The Best Footballers in the World… in 1966. Who comes top?

Had FourFourTwo been around (presumably under a different name) 50 years ago, who would have been in the FFT100? FFT’s launch editor Paul Simpson wonders... 

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Trying to decide the 100 best players of 1966 isn’t easy. There was no South American equivalent of the Ballon d’Or and many countries (Argentina, Brazil, Italy and Portugal, to name but four) didn’t select footballers of the year. That said, after poring over the events of an historic 12 months, certain players stand out.

In the lower reaches of this retrospective 100, you would find the usual blend of promising youngsters and fading veterans. The great Ferenc Puskas, who hung up his boots at the age of 39, might have featured on sentimental grounds. The magical, alcoholic Garrincha bowed out for Brazil against Hungary – his 60th cap and his first defeat with the Selecao. The only upside of that loss for Brazil was that a 19-year-old Cruzeiro midfielder namd Tostao, who would entrance millions in the ‘beautiful team’ of 1970, scored their consolation goal.


Garrincha follows the ball into the net after scoring against Bulgaria

Another 19-year old to make his mark was lanky midfielder Johan Cruyff, whose 16 goals powered Ajax to the Dutch title. Cruyff was not an entirely unknown quantity – he was on the scoresheet as Ajax overwhelmed Bill Shankly’s Liverpool 5-1 in a foggy European Cup match in December – but, outside Germany, few had heard of 20-year-old Gerd Muller, a short, ungainly but nifty centre-forward whose goalscoring instincts seemed truly clairvoyant.

Muller was prolific enough, in his first Bundesliga season with Bayern Munich, to earn a call-up to the Mannschaft, although he didn’t make the final 22. Eight years later, his goal in Munich would crush Cruyff’s hopes of winning the World Cup.

There are countless players above the lower reaches but below the top ten, which means it's probably best to group them by trade: defenders (including goalkeepers), midfielders and forwards (wingers and strikers).

NEXT Which keepers and defenders get the nod?