As the most popular sport in the world, soccer fans gravitate toward certain players. Whether they play for their favorite team, their favorite country, or both, popularity goes to another level when players reach top-level fame.
Who are the 10 most popular soccer players of all time? These 10 all received worldwide love. A lot of that is due to their ability on the pitch. However, it takes more than pure skill to become an all-time popular player. These athletes appeal to the masses in numerous other ways.
10. George Best
The Northern Irish soccer player became a beloved figure out when he starred for Manchester United from 1963 to 1974. He was known for being one of the most skilled wingers of his time, and many still consider him one of the best to suit up for the club.
Best also played for Northern Ireland in national team competitions, but the size of the country never really gave that much of a chance to compete with the best of the best.
Suffering from alcoholism for most of his life, the issue would plague him for quite a while. He was forced to have a liver transplant in the early 2000s, but he passed away in 2005.
When he passed away, tributes were coming from all over the world for one of the most flamboyant players to ever suit up.
Kaka did not have the longest prime, but he was a star player for Brazil and AC Milan at his peak. This is a guy who was very loved by not only the Brazilian community, but every single franchise he played with.
Even at the tail end of his career with the Orlando City Lions, he ushered in a new era for the expansion franchise.
Kaka is considered one of the nicest soccer players to ever play the game. His peers have nothing to say poorly about him.
Getting a chance to start his career and Brazil was great, but his stints with AC Milan and Real Madrid solidified him as an international star.
8. Ronaldo (R9)
As time goes on, Ronaldo might be one of the most underappreciated stars in soccer history. Modern fans might not even realize that he is the original Ronaldo, standing out as a star player for the Brazilian national team as well as clubs like PSV, Barcelona, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid.
A two-time World Cup champion, Ronaldo has a legacy for his complete skill set at the forward position. He could put goals in the back of the net, but he also had outstanding passing and vision.
7. Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane had one of those truly standout careers as a soccer player for the French national team as well as clubs like Bordeaux, Juventus, and Real Madrid.
However, despite all of his honors, casual fans might remember him for his head butt in the 2006 World Cup final. France went on to lose that final to Italy, but people still respected his play and even condoned his reaction in a lot of ways.
These days, Zidane continues to stay in the limelight thanks to his budding coaching career. He’s had two different stints as the manager for Real Madrid, winning Best FIFA Men’s Coach in 2017.
6. David Beckham
A lot of people look at David Beckham as more of a pop culture and style icon rather than a soccer player. However, during his prime, he was one of the best for England and his club teams.
Beckham gained popularity that crossed beyond sports when he married one of the Spice Girls. Victoria and David Beckham became a power couple in every sense of the word.
His play with steady enough that people still loved him as a player, but he became much more than that after the marriage.
He was never able to lead England to major glory, but he was the face of the country for a while. Even to this day, he’s one of the most memorable players in the country’s history.
Ronaldinho gained the reputation as one of the most popular players in soccer history thanks to his flamboyant style of ball control. He was one of the flashiest players ever during his prime, but also found ways to be very productive at the highest level.
He might not be the very best Brazilian player ever, but he’s a memorable standout who isn’t going away anytime soon in lore. His star started to grow during the early stages of the internet as several of his skill moves went viral.
4. Diego Maradona
The first modern-era star for Argentina was Diego Maradona. He became one of the most famous people ever from the country when he led them to a World Cup victory in the 1980s.
To this day, there are plenty of people who believe that Maradona is the best player to ever play soccer. He tragically passed away a couple of years ago, and fans worldwide mourned his death.
Maradona’s style of player is what endeared him to fans. He could create space as an attacking midfielder or second striker. His smaller size allowed him to have incredible control when dribbling the ball.
3. Lionel Messi
Despite being one of the very best players in soccer history, there is a bit of an underdog story with Lionel Messi as well. He is a diminutive player from Argentina who has found club and international success.
There’s nothing left for him to prove, although some people would love to see him win a World Cup for his country.
He’s not as flashing or as outspoken as Cristiano Ronaldo, but the two will always be compared to each other since they are virtually the same age.
It’s fine to be fans of both players, but usually, people pick one or the other. Messi’s magic in traffic allows him to be one of the most creative soccer players in history.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
A superstar for Portugal and any club team he plays on, Cristiano Ronaldo has a ton of fans worldwide. He’s been able to find individual and team success, which is always going to raise the profile of a player.
He might be one of the more polarizing players to make this list, but the fans certainly outweigh the negatives. Ronaldo has plenty of fans, but some believe that their favorite player is vastly superior to him. Namely, Lionel Messi fans.
Anytime a star player spends time on Manchester United and Real Madrid, they are going to get plenty of recognition.
He’s also a five-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner with an Instagram following of 473 Million (most in the world). The blend of skill and popularity is hard to top.
Even non-soccer fans have probably heard about Pele at some point in their life. He is a historical support figure that transcends athletics.
While he is a beloved former player in Brazil, everyone else around the world seems to have an appreciation for what he was able to accomplish.
One of the great things about Pele is that he was such a popular player that he even came to the United States late in his career and made soccer popular.
It was the first time in United States history that the sport took off. Suiting up for the New York Cosmos for just three years, he made soccer a sport worth watching in the 1970s.
Honors for Pele include three World Cups, as well as a slew of trophies for Santos in Brazil. He was also recognized as the FIFA Co-Player of the Century with Maradona.
Does Popularity In Soccer Matter?
Ultimately, popularity in soccer is only going to tell part of the story. Most athletes would love to be popular, but they would also like to win. Combine the two, and a player can live on forever.
Soccer’s popularity around the world means that the stars are always going to get more attention than other athletes. There’s a reason why some of the most followed athletes on Instagram all play soccer.
Popularity only seems to be growing around the world, meaning that these 10 players might soon have company with the emergence of the next generation.