In the first era of football to have captured global audiences on weekly bases with every major or at least professional match covered across the world, we’ve been blessed to have witnessed a whole host of the game’s greatest ever players play at their peaks.
Here are eight of the best players who will leave an undeniable legacy on football.
Sure, Neymar’s legacy remains muddied and it may never be cleared, but it’s a legacy nonetheless.
Brazil’s second-most prolific player of all time (just six goals behind Pele for the national team, which is no easy feat) is the closest thing this generation has to Ronaldinho, but comparisons with the 2002 World Cup and 2005 Ballon d’Or winner haven’t helped.
Nevertheless, Neymar almost singlehandedly won Santos the Copa Libertadores, formed a formidable attacking trio with Barcelona’s 2015 Champions League-winning side and will likely be football’s most expensive player ever for years to come. Not too shabby.
Neymar’s PSG co-star Kylian Mbappe is leading quite a career, too.
The forward was arguably the best player on France’s World Cup-winning team of 2018 while still a teenager, has his own exclusive clothing line with Nike and a unique celebration to boot.
Still only 23, Mbappe is a pretty safe bet to win multiple Ballons d’Or in the future providing he stays healthy, but even if he were to retire today he would go down as one of the greats.
While Neymar and Mbappe have Ballon d’Or dreams, one man to have already claimed it is Real Madrid legend Luka Modric.
The Croatian famously broke Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s duopoly back in 2018 after leading his country to their first ever World Cup final.
Modric has recently been getting plenty of credit as an all-time Champions League great – something unimaginable when he was voted as La Liga’s worst signing during the 2012/13 season – but he also has plenty of retroactive admirers from his Premier League days, often being the unsung hero next to Gareth Bale.
A former teammate of Modric’s, Sergio Ramos must have the greatest collection of clutch goals in football history – and he’s a defender!
Ramos’ resilience and big-game record epitomised the Real Madrid sides of the 2010s. It’s ridiculously unlike that another centre-back comes along and has more pivotal title-swinging and history-altering moments than the Spaniard.
In some ways, Giorgio Chiellini is almost the anti-Ramos.
The Italian has scored less than half of the Spanish’s total career goals, but has made himself one of the defining defenders of his generation because of his actual defending instead.
Chiellini is the poster-boy of the dark arts – ‘it is in the history of the Tott-en-ham’ and all that – and while he’s won a gazillion honours at club level with Juventus, his crowning glory came at Euro 2020, leading from the back as Italy became champions of Europe.
Manuel Neuer might not have been the first goalkeeper to act as a sweeper or to be adept with the ball at his feet, but he is certainly the one who perfected it.
The Bayern Munich legend played with a personality that we hadn’t seen from a goalkeeper since Peter Schmeichel, a truly unique and commanding presence.
While obviously a massively successful player, Neuer is also one of the only goalkeepers in history to have multiple (as in probably hundreds) of pictures of him standing on his own halfway line or in the opposition’s half during a match.
Obviously he was going to be on this list.
You can take any of Ronaldo’s ludicrous stats or umpteen honours from his career to make the case that his legacy is undeniable, but probably the greatest point you can use is that he is officially football’s leading scorer in the history of the game.
Unless Lionel Messi managed to rediscover his form and play until he’s 50, that’s not a record getting broken again anytime soon. Speaking of which…
Messi and Ronaldo didn’t just dominate their generation, they owned it.
To compare other players – even really, really, really good ones – to them was blasphemous. To compare future players to them will be, too.
They stand alone as record-setters, trailblazers and ultimately, winners.
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