Top 10 greatest World Cup players

The World Cup has been showcasing the best footballers in the world on the grandest stage for the best part of a century.

But who is the greatest player in World Cup history?

Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Micah Richards discussed the topic in the latest Match of the Day: Top 10 podcast.

You can listen to the podcast on BBC Sounds and have your say by ranking your choices at the bottom of this page.

Gary Lineker (Richards: 10th, Shearer: 9th)

Lineker celebrates scoring a penalty against Cameroon
Lineker scored 10 goals in 12 World Cup appearances for England

England’s all-time leading World Cup goalscorer, Lineker found the net 10 times in 12 games in the 1986 and 1990 tournaments. Lineker scored six to win the Golden Boot in 1986 and hit another four in 1990 to help Bobby Robson’s side reach the semi-finals, losing in a shootout to West Germany.

Richards: Ten goals in 12 appearances is good going.

Shearer: He made 12 World Cup appearances and scored 10 goals. He won the Golden Boot and made the quarter-final and semi-finals.

Lineker: I have no idea what I am doing on this list…

Johan Cruyff (Richards: 6th, Shearer: 10th)

Cruyff in action against Argentina at the 1974 World Cup
Cruyff helped the Netherlands beat Argentina and Brazil at the 1974 World Cup before losing to West Germany in the final

Arguably the greatest player never to have won the World Cup, the three-time Ballon d’Or winner scored three goals to help the Netherlands reach the 1974 final, falling to West Germany. Cruyff retired in 1977, a year before the Dutch lost in the final again, to hosts Argentina in 1978.

Richards: He has a turn named after him, he has to be special.

Shearer: He only played in one World Cup and this is based solely on their World Cup performances. In no way am I saying Lineker is a better player than Cruyff, it’s just his World Cup record puts him ninth.

Bobby Moore (Richards: 9th, Shearer: 6th)

Moore celebrates with the trophy and his England team-mates
Moore is hoisted aloft by his England team-mates after the 1966 World Cup final

A titan in England’s World Cup history, Moore captained the Three Lions to glory at the 1966 tournament on home soil. After Moore’s death in 1993, Pele said the West Ham legend was the toughest defender he ever faced during his career.

Richards: You see the videos and hear about how great these players were.

Shearer: He captained England at 22. I have seen footage of him, but to be made captain after his 12th cap aged 22, that says how good he must have been. He also won the World Cup, amazing.

Gerd Muller (Richards: 7th, Shearer: 7th)

Gerd Muller lifts the World Cup trophy
Muller scored the winning goal in the 1974 final

One of the greatest goalscorers the World Cup has ever seen, Muller scored 10 times to help West Germany to a third-place finish in 1970 and struck four in the triumphant 1974 campaign, including the winner in the final. Muller scored 14 goals in 13 World Cup appearances.

Shearer: Fourteen goals in 13 World Cup appearances, 10 in one World Cup. Wow.

Lineker: He was like [Sergio] Aguero, a penalty area player, unbelievably agile and a real poacher. The goal that won the World Cup against Cruyff’s Holland – it epitomised Muller. The way he wriggled and turned, he was a fantastic player. His numbers are right up there. My heroes were Frank Worthington, Peter Shilton and Muller was my international hero.

Franz Beckenbauer (Richards: 8th, Shearer: 5th)

Beckenbauer lifts the World Cup trophy in 1974
Beckenbauer captained West Germany to football’s greatest prize in 1974 before winning it as manager in 1990

As captain, ‘Der Kaiser’ captained West Germany to the World Cup title on home soil in 1974, beating the Netherlands in the final. Beckenbauer is also one of only three men (with Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and France’s Didier Deschamps) to have won the World Cup as a player and manager.

Lineker: He was the original sweeper and came out of defence with the ball.

Zinedine Zidane (Richards: 5th, Shearer: 8th)

Zidane with the World Cup trophy
Zidane scored twice in the 1998 World Cup final as France beat Brazil 3-0

Zizou’s World Cup career started perfectly, scoring twice in the final to help France win on home soil. Injury restricted him to just one appearance in Les Bleus’ poor 2002 defence, but he was back to his best in Germany four years later, inspiring Raymond Domenech’s side to the final, where Zidane scored and was memorably sent off for headbutting Italy’s Marco Materazzi in the chest as France lost on penalties.

Richards: Technically, he was one of the best ever.

Shearer: Best player I ever played against. The balance was unbelievable, he was incredible.

Lothar Matthaus (Richards: 4th, Shearer 4th)

Matthaus celebrates scoring in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final
Matthaus is one of only three players to have played in five World Cups alongside Mexico’s Antonio Carbajal and Rafael Marquez

Germany’s most-capped player of all time, Matthaus captained West Germany to success at Italia ’90, beating a Maradona-led Argentina in the final. Matthaus is one of only three players to have played in five World Cups and holds the record for most matches played with 25.

Richards: To go to five World Cups is incredible, and he won one.

Shearer: He played in five World cups and made 25 appearances. I played against him at the 2000 Euros and it was his last game when we beat them 1-0. Fantastic player.

Ronaldo (Richards: 3rd, Shearer 2nd)

Ronaldo celebrates Brazil's 2002 win
Ronaldo was the World Cup’s all-time leading goalscorer with 15 until Germany’s Miroslav Klose surpassed his mark in 2014

Another Brazilian icon, Ronaldo lifted the famous trophy twice: in 1994 and 2002. While he did not feature in Brazil’s 1994 win, he scored four times to help them reach the 1998 final, where he was left out of the line-up only to be restored before kick-off. France won that year but Ronaldo truly left his mark four years later, scoring eight times – including two in the final against Germany – as Brazil reclaimed their status as world champions.

Shearer: He was unbelievable, we have talked about Ronaldo so many times. Braziliance. Another reason I had him second was 19 appearances, 15 goals and five assists.

Diego Maradona (Richards: 2nd; Shearer: 3rd)

Maradona with the World Cup trophy
Maradona captained Argentina to their second World Cup at Mexico ’86

Like Pele, the late Argentine played in four World Cups, captaining his country to their second World Cup in 1986. Maradona was virtually unstoppable in Mexico that year, scoring five goals, including two against England in the quarter-final: the ‘Hand of God’ goal and a superb individual effort that ranks among the tournament’s greatest ever strikes. Having lost the 1990 final to West Germany, Maradona’s World Cup playing career ended in disgrace in 1994 when he was sent home for failing a drug test.

Lineker: Before Messi came along there was always that debate between Brazil and Argentina, who was the best Pele or Maradona?

Pele – (Richards: 1st, Shearer: 1st)

Pele celebrates Brazil's 1970 triumph
Pele scored four goals in Brazil’s 1970 World Cup win, including the opener in the 4-1 win over Italy in the final

Seen by many as the ultimate World Cup player, Pele was just 17 when he helped Brazil win the 1958 tournament in Sweden. The legendary striker would go on to win the 1962 and 1970 World Cups too, winning the Golden Ball for best player at the latter. Pele scored 12 goals in 14 World Cup matches across four tournaments for Brazil.

Richards: Pele has to be the winner.

Shearer: You can’t imagine coming from Brazil at that age, that pressure. They are expected to win every tournament, every match they play in, he has super stardom wherever he goes. Amazing player.

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