The 5 Golden Boys of Football: The Most Important Players to Ever Grace the Game

The 5 Best Football Players in History

The recent passing of Johan Cruyff, one of the greatest football players ever to grace the game, left a massive hole in the sport. Here, Green Beans take a look back through footballing history, taking you through the key generations which saw certain players take the sport to a new level. Here are the 5 Golden Boys of Football...

1950s - Alfredo Di Stéfano

Regarded by many as the most complete footballer to ever play the game, Alfredo Di Stéfano was an Argentinian goal machine who made a very successful name for himself at Real Madrid.

Di Stéfano helped put Real Madrid on the football map, scoring 216 goals in just 282 appearances for the club. It's hard to imagine Real Madrid being the powerhouse they are today without the influence of their greatest ever player. Over half of their European Cup triumphs came in the Di Stéfano era.

1960s - Pelé

Voted the greatest player to ever play the game, Pelé was a true football magician, who influenced some of the greatest teams.

Enjoying the peak of his career with Santos in the 60s, Pelé became the youngest ever player to score in a world cup final. Pelé is still the only man to lift three world cups, with his final one being at the heart of the greatest ever team in the 1970 final. Brazil are regarded as the most successful international team, and much of that success is down to their greatest ever player.

1970s - Johan Cruyff

Blessed with unique skill and one of the most intelligent football minds, Johan Cruyff took football to a whole new level by implementing 'total football'.

The Dutch masterclass, Johan Cruyff, enjoyed three consecutive European Cups with the unfancied Ajax in the 70s, along with a world cup final with Holland, which they really should have won. Cruyff carried this new brand of football forward into his coaching career where he rebranded Barcelona's whole philosophy of playing football. The recent success of Barcelona would not have been achieved without Johan Cruyff's influence.

1980s - Diego Maradona

Where Cruyff and Pele influenced and lead great teams to success, the world saw its first global 'solo' superstar in the 1980s - Diego Maradona.

The Argentina forward was small, but ever so gifted, able to take on three or four players before scoring a goal - as England found out in the 1986 world cup. Argentina of 1986 were not the best team of that tournament, but Maradona was by far the best player. This was the era that saw one man carry a team - a feat that hadn't, and will never be achieved again.

1990s - Zinedine Zidane

Just when we thought we'd seen it all, along came a Frenchman that would revive the sleeping giant and take France to new heights - Zinedine Zidane.

Bought by Real Madrid from Juventus, for a then world record fee, Zidane proved to be worth every penny. Zidane scored the greatest Champions League final goal of all time with his sublime weaker foot volley in the 2-1 win over Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Zidane also helped France win the world cup for the first time in their history, scoring two goals in the 1998 final, and then following it up with a masterclass performance at Euro 2000, pushing France to another trophy. Zidane won every trophy imaginable, and was voted world player of the year three times.

Who is next?

We've seen some terrific players during and since the Zidane era, such as Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but are any of these players worthy of turning the Golden 5 into the Golden 6? Players can only truly be judged at the end of their career. Maradona won a world cup single-handily, which Messi and Ronaldo have both failed to do.  Ronaldinho did win a world cup, but you could argue he wasn't the main influence of the 2002 success, in the same way Pele and Zidane were in their successes. Also, have any of the current batch of players influenced the sport as much as Cruyff did over two generations?

So, the debate goes on, but there's still plenty of football to be played until Ronaldo and Messi hang up their boots, and so plenty of history is yet to be written...

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