Germany has always produced superb soccer players, with clubs throughout the German leagues producing some of the most talented and successful players ever.
The German traits of confidence, hard work, and player development have given the game some true superstars, some of the best-known names in soccer history.
West Germany is one of the most successful national teams ever, and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a reunified Germany kept on producing incredible talent.
Let’s look at 10 of the best German soccer players of all time, many of them are household names, all were habitual winners, and all dominated their opponents through skill, determination, and hard work.
10. Paul Breitner
- Position: Central Midfield
One of the most gifted players of his generation, Paul Breitner could play almost anywhere on the soccer field and still be the best player on the pitch.
He was primarily a left-back in his early days with Bayern Minich, although due to his marauding runs into midfield, Breitner was just as capable of creating a goal as he was stopping them in his own half.
One of the best players West Germany ever produced, and one of only four players ever to score in two separate World Cup Finals, the German won seven Championships with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.
Breitner was known for his formidable partnership with Franz Beckenbauer while on international duty, as well as for his midfield partnership with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge at Bayern.
A divisive figure at times, Breitner was often seen as a radical, with strong political opinions that at times caused unrest with fans and colleagues. Regardless of his opinions though, none could disagree that the player was anything other than a superb soccer player.
9. Michael Ballack
- Position: Central Midfield
Very few modern midfielders can compare with the legendary Michael Ballack, one of the most complete players of his generation, for either trophies won, or for drive and determination. An excellent distributor of the ball, Ballack was a competitive player that used his power and strength to dominate games.
Quickly identified as a rising star, the young German was snapped up by FC Kaiserslautern in 1997 and was soon a first-team regular.
A mere two years later Ballack would again move, to Bayer Leverkusen, where in 2002 the German team would have a season of “what could have been” as they finished second in the League, Cup, and Champions League.
Incredibly the national team would finish runners-up in the World Cup too, with Ballack playing in all competitions for club and country. Despite this setback, a young Ballack then moved to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, where over the next four years he would develop into a superb goalscoring midfielder.
A high-profile move to Chelsea followed in 2006, where a now mature and complete player would again show his worth, winning multiple trophies with the London club.
Wherever Michael Ballack played soccer, teams competed for the highest honors; successful with Germany on the international stage, Ballack has to go down as one of the finest midfielders ever produced.
8. Oliver Kahn
- Position: Goalkeeper
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One of the most terrifying sights for a striker bearing down on goal was to look up and see the giant Bayern Munich goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn, looming above them like an angry bear, furious that someone had the cheek to even approach his goal.
One of the most fearless, and fearsome, players of any generation, Oliver Kahn was undoubtedly one of the greatest goalkeepers soccer has ever seen.
Kahn is the only goalkeeper to ever win the Golden Ball at a World Cup Finals, in the 2002 competition in South Korea/Japan. Over a 21-year career, Khan first began in goal for Karlsruher SC, before a move to Bayern Munich in 1994.
Once at Bayern, it was the mental fortitude of the young Khan that impressed the most, mistakes didn’t bother him, the ambitious goalkeeper had the physique, stamina, and skill to become the best goalkeeper in the world.
Nicknamed “King Khan” the giant German absolutely terrified opponents, and at times teammates, who didn’t toe the line in his quest for perfection and victory.
7. Philipp Lahm
- Position: Right-Back
It is a fitting tribute to Philipp Lahm, former Germany, and Bayern Munich captain, that many of his personal awards are as part of a team of the year or team of the tournament capacity.
One of the best full-backs of all time, Lahm was so important to club and country that both made him captain.
The German was superb both on-field, and in the dressing room, and his consistency and overall quality meant that for three consecutive World Cup tournaments, Lahm made the team of the tournament. Five UEFA inclusions into the team of the year also point to just how vital a player Philipp Lahm was.
6. Thomas Müller
- Position: Attacking Midfielder
To stay ahead of the curve in the modern game a player needs to be versatile as well as talented, and Bayern Munich and Germany star Thomas Muller is up there with the very best. Widely regarded as the greatest off-the-ball player ever, Muller has a positional sense that borders on the telepathic.
Muller can play in every position from the midfield onwards and has been deployed as a winger, central midfielder, second strike, and center forward during his illustrious Bayern career.
The player is not only the most decorated German soccer player of all time, with 31 trophies, but he is also currently in the fifth position for the most international appearances for Germany.
Never the strongest player on the ball, Muller made up for this by always being in the right place, often drifting out of sight without the ball, only to appear to devastating effect when least expected.
Consistent to the point of absurdity, Thomas Muller has averaged over 44 games, and over 15 goals a season, every season since 2009.
A truly remarkable playing career, and at only 32 years of age, Muller has the potential to become one of the greatest German players of all time.
Given his consistency and the fact that his awareness and positioning make him invaluable to club and country, age may not be enough to slow the formidable German.
5. Sepp Maier
- Position: Goalkeeper
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It may come as a surprise that there are two goalkeepers in a list of the greatest German players ever given the abundance of quality players the country has produced over the years, but as any soccer fan knows, German teams are notoriously difficult to score against.
One major reason for this is the insane quality of their goalkeepers, with the likes of Oliver Kahn, and current Germany goalie, Manuel Neuer, perfect examples.
Before these superb goalkeepers though, came the formidable Sepp Maier, arguably the greatest goaltender Germany has ever produced. Maier spent 18 seasons between the sticks for Bayern Munich, and 13 years as the West German number one, winning every competition in world soccer along the way.
World Cup, European Championship, European Cups, Bundesliga, every major honor in soccer has been won by Maier in a career that can only be described as completely dominant.
Nicknamed “The cat from Anzing” due to his lightning-fast reflexes, Maier was the complete package, agile and consistent, and completely calm under pressure. A team builds confidence from the back, and with Sepp Maier in goal, Bayern Munich destroyed all opposition for over a decade.
Renowned for his sense of humor, Maier once wandered off during a game he was becoming bored in, as the opposition hadn’t been able to get anywhere near him. A random duck wandered onto the pitch, and the bored Maier promptly set off to chase it around.
Sepp Maier is, without doubt, one of the most successful players in soccer history and a yardstick by which all goalkeepers should judge themselves.
4. Miroslav Klose
- Position: Striker
Despite having a world-class domestic career, playing for such teams as Werder Bremen, Bayern Munich, and Lazio, it is for his heroics whilst wearing the German national jersey that Miroslav Klose is best remembered. And as harsh as that may be, after all, Klose scored over 200 career club goals for some of the best teams around, Germany’s top scorer of all time isn’t a bad epitaph.
For the national team, Klose has a remarkable record, having a Gold medal, a Silver medal, and twice winning a Bronze medal. Since his call up to the national team in 2001, Klose has been scoring goals, one on his debut, and in 137 appearances racked up a record 71 goals.
Having chosen to play for Germany over his country of birth, Poland, it seems that Poland’s loss was Germany’s gain.
Another aspect of Miroslav Klose’s game to be mentioned is his remarkable attitude to fair play, in a modern game besieged by diving and dishonesty, Klose stood out as a shining light, once refusing to take a penalty awarded as he felt the decision was the wrong one.
On another occasion, after accidentally scoring with his hand, Klose advised the referee of his actions, furthering his reputation as one of the most honest players around.
Honest, hardworking, and absolutely lethal in front of goal, Klose has to go down in history as one of the most prolific and successful players of all time.
3. Lothar Matthäus
- Position: Defensive Midfielder
If you’re good enough to play for the German national team for 20 straight years, you have to be good enough to make a list of the greatest German soccer players of all time, and the legend that is Lothar Matthaus is just such a player.
In a career that lasted for 21 years, Matthaus became known as the most complete midfielder in the world.
Unsurprisingly, given his 20 years in the Germany squad, Matthaus is the most capped player ever for his country with a remarkable 150 caps and holds the record for the most appearances in World Cup matches.
A Ballon d’Or winner, Matthaus spent much of his career in a free role in midfield, able to roam at will, causing havoc with his passing and technical superiority.
By the time Matthaus was in his mid-30’s, he had converted to a sweeper role for both the national team and for Bayern Munich, a role that allowed the supremely talented player to control games.
One moment covering his own penalty area, Matthaus would then be seen marauding upfield, spraying passes, or arriving into the opponents’ box.
One of the stand-out attributes that turned a player like Lothar Matthaus into one of the best players on the planet was his mentality and commitment, for while he was good at absolutely everything, he wasn’t world-class at anything.
His mental toughness, coupled with his well-rounded game, meant that Matthaus could dominate games, with many of his teammates and managers observing that while there were numerous better players around, there were no better winners than Lothar Matthaus.
2. Gerd Muller
- Position: Striker
A clinical and prolific career as a striker finds “Der Bomber”, as Gerd Muller was affectionately known, in second place on our all-time list. Muller is often cited as the greatest striker in the history of soccer, with 487 goals in 555 appearances at club level.
Ten goals in a single World Cup is an astonishing figure, yet in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, Muller won the Golden Boot for his ten goals, despite West Germany only finishing in third place.
While leading the line for Bayern Munich, Der Bomber won the Champions League for three consecutive years, as well as numerous league and cup victories.
On the international stage, Muller had an equally impressive record, scoring 68 goals in only 62 appearances. A record haul that was not surpassed for almost four decades, when fellow striker Miroslav Klose finally overtook the legendary Muller in 2014.
An unconventional-looking striker, Muller had lightning-fast pace over short distances which allowed him to shoot past opponents, or get to a loose ball first.
Deadly within the six-yard box, and incredibly agile on the turn, Gerd Muller made a career out of making the art of goalscoring look simple. And while the truth is usually very different, with a scoring record like Gerd Mullers’ perhaps he really did find it as easy as he made it look.
1. Franz Beckenbauer
- Position: Center Back
With a nickname like “The Emperor” who else could have made the number one spot their own other than Franz Beckenbauer, possibly the greatest captain in history. The first captain to have raised the World Cup, European Cup, and European Championship, Beckenbauer basically invented the role of sweeper.
Not many other players can lay claim to having created a whole new position, yet “Der Kaiser” used his incredible talent to turn what was once a defensive role into that of a libero, a central defender that moves upfield to engage in attacking duties.
So successful at his role that he was named the European Footballer of the Year twice, as well as being the only defender to win the Ballon d’Or twice too, Beckenbauer was the ultimate soccer player.
It was due to his incredible game intelligence and tactical awareness that Beckenbauer was able to make the most of his skills, moving further up the pitch to overload the midfield, always looking for a forward pass to a teammate.
A legend at Bayern Munich, Beckenbauer moved to the New York Cosmos in 1977, having several successful seasons in the United States before retiring and moving into management.
The German was equally successful in the dugout, becoming one of only three people to lift a World Cup as both player and a manager, cementing himself in German history as the greatest German player of all time.