Skip to Content

20 Best Soccer Midfielders of All Time | Epic Showdown

Strikers might get a lot of notoriety, but midfielders are just as important on the soccer field. Some of the most memorable names in the game have been midfielders, and they can really help to dictate the game overall. These are the 20 best to play in the midfield at least at some point in their career.

20. Ryan Giggs

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.27
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.17

The Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs had a very impressive career in the Premier League. With an incredible 13 Premier League titles, no player has won more than him.

His transformation mid-career allowed him to play multiple positions, and he finished as a strong holding midfielder. When the game is on the line, teams rely on him.

19. Michael Laudrup

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.04
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.23

What stood out for Michael Laudrup as a player was his outstanding dribbling when moving the ball forward. He was very precise with his dribbling and rarely turned the ball over.

He created many scoring opportunities for his team, and he is one of the few guys who made a real impact on both Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.

18. Johan Cruyff

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.27
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.52

The play of Johan Cruyff is still talked about to this day, even if he has been out of the game for over 35 years. He was a true attacking midfielder who also played forward for Ajax and Barcelona at the club level, and the Netherlands at the international level.

His skill was so much ahead of everyone else, and he was not afraid to take chances that teams encourage players to take in today’s game.

17. Kante

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.06
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.06

Still, very much in the middle of his prime, Kante has a chance to move up this list. He is a dynamic central midfielder who does not score much, but he can create opportunities for his team and do little things to make it work.

The crazy thing is that he is a pretty late bloomer as far as soccer players are concerned. While most are already established by the time they are 20, he did not get to the upper leagues until he was in his early 20s.

16. Frank Lampard

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.20
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.30

As a memorable star for Chelsea, fans will remember everything he was able to accomplish during his career.

He also finished with over 100 caps for the English national team, making him one of his generation’s best overall soccer players. Lampard did not have one special skill, but he was well-rounded and capable of controlling games in various ways.

15. Ronaldinho

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.30
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.36

For better or worse, Ronaldinho is remembered as a flashy player who went viral for his moves before becoming a routine thing online.

He had all the moves a person could ask for, but he was also a productive player at the club and international level. Brazil was able to do well in the World Cup with him on the squad, and he played disciplined enough to help club teams win as well.

A complete midfielder capable of moving all over the field, he is without question worthy of making a list like this. Getting in open spaces and creating was his specialty.

14. Kevin De Bruyne

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.39
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.23

The workman-like play of the Belgian has really helped his teams reach success throughout his career. He does not necessarily dominate the headlines with his play, but he gets the job done so the teams are in a position to pull out the victory.

A lot of people underestimate what he can do on the pitch, and his ability to create distance from defenders can open up opportunities for himself or others on the team to score. Some view him as the perfect type of system player for the teams he is on.

13. David Beckham

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.28
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.18

People worldwide are still pretty familiar with what David Beckham looks like, but they might not really know just how good of a player he was. He has been retired for a while now, but there are plenty of people who consider him one of the best to ever play midfielder.

Not only was he outstanding from a passing and creative perspective, but his free kicks were a thing of legend. In fact, that is one of the main reasons why there is a movie titled “Bend it Like Beckham”.

12. Cesc Fabregas

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.29
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.17

Cesc Fabregas played for some of the most storied club teams in the world. His ability to help any type of roster is one reason he was able to have so much success. This is a guy who was content being a playmaker for some clubs, while taking on more of a goal-scoring role with others.

With a few years left in his career, Fabregas still has a few things to prove. Maybe he will move up this list a spot or two, especially if he can have some individual success.

11. Kaka

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.28
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.30

Whether it was scoring anywhere from the pitch or creating offense for others, Kaka was one of the best midfielders of his generation. He spent the prime of his club career with AC Milan, and they were able to achieve quite a bit of success.

He also starred for the Brazilian national team and became one of the most recognizable players in the world fairly quickly. Despite all of his accolades, many consider him one of the most overlooked players since so many other Brazilians steal the spotlight.

10. Zico

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.04
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.59

Not only was he an extremely versatile midfielder in the 1970s and 1980s, but he evolved into one of the best free kickers around as well.

His ability to curve the ball in ways that through defenders made him extremely valuable for teams to turn to. He holds the record for most professional free-kick goals with 101.

9. Frank Rijkaard

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.09
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.18

Whether it was starring for the Netherlands or his two main club teams Ajax and Milan, Frank Rijkaard always found a way to create opportunities for his teammates. He was a defensive-minded midfielder who was not afraid to get physical when playing all around the pitch.

He was an intelligent decision-maker who rarely found himself out of position, and he was able to help his team take home plenty of hardware because of that.

If needed, there were opportunities for Rijkaard to play attacking midfielder or even as a second striker. Many players on this list are pretty small, but at 6’3 tall and strong, he was a matchup nightmare for a lot of opponents.

8. Luka Modric

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.18
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.11

Croatia made an exciting run all the way to the World Cup final in 2018, and Luca Modric played a huge role in achieving that level of success. He is a team-oriented midfielder who can create offense in various ways, and even though he is getting up there in age, he is still performing at a high level in a major league.

Modric is never going to outmatch his opponent physically, but he makes up for it with brains on the pitch to make it very difficult for teams to ever predict exactly what he is doing. He is also deceptively quick and makes purposeful moves all the time.

7. Paul Scholes

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.10
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.21

Right behind Girard is another classic English player in Paul Scholes. He was known mostly for being one of the most technical players of his generation, and his passing is still without many rivals. Overall, he was a very cerebral type of player and made a smooth transition from a striker in his early days to play midfielder.

Perhaps the most telling of everything is that he is one of the most respected players of a generation. All the greats who played with or against him felt like he did whatever it took to create opportunities for his teammates. He is one of the best all-around teammates anyone can find.

6. Steven Gerrard

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.21
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.26

The greatest midfielder in England’s long history of soccer is Steven Gerrard. He spent almost his entire professional career with Liverpool and finished with 114 caps for the English national team.

He had outstanding versatility on the pitch, working hard from box to box to create opportunities. He also had some of the best striking ability on any team he suited up for.

5. Andrea Pirlo

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.16
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.10

Pirlo was not the fastest, the strongest, or even the most talented when looking at his physical attributes. He was able to make up for all of that by being a very tactical defender who created opportunities by thinking the game through.

He had an outstanding vision when creating offense, and his anticipation a second to none. Teams could not figure out a way to slow him down when starting for Milan, Juventus, or the Italian national team, for that matter.

4. Iniesta

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.21
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.10

As his career finishes up, Iniesta belongs near the top of his list as one of the best midfielders the game has ever seen. A true quintessential midfielder, he was the captain in Barcelona for three seasons.

His outstanding ball control allowed him to become a great attacker, and he relied on precision and technique to make up for being overmatched at times due to his shorter stature.

3. Xavi

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.25
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.13

The most outstanding skill for Xavi was his ability to make use of open space. He was an outstanding playmaker during his prime, and he was able to stay solid even later in his career as someone who could set up some of the more talented players to score goals for Barcelona or Spain.

2. Zinedine Zidane

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.19
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.19

Known by many as the greatest French soccer player of all time, he has now turned into a very successful manager as well. During his prime, no one was a better tactical midfielder than Zidane.

His exploits in his final World Cup sullied his reputation a bit, but people still remember him for his leadership skills in the middle of the field.

1. Maradona

  • Average Assists Per Game: 0.09
  • Average Goals Per Game: 0.46

Some people stand by Maradona not just being the best midfielder ever, but one of the greatest soccer player of all time.

Whether it is his club-level success or his way of leading Argentina to a World Cup title, he was able to accomplish pretty much everything. He was simply a magician with the ball, capable of doing anything on the pitch to help his team win.

Best Soccer Players Ever on Other Positions:

For more midfielder rankings, check out the article on ESPN ranking the top 100 central midfielders:

FC 100 best men’s soccer central midfielders, 2022-23 – ESPN
Jul 4, 2023 Midfielders are tasked with action; that is, they’re the ones who translate the solid geometry of their defenders into the multidirectional …