FourFourTwo's 100 Greatest Footballers EVER: 40 to 31

Italy’s golden boy, Spain’s only Ballon d’Or winner and the ageless Wizard of the Dribble 

40. Kenny Dalglish

Kenny Dalglish

Why are they here?
‘King Kenny’ had already won four Scottish league titles with Celtic before venturing south in 1977 to join Bob Paisley’s Liverpool. He may not have been the quickest, but Paisley noted: “The first yard is in his head,” as he terrorised defences with his guile (and backside), winning a plethora of domestic and European trophies. On top of the team honours, he became the first player to score 100 goals in both the English and Scottish leagues.

Career highlight
Equally adept as a provider and a scorer of goals, Dalglish’s calm chipped effort to win the 1978 European Cup Final against Bruges demonstrated there was no more composed finisher in the game.

Words: Jon Spurling

39. Nandor Hidegkuti

Nandor Hidegkuti

Why are they here?
One of the first ‘false nines’ in history, Hidegkuti was a striker and a playmaker at the same time. He scored at a remarkable rate, but liked to drop deep, organise the game and play delightful through-balls to his team-mates. His vision was second to none, and that made him one of the most influential players for the golden Hungarian team that reached the World Cup final in 1954 and should have lifted the trophy.

Career highlight
Hidegkuti scored within the first minute and went on to complete a hat-trick in the so-called Match of the Century – Hungary's 6-3 win over England at Wembley in November 1953.

Words: Michael Yokhin

38. Gianni Rivera

Gianni Rivera

Why are they here?
When asked to name Italy's four best players for the forthcoming 1970 World Cup, the normally taciturn England manager Alf Ramsey joked: "Rivera, Rivera, Rivera, Rivera."

Ramsey's response spoke volumes for the almost evangelical aura that surrounded the Milan star, who racked up an astonishing 501 appearances between 1960 and 1979. Not that he was universally loved in Italy; controversial writer Gianni Brera labelled him abatino (young priest), implying that he was a luxury player with an aversion to physical battles. That didn't prevent a string of Milan managers from building their teams around the luminary talents of 'Golden Boy', however.

Career highlight
"It was as easy for him as if he were serving me tea," gushed Milan striker Jose Altafini, after Rivera had provided him with assists in Milan's triumphant 1963 European Cup Final against Benfica.

Words: Jon Spurling

37. Ruud Gullit

Ruud Gullit

Why are they here?
A footballer of impossible elegance, Gullit’s technical splendour and liberal approach to positional play was the legacy of his famous Dutch predecessors of the 1970s (he played briefly alongside Johan Cruyff in his early years at Feyenoord).

Gullit was a worthy heir, a rare player whose career you look back on and struggle to define his position. At Feyenoord, he began as a sweeper before moving into a midfield playmaking role. At Milan he played on the right of a front three and in the hole. At Chelsea, he was named runner-up in the player of the year awards as a box-to-box midfielder. If the hallmark of Dutch football is versatility, Gullit is as good a poster boy as any.

Career highlight
Starred in Arrigo Sacchi’s epochal 1989 Milan side (scoring in both a 5-0 demolition of Real Madrid and in the 4-0 win over Steaua Bucharest in the European Cup final), but his Ballon d'Or – won two years earlier and dedicated to Nelson Mandela – was his definitive achievement.

Words: Alex Hess

36. Paco Gento

Paco Gento

Why are they here?
Outside-left Gento departed Racing Santander and moved to the Bernebeau in 1953. By the time he finally retired in 1971, he’d amassed a barely credible six European Cup winning medals and 12 La Liga titles.

Lightning quick, he also netted copious amounts of goals from midfield, and was usually the conduit between defence and attack as Real Madrid broke forward.

Career highlight
As a veteran he captained Madrid to victory against Partizan Belgrade in the 1966 European Cup Final. Even the normally hostile Catalan paper La Vanguardia gushed: “Paco Gento embodies the old guard, the glory days.”

Words: Jon Spurling