Ranked! The 25 best British players of all time

10. Jimmy Greaves

Jimmy Greaves

Jimmy Greaves in action for England (Image credit: Getty)

English football will probably never see another striker like Jimmy Greaves; the Spurs and Chelsea legend chalked up a record 357 top-flight goals and finished as First Division top scorer no fewer than six times.

Injury during the group stage meant he lost his place to Geoff Hurst at the 1966 World Cup – not featuring in the final and not even receiving a winners’ medal until a FIFA rule change 2009 – but he remains one of the Three Lions’ most efficient scorers with 44 goals in 57 caps.

9. Wayne Rooney

Portugal: England's forward Wayne Rooney (L) reacts after his goal in front of Switzerland's midfielder Christoph Spycher, 17 June 2004 at Coimbra's stadium, during their Euro 2004 group B football match at the European Nations championship in Portugal.

Wayne Rooney reacts after his goal against Switzerland (Image credit: PAUL BARKER/AFP via Getty Images)

When Rooney burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old with his now iconic last-minute winner for Everton against Arsenal, it felt as though English football had just been introduced to someone very special indeed.   

And so it proved as he went on to become record scorer for Manchester United – scoring some more of the Premier League’s most memorable goals in the process (who could forget his outrageous Manchester-derby winning overhead kick or thumping volley against Newcastle?) – and England, both of whom he captained.

8. John Charles

John Charles is held aloft by supporters after he led his team Juventus to victory in the Italian Cup at Turin.

John Charles is held aloft by supporters after he led his team Juventus to victory in the Italian Cup at Turin (Image credit: Keystone/Getty Images)

How good was the Gentle Giant? Well, England legend Billy Wright was once asked to name the best centre-forward he’d faced. He said John Charles. Nat Lofthouse was asked to name the best centre-back he’d faced. He said John Charles.

As Bobby Robson put it, no other player has been world-class in two positions, but Charles – “a team unto himself”, in Jack Charlton’s words – managed it. In attack, he politely bullied defenders and had two great feet competing in a three-way Golden Boot race with his head. Wales reached the 1958 World Cup quarter-finals and could’ve gone further had Charles not been hacked to pieces by defenders. From 1957 to 1962, his Ballon d’Or placings read: 6th, 4th, 3rd, 7th, 8th, 8th. Decent pipes, too.

7. Graeme Souness

Graeme Souness

Graeme Souness in action for Liverpool (Image credit: Getty)

Younger supporters might know Graeme Souness better for his hard-hitting opinions as a TV pundit, but there was no denying his class as a midfielder. 

Hard as nails he may have been, but shouldn’t overshadow his ability to dictate play – not least for the great Liverpool team of the 1980s. 

His 54 caps for Scotland included appearances at three World Cups, with three European Cups to his name.

6. Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale of Wales during the UEFA Nations League League A Group 4 match between Wales and Poland at Cardiff City Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Cardiff, Wales.

Gareth Bale in action against Poland (Image credit: Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Leading Cymru to only their second World Cup takes Bale to No.1 of the Welsh. Or maybe it’s his record-breaking 38 Wales goals, his five players’ awards within three years at Spurs, or five Champions League triumphs with Real Madrid. All right, four meaningful ones. ‘Just’ four.

As a tearaway tearing away down the left, an unstoppable worldie-merchant cutting in from the right, and finally an inspirational captain dominating through the middle, Bale has consistently put in match-winning performances in the biggest games, up to a World Cup play-off brace featuring his seventh international free-kick goal. 

He has two Champions League Final winners, including – sorry, Zinedine – the best goal ever seen in a European Cup showpiece, and won a Copa del Rey Clasico Final with a mesmerising run through Barcelona’s technical area. He’d scored virtually the same goal against Iceland six weeks earlier. 

5. Denis Law

Denis Law

Denis Law during his Manchester City days (Image credit: Getty)

The Lawman is the only Scot to have ever won the Ballon d’Or (1964) and is joint-top scorer with Kenny Dalglish for the national team.

Impressively, he scored his 30 goals in just 52 international appearances – and had a welcome knack for scoring against the Auld Enemy. Dennis Bergkamp would reveal that he was named after the Aberdonian, with a Dutch registrar refusing to accept one ‘n’ in Denis. 

4. Bobby Moore

Bobby Moore England 1970

Bobby Moore at the 1970 World Cup (Image credit: Getty Images)

England’s World Cup-winning captain, Moore was an absolute Rolls-Royce of a player – with his prowess at the back summed up by Pele calling him the greatest defender he ever faced.

The first footballer to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year, his name will forever be etched into the history of the national team and West Ham – with whom he spent 16 years, captaining them to FA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup success in 1964 and 1965 respectively.

3. Bobby Charlton

England top scorers

Bobby Charlton pictured in the 1950s (Image credit: Getty)

“Nobody embodies the values of Manchester United better than Sir Bobby Charlton,” notes the club’s official website about one of the ‘Busby Babes’ – who, having survived the horror of the Munich Air Disaster, became a legend on the domestic, European and international stages.

A winner of three First Division titles, the European Cup (as United became the first English team to triumph in the competition in 1968) and – of course – the 1966 World Cup, his name will forever be synonymous with the English game.

2. Kenny Dalglish

England vs Scotland

Kenny Dalglish in action against England (Image credit: PA Images)

Known simply as ‘King Kenny’ north of the border, you won’t find many who will dispute his ranking as top Scot.

Dalglish is Scotland’s most capped player (102) and top scorer (30), and can look back with pride at representing his country at three World Cups. He is a living legend at Celtic Park and Anfield – with three European Cups and enough domestic honours to fill a few mantlepieces – but that hardly does the man justice. 

Following the Hillsborough tragedy, he took so much on his shoulders to care for a club and a community. Iconic is, at times, an overused word in football. Kenny Dalglish is iconic.  

1. George Best

George Best

George Best while playing for Northern Ireland (Image credit: Getty)

It really couldn’t have been anyone else, could it? “Maradona good, Pele better, George Best,” as the Northern Irish locals to say about the footballing icon.

Whether he was better than Diego Maradona and Pele remains to be seen, but there was no doubting that Best possessed the ability of both. Criminally, Best was only capped 37 times for Northern Ireland, scoring nine times, and is considered one of the best players never to feature at a World Cup.

Considered one of the most talented players to ever play the game, Best won the Ballon d'Or, the European Cup and is immortalised outside Old Trafford alongside Law and Charlton. 

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Tom Hancock started freelancing for FourFourTwo in April 2019 and has also written for The Analyst and When Saturday Comes, among others. He supports Wycombe Wanderers and has a soft spot for Wealdstone. A self-confessed statto, he has been known to watch football with a spreadsheet (or several) open...

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