FourFourTwo's 100 Greatest Footballers EVER: 50 to 41

The greatest ever Dane, the playmaker who shocked Brazil and the mustachioed man with the atomic shot

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50. Xavi


Why are they here?
An era-defining midfielder who sat simultaneously at the heart of two dominant teams: Barcelona and the Spanish national side. His list of honours reflects what he achieved, but the changing trends in football more accurately describe who he was and the influence he had.

Xavi’s heart beat to the rhythm of the game surrounding him, and his sometimes measured, sometimes cutting distribution changed the thinking around his position forever. His 133 Spanish caps put him third on their all-time list behind Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos, while he was also the first Barcelona captain in history to win a treble twice in his career.

Career highlight
2010. A World Cup and La Liga double, but also a place in UEFA’s Team of the Year and third-place in the Ballon d’Or voting.

Words: Seb Stafford-Bloor

49. Nilton Santos

Nilton Santos

Why are they here?
The man who revolutionised the left-back position in the 1950s was unafraid to go past the halfway line and set a precedent as both a defensive and attacking outlet. Best friends with Garrincha, he was part of one of the greatest ever sides in Brazilian history with Botafogo and was called up for four different World Cups, winning the 1958 and 1962 trophies.

He became known as Enciclopedia do Futebol (in English, the Football Encyclopedia) for his knowledge of every detail of the game.

Career highlight
After a foul on a Spanish player inside the Brazilian area at the 1962 World Cup, Santos immediately took a step outside it. The referee was deceived and gave a free-kick rather than a penalty. Brazil would have been out if they'd lost the match.

Words: Marcus Alves

48. Michael Laudrup

Michael Laudrup

Why are they here?
A playmaker of seamless silkiness, Laudrup stands as the greatest Danish player of all time and among the very best Europeans. At Barcelona, he was a stalwart of Johan Cruyff’s famous Dream Team that won four successive leagues in the early 1990s, turning threaded through-balls into something approaching an art form.

He then showed balls of another sort by upping sticks to Real Madrid and bringing his old side’s title run to an immediate end. Arguably the best pure playmaker of the last four decades, Laudrup has fans on both sides of the Spanish giants' divide. Raul calls him “the best I’ve ever played with”; Andres Iniesta reckon he’s “the best player in history”.

Career highlight
Lifting the European Cup at Wembley in 1992, a trophy that perfectly punctuated the Dream Team’s four-year spell of dominance.

Words: Alex Hess

47. Rivellino


Why are they here?
The most famous moustache in Brazilian football had an unpredictable left foot and became known for his atomic kick. He was the best Seleção player in the fantastic side that devastated opponents at Mexico 1970, and debuted the elastico dribble (or flip-flap) which involved nudging the ball to one side and then flicking it back in the other direction.

Former Italy defender Mario Bertini couldn’t see what was coming and wasn’t able to stop it in Brazil’s 4-1 1970 World Cup Final win.

Career highlight
His bomba (in English, cannon ball) free-kick breaking through the wall in Brazil's first 1970 World Cup match against Czechoslovakia.

Words: Marcus Alves

46. Juan Alberto Schiaffino

Juan Alberto Schiaffino

Why are they here?
Tall and slender, Schiaffino possessed a deft touch and sublime technical skills which made him frustratingly unpredictable for opponents. He was one of the most dominant attacking players of his era, winning four championship titles in Uruguay with Penarol, then moving to Italy and helping Milan to win three titles in five years.

His greatest achievement was undoubtedly at the 1950 World Cup – the tournament won by Uruguay against all odds.  

Career highlight
In what was technically the World Cup final, Schiaffino scored the equaliser against Brazil in 1950, helping lead Uruguay to one of the greatest sensations of all time.

Words: Michael Yokhin