Italian soccer has always been steeped in romanticism and nostalgia, especially when it comes to its soccer players. No other soccer-playing nation can boast as many former players that are still as revered today as when they were playing as Italy does.
Some of the greatest teams, including some of the most fascinating players, have given Italian soccer an unrivaled place in fans’ hearts.
Our list includes players of several eras, yet all have one thing in common, they played the game as it should be played; with artistry, passion, and a drive to win that has them stand out above the rest.
With so many to choose from, selecting a final list is almost impossible, trying to quantify influence, success, skill, and fame is a tough task.
Let’s look at who made the final cut in our list of the 10 best Italian soccer players of all time.
10. Paolo Rossi
- Position: Striker
- Appearances: 340
- Goals: 134
- Assists: 14
World Cup hero Paolo Rossi may not have appeared to be the most prolific club player around, but on the international stage, the Juventus and Milan striker became an Italian legend. Rossi not only won the 1982 World Cup with Italy, but his six goals also meant he won the Golden boot, as well as the Golden Ball for being the tournament’s best player.
For his World Cup exploits, Rossi also won the coveted Ballon d’Or, the award for the European footballer of the Year, making him the only player in history to hold all four awards in the same year. The lift that winning the World Cup gave to Italy as a whole cannot be overstated, and due to his incredible goalscoring record, Rossi was at the very heart of the celebrations.
An excellent player, and with a long and successful career, Rossi will forever be tied to the 1982 World Cup in the hearts of Italians. With a career haul at Juventus of two Serie A, a European Cup, a Cup Winner’s Cup, and a UEFA Super Cup, Paolo Rossi can look back on his life in soccer with a sense of achievement.
9. Marco Verratti
- Position: Midfielder (CM)
- Appearances: 457
- Goals: 13
- Assists: 71
If it wasn’t for the remarkable Gianluigi Buffon still playing soccer at the ripe old age of 44 (and targeting a 2026 World Cup!) Marco Verratti would be the only player on our list currently playing soccer. And at the peak of his powers, the Paris Saint-Germain midfield general is one of the best players on the planet.
Touted as a future star while at Pescara, Verratti’s move to PSG in 2012 raised quite a few eyebrows, but a decade on, the midfielder has proven to be an excellent purchase. Verratti plays in a central midfield role, dictating play, and holding up the ball brilliantly.
There have been several comparisons between Verratti and fellow Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo, and given the importance, Marco Verratti has to PSG, the praise may not be far from the mark.
A move to a deeper role has suited the Italian midfielder’s game enormously, close control skills, almost impossible to dispossess, and an eye for a long-range pass makes Verratti stand out, even in a team of superstars.
So important is he to his French club that when out of the team through injury, the loss of cohesion and stability is noticeable. With several years left of his career, it looks like Marco Verratti can only get better with age.
8. Giorgio Chiellini
- Position: Defender (CB)
- Appearances: 665
- Goals: 43
- Assists: 27
One of the greatest defenders of the modern era, and quite possibly one of the greatest of any era, Giorgio Chiellini enjoyed a stellar career spanning almost 22 years. A reputation as a superb man-marker and an aggressive style of play that dominated opponents puts Chiellini right at the top of his profession.
Consistent and able to play in either a three or four-man back line, Chiellini played for Italy 117 times, and 425 times for Juventus. Always one of the first names on the team sheet, Chiellini commanded respect, and got it, thanks to his near-mystical defending abilities.
Combative and possessing incredible timing, just the sight of Chiellini bearing down on a striker would invariably lead to panic. Giorgio Chiellini had every attribute needed to be a top-class defender and made full use of each, reaching a level of skill that bordered on psychic as he always found himself right where he needed to be.
7. Gianluigi Buffon
- Position: Goalkeeper
- Appearances: 953
- Goals Conceded: 801
- Clean Sheets: 424
Gianluigi Buffon, born in 1978, is still pulling on his goalkeeping gloves at the ever-young age of 44 for Parma in the Serie B of Italian soccer. After returning to the club where his career first started back in 1995, Buffon claims he will still be playing professional soccer at the age of 50.
Given that the legendary Italian goalkeeper still looks agile enough to keep his detractors quiet, he could very well do it too. When Buffon finally does hang up his gloves, however, the soccer world will rightly celebrate the career of quite simply the greatest Italian goalkeeper of all time.
With domestic and international honors that would fill a phone book and a list of personal honors that may well fill two books, Buffon is one of the most successful players in soccer history. Having played in a record five consecutive World Cups, Buffon is the most capped Italian player in history, with 176 caps.
Another record Buffon holds is the most appearances in the Serie A, with an astounding 657, his nearest rival who is still actively playing soccer is 107 appearances behind the great goalkeeper.
The list could go on, but suffice it to say no list of great Italian soccer players would ever be complete without its number one goalkeeper.
6. Franco Baresi
- Position: Defender (Sweeper)
- Appearances: 715
- Goals: 33
- Assists: 24
There’s something special about a one-club man, it speaks of loyalty and a love for the club, but when that man happens to be Franco Baresi, things get even better. Making his debut for AC Milan in 1977 as a 17-year-old, Baresi spent the next 20 years marshaling one of the greatest defenses world soccer has ever seen.
With fellow defenders, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, and Mauro Tassotti, Baresi and his teammates dominated Italian soccer from the late 1980s until the mid-1990s. In part, this was due to the influx of funds by owner Silvio Berlusconi, but the main reason was the truly outstanding players Milan already had, Baresi and Maldini in particular.
Blessed with every attribute a defender needed, Baresi had pace, skill, intelligence, ruthlessness, and incredible strength and stamina. Not the tallest player around, Baresi made up for his one shortcoming by being simply superb at everything else. A colossus of a defender, and the blueprint for every other player to follow.
5. Francisco Totti
- Position: Forward (CF)
- Appearances: 784
- Goals: 307
- Assists: 186
Rome, one of the great capital cities of the world, is home to some of history’s most incredible monuments, from the Colosseum to St Peter’s Basilica. Ancient Romans believed in many gods, and modern Romans believe in Francesco Totti. Another one-club man, the golden boy of AS Roma spent his entire 25-year career bringing the Roma faithful to their feet.
So famous and beloved was Totti that he was unable to even leave his house and walk the streets. Unlike many visitors to the eternal city who spent time sightseeing and marveling at the city’s rich history, Totti would be mobbed by adoring fans the second he left his home. With nicknames like “The Golden Boy” and “The Eighth King Of Rome”, Totti was an attacking midfielder without peer.
It’s hard to put into words just how important to Roma Totti was for over two decades, at times carrying the team single-handedly, the temperamental and at times unplayable number 10 was one of the best players on the planet for over a decade.
Refusing to move to another club only endeared Totti to the fans even more. Roma fans’ hearts were broken forever when Totti retired in 2017.
4. Andrea Pirlo
- Position: Midfielder (CM)
- Appearances: 755
- Goals: 73
- Assists: 126
If you were forced to give two words to best describe the mercurial Andrea Pirlo, it could well be understated elegance. One of the finest passers of the ball ever to grace Italian soccer, Pirlo played for some of the best teams in Italy in AC Milan and Juventus, and over a 22-year career, won absolutely everything.
Hailed as a “genius” by fellow professionals, including the late, great Johan Cruyff, Pirlo never looked flustered and always seemed to find the perfect pass. A free-kick specialist, the Italian deep-lying playmaker performed like a quarterback, spraying passes to teammates with an accuracy almost unheard of.
Pirlo was soo good at soccer that it is difficult to think of another player that occupied the same position that was even close to being as important as Pirlo. After starting as an attacking midfielder, Pirlo was eventually dropped deeper due to a lack of pace, something he more than made up for with his creativity and skill.
Unable to beat a player for pace, Pirlo simply out-thought and out-played opponents, making the ball do all the running and making the game look effortless.
3. Alessandro del Piero
- Position: Forward (CF)
- Appearances: 775
- Goals: 315
- Assists: 172
Finishing the second-highest scoring Italian in all competitions, it is safe to say that Alessandro del Piero knew how to score goals. And not just any goals, with many of the prolific striker’s goals being spectacular.
A free-kick specialist, del Piero combined skill, flair, and creativity, setting up almost as many goals for others as he scored for himself.
Alessandro del Piero is often held up as the highest standard for Italian players to strive for, as the intelligent del Piero could play in any attacking position and make it look easy.
Serious injuries throughout his career certainly impacted the players’ record, which makes his goalscoring exploits, 462 career goals, even more impressive.
After suffering so many injuries, del Piero changed his game to play in a deeper position, creating more than he scored, but still being vital to the team as a whole. Even with his knee problems, a 23-year career shows how determined and resilient the Italian was, with a career most people can only dream of.
The only question left after del Piero retired was just how much better would he have been with two good knees?
2. Paolo Maldini
- Position: Defender (CB)
- Appearances: 900
- Goals: 33
- Assists: 43
Italian soccer has always produced the best defenders in the world thanks to a system called catenaccio, with its huge emphasis on defensive soccer, leading to some of the most astute
and talented defenders in soccer. Of all the great Italian defenders, Paolo Maldini stands head and shoulders above the rest, one of the most successful and celebrated players Italy has ever produced.
Another member of the one-club brigade, Maldini spent his entire 25-year career bossing the defense of AC Milan, with an astonishing 902 career appearances in all competitions. For the majority of his career, Maldini played at left-back, although being as versatile as he was, the Italian could play in any defensive position.
Although a superb defender, Maldini may be as well-known for his leadership qualities, rarely ruffled, always in the right place at the right time, Maldini exuded confidence, which allowed his teammates to provide the attacking threat needed. In his 902 AC Milan appearances and his over 1000 appearances overall, Maldini only received three red cards in his entire career.
Preferring to simply take the ball rather than try a rash challenge, Maldini had such excellent reading of the game that strikers often only spotted Maldini when he had already dispossessed them of the ball. Described as one of the true gentlemen of world soccer, it’s unlikely we will see a player of his caliber again.
1. Roberto Baggio
- Position: Forward (CF)
- Appearances: 603
- Goals: 277
- Assists: 140
There have been very few playmakers in soccer who have captured the imagination or heart of fans in quite the same way that the legendary Roberto Baggio has. Dubbed ”the Divine Ponytail”, Baggio is one of the most revered, and recognizable, players in Italian history.
After a serious injury threatened to destroy his career at an early age, Baggio converted to Buddhism and leaned heavily on his faith throughout his injury-laden career. One of the most gifted and enigmatic players ever, after coming fourth in a 1999 FIFA Player of the Century poll, Baggio was voted the Italian player of the century in 2000.
Almost every player, manager, opponent, and fan, all seem to agree that Roberto Baggio was an artist in the truest sense of the word, a player so gifted that at times he was unplayable. Even opposing fans would cheer his name during games, such was the universal admiration for the skilled attacker.
A career that encompassed teams such as Vicenza, Fiorentina, Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Bologna, and Brescia, meant that many teams felt they had a claim to the player, further cementing the sense that Baggio was a player for all Italians. Loved wherever he played even throughout his numerous injuries, Baggio scored goals on every team he played in.
Arguably the greatest ever second striker in world soccer, Baggio scored outrageous goals, created chances for teammates that no one else had seen, and passed and crossed a ball like a genius. No other player could be in the number one spot on our list, not only for sheer outrageous skill but for the near god-like status Baggio is accorded in his home nation.
The love and affection that Italian soccer fans specifically, and world soccer fans in general, give to this truly outstanding soccer player, is a testament to his personality and his career as a whole.