Every fan has an opinion about the world's best soccer players, but nearly everyone agrees on a few players. Many of these stars play for the elite soccer teams — Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Manchester figure prominently in this list — and a few of them are already considered legends, like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. All of them contribute to the global appeal that soccer fans call the "beautiful game."
A multiyear winner of FIFA's Player of the Year Award, Lionel Messi is generally considered to be the best soccer player of all time. His ability to mesmerize defenders with a mix of skill and pace is unmatched, and it often appears as though the ball is glued to his feet. Messi led his home country, Argentina, to the 2014 World Cup final, losing 1-0 to Germany, and to the finals of the 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas. A serial winner with his club, the Barcelona star is versatile enough to play anywhere across the frontline.
Teams: Argentina, F.C. Barcelona
Team number: 10 (both teams)
Birthdate: June 24, 1987 More »
Cristiano Ronaldo is the only player who soccer fans say could be considered Messi's equal — if not superior. Ronaldo is stronger and taller than the Argentine, and his goals-to-games ratio is similar. In 2016, Ronaldo was named FIFA's Player of the Year, his fourth such honor. In fact, he and Messi have been the only two players to win that honor since 2007. Since joining Real Madrid from Manchester United in 2009, Ronaldo has been a revelation, making the world-record outlay of $131 million look less outrageous with every goal he scores. His famous stopover is imitated in parks right across the world.
Teams: Portugal, Real Madrid
Team number: 7 (both teams)
Birthdate: Feb. 5, 1985
Luis Suarez (Uruguay & Barcelona)
The Barcelona striker is not everyone’s cup of tea, but his ability is not up for debate. Luis Suarez is a master at weaving his way into the penalty box, deadly in one-on-one situations, and an excellent free-kick taker. His link-up play with teammates is of the highest order, and he is a fighter who will always give 100 percent for the cause. A penchant for conning referees remains his Achilles heel, but that did not stop Barcelona from paying Liverpool $128.5 million for the player in July 2014. Suarez quickly helped them to the treble.
Teams: Uruguay, F.C. Barcelona
Team number: 9 (both teams)
Birthdate: Jan. 24, 1987
Neymar has been playing pro soccer since he was 17, and he quickly established his bona fides in the sport. Neymar has scored more goals than Messi and Ronaldo at the same stage of their careers and has the capacity to be the very best once Messi's career begins to wind down. Alongside the Argentine and Suarez, he forms one of the best-attacking lineups in the history of the sport. In 2016, Neymar was named the captain of Brazil's soccer team at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Teams: Brazil, F.C. Barcelona
Team number: 10 (Brazil), 11 (Barcelona)
Birthdate: Feb. 5, 1992
A consummate finisher, Sergio Aguero was part of Argentina's run to the 2014 World Cup finals, where they lost to Germany. Aguero has been key in the two title wins under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, scoring that famous late winner against QPR in 2012 to seal the Premier League. Quick, with an excellent first touch and ability to bring others into play, the Argentine has few weaknesses and is arguably the best signing since Manchester City was taken over by the Abu Dhabi United group in 2008.
Teams: Argentina, Manchester City F.C.
Team number: 11 (Argentina), 10 (Manchester)
Birthdate: June 2, 1988
Hands down the best goalkeeper in the world, Manuel Neuer exudes confidence in everything he does. Bayern fans were not initially convinced when the club signed him from Schalke in 2011, but few doubters inhabit the Allianz Arena these days. Neuer is superb in one-on-one situations and capable of stunning reflex saves. He is also good technically and boasts excellent distribution. Neuer led his German national team to the 2014 World Cup title over Argentina.
Teams: Germany, F.C. Bayern Munich
Team number: 1 (both teams)
Birthdate: March 27, 1986
Gareth Bale, the Welsh attacker, is a supreme dribbler who boasts the pace and skill to beat multiple opponents. Bale is also a great finisher and capable of scoring consistently from long range. His performance in the 2016 UEFA Champions League title game win over Atlético Madrid is a career standout, as is his goal against Barcelona in the 2014 Copa del Rey final.
Teams: Wales, Real Madrid
Position: Midfield/Forward (Wales), Forward (Real Madrid)
Team number: 11 (both teams)
Birthdate: July 16, 1989
Soccer fans of all stripes agree that Andres Iniesta is one of the classiest midfielders in the game. The short, eye-of-the-needle passing he produces can pierce holes in even the most stubborn of rearguards. Iniesta is also very modest, never creating problems for his coaches. Iniesta scored the winner in the 2010 World Cup final against the Netherlands and helped Barcelona to two trebles in 2009 and 2015.
Teams: Spain, F.C. Barcelona
Team number: 6 (Spain), 8 (Barcelona)
Birthdate: May 11, 1984
Expect the unexpected with the mercurial Swede. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is perhaps the moodiest player in world soccer, but completely unplayable when on his game. Just witness his stunning overhead kick against England in 2012. "Ibra," as fans call him, has won league titles in Holland, Italy, Spain, and France with six different clubs and is something of a lucky charm for those willing to invest in his considerable talents. One of Sweden's top stars, he has won that nation's Golden Ball award for the best soccer player a record 11 times.
Teams: Sweden, Manchester United F.C.
Team number: 10 (Sweden), 9 (Manchester United)
Birthdate: Oct. 3, 1981
This winger further enhanced his glowing reputation with some impressive showings for Holland at the 2014 World Cup. Robben's deadly combination of pace and trickery is a nightmare for defenders, while he scores more goals than the average winger. Robben has been at the top of the game for 10 years now, having had stints with Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich. Injuries held him back in the 2015–16 and 2016–17 seasons, but he re-signed for the 2017–18 season with Bayern Munich.
Teams: Holland, Bayern Munich
Position: Forward (Holland), Midfielder (Bayern Munich)
Team number: 10 (both teams)
Birthdate: Jan. 23, 1984