With four Ballons d’Or in 63 years, defenders are rarely praised unless they’re frustrated attackers. Godin, on the other hand, is admired universally for embodying Atletico Madrid’s none-shall-pass rearguard, hovering on the laws’ fringes and scoring the odd crucial goal – before scurrying back to mind the shop.
89. Carlos Tevez
’Tis a pity that scandals over ownership, billboards and a refusal to play has marred the memory of this fearsome competitor. Tevez tore apart defences with his vision and his strength, epitomising how our game at its best combines intelligence and presence, brains and brawn.
88. Filippo Inzaghi
Just the 313 goals, mostly for Juventus, Milan and Italy, with 46 of them coming in 81 (often vital) Champions League games – including both in the 2007 final. “He can’t play football,” said Johan Cruyff. “He’s just always in the right position.” But some knack to have.
87. Franck Ribery
Always watch the little ones. Ribery, 5ft 7in, stretched himself into one of the world’s best wingers, an opinionated joker with élan and joie de vivre belying his hard start in life. Franz Beckenbauer bracketed Ribery with Messi and Ronaldo; Zinedine Zidane anointed him his successor.
86. Henrik Larsson
What if? What if the lethal Swede left Celtic at his early noughties peak? What if he hadn’t waited until 2004 to join a giant the size of Barcelona? Valid questions, but irrelevant. Larsson’s seven seasons in Scotland feel from a different era, a time when players stayed put even when bigger boys knocked. A striker who had it all – even loyalty.
85. Oliver Kahn
“He had an aura about him: always in command, with very good positioning and reflexes. He controlled his area, and the team had confidence in him. We always felt sure that even if a shot did come his way, he would stop it.” Dietmar Hamann, FFT 183
84. Didier Drogba
Many players excel. Few change the game. Drogba’s pace, presence and goals enabled Jose Mourinho’s sole-forward system to flourish and become the tactical standard. He topped a dozen league goals only twice in nine seasons at Chelsea, but it was enough to alter football forever: every manager since has wanted a Didier Drogba.
83. Gianfranco Zola
“The nicest man I’ve ever had to kick. I would apologise if I mistimed a tackle. And even though we won, he smashed Arsenal all over the place for Parma in the ’94 Cup Winners’ Cup Final.” Lee Dixon, FFT 227
82. Fernando Torres
“He was unplayable in his first season at Liverpool and was like nothing I’d ever seen before – strong, powerful, fast and able to finish. Chelsea didn’t suit him, but he did find a nice house in Surrey. I once saw Scott Parker coming out of a flat and he said to me, “Torres has just bought my house!’” Peter Crouch, FFT 295
81. Xabi Alonso
He did win £25,000 for a fan who’d bet on him scoring from his own half, but Alonso’s game was usually more discreet; his passing as unruffled as his action-figure hairdo. Often overlooked amid the clamour to praise Spain team-mate Xavi, the Liverpool and Real Madrid man was adored wherever he went.