The Most Famous Player of All Time for Top Clubs
Picking the most famous player from Europe's major club sides is like dipping your hand in the Quality Street tin: There's lots of great choices, other people won't always agree with your selection and you hope you don't get the strawberry one.
Perhaps the last point is more specific to Quality Street, but the concept of fame is relatively subjective. Hence, in this list, I have selected the most famous player from a plethora of top sides based on their impact at the club, their role in popular culture and their popularity across the world in their heyday, rather than right now.
Take a look, and leave your thoughts in the comments.
In their 128-year history, Arsenal have boasted many luminaries in their line-up and a few of them have been lucky enough to be immortalised in statue form outside the Emirates. One is the Non-Flying Ducthman, Dennis Bergkamp, while another is legendary French striker Thierry Henry.
With 228 goals in all competitions, Henry is the Gunners' all-time leading scorer, and he's earned two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and a Champions League Final appearances with the North London side.
As a testament to his cultural significance, the current New York Red Bulls striker earned No. 1 place in Arsenal's official poll of their Greatest 50 Players of all time.
Honourable mentions: Dennis Bergkamp, Liam Brady, Denis Compton, Ian Wright
John Terry may be considered "Mr Chelsea" these days, but a legend who may be more deserving of that title is Ron "Chopper" Harris.
The tough-tackling defender is revered at Stamford Bridge as he has played more games than any other player: a total of 795 in all competitions between 1961 and 1980. Harris won the League Cup in 1965 and captained the Blues in four major finals, including the 1971 Cup Winners' Cup, which brought the club their first European silverware.
Honourable mentions: Jimmy Greaves, Pat Nevin, Ruud Gullit, John Terry, Frank Lampard
Widely regarded as one of the greatest pre-World War II athletes Britain ever produced, Dixie Dean earned his place in Everton folklore with 395 goals in 447 appearances (including 37 hat-tricks) across 14 seasons between 1925 and 1937.
The Merseyside-born striker's annus mirabilis came in 1927-28, when he scored a record 60 league goals, bringing the Toffees their third league title. No player in English football has matched this record in 86 years.
Dean died of a heart attack in 1980 at a Merseyside derby at Goodison Park.
Honourable mentions: Alan Ball, Wayne Rooney, Neville Southall, Joe Royle, Gary Lineker
Liverpool created plenty of world famous footballers during their 1980s pomp, but no one shook the Kop quite like Kenny Dalglish.
The Glaswegian striker joined the Reds in 1977 for a British transfer record £440,000 and proceeded to justify the expense by winning six league titles, two FA Cups, four League Cups, three European Cups and a UEFA Super Cup over the 13 seasons that followed.
King Kenny was player-manager for five seasons, during which time he delivered another two league titles and plenty more silverware.
Honourable mentions: Robbie Fowler, Ian Rush, Steven Gerrard, Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley
Most City fans will agree that their greatest player of all time was midfielder Colin Bell, who arrived from Bury in 1966 and made nearly 400 appearances in a sky blue shirt up until 1979.
Bell, known as "The King of the Kippax," was the complete midfielder, with pace, stamina and a keen eye for goal. He was a major part of a very successful period in City's history, winning the league, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup.
Bell's career was brought to a premature end when a bad challenge from Manchester United's Martin Buchan severely injured his right knee.
He now has a stand named after him at Eastlands, although the club resisted the temptation to call it the "Bell End."
Honourable mentions: Bert Trautmann, Franny Lee, Mike Summerbee, Georgi Kinkladze, Denis Law
He is by no means the best player Manchester United have ever signed, but there is little question that David Beckham is the most famous. In fact, due to his commercial deals and propensity to court publicity off the field, he is probably one of the most famous footballers of all time.
Beckham joined United's youth system in 1991 as a 14-year-old and eventually broke into the first team in April 1995. The former England star made 394 appearances for the Red Devils, earning six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the famous treble of 1999.
Honourable mentions: George Best, Bobby Charlton, Ryan Giggs, Duncan Edwards, Cristiano Ronaldo
The likes of Jackie Milburn and Paul Gascoigne are fondly remembered on Tyneside, but Newcastle United's biggest player—certainly in the past few decades—has undoubtedly been local hero Alan Shearer.
The English striker joined the Magpies for a world record £15 million straight after Euro 96 and proceeded to spend the next decade amassing 404 appearances for his boyhood team, scoring a club-record 206 goals in the process (an average of one every other game).
Shearer didn't exactly cover himself in glory when he returned to the club as caretaker manager in the doomed 2008-09 campaign, but he will always be a legend at St James' Park.
Honourable mentions: Peter Beardsley, Paul Gascoigne, Chris Waddle, Kevin Keegan, Jackie Milburn
Brilliant players have come and gone at White Hart Lane over the years, but few had quite the same impact as Glenn Hoddle. The midfield maestro—who was probably the most two-footed player of his generation—scored 110 goals in 490 appearances, helping to bring in two FA Cups and a UEFA Cup.
Toward the end of his Spurs career, Hoddle's fame was epitomised by an appearance on Top of the Pops performing the highly underrated "Diamond Lights" with Chris Waddle. Cracking guitar solo in that one.
Honourable mentions: Gary Lineker, Danny Blanchflower, Ossie Ardiles, Dave Mackay, Jimmy Greaves
Barcelona have a long and storied history of boasting the world's greatest talent on their books, but players like Diego Maradona and Ronaldo made their name elsewhere.
But Lionel Messi, the four-time Ballon d'Or winner, is one of the greatest players of all time, and he's been with the Blaugrana since he was 13 years old.
Since the diminutive Argentine debuted in the Barca first team in 2005, he has stunned the world by breaking countless records—see a neat summary here.
Despite his introverted personality and relative restraint with commercial duties, Messi is a household name in all four corners of the globe, and he will have the best chance of his career to shine on the world's biggest stage this summer.
Honourable mentions: Ladislao Kubala, Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo
Alfredo Di Stefano
Cristiano Ronaldo may be one of the most famous players on the planet right now, but it could be argued that he has not yet reached the revered status of Argentine legend Alfredo Di Stefano.
Described in modest terms on Real Madrid's website as "The best player in the history of Real Madrid," Di Stefano was a striker who could play in virtually any position and was the team's leader when they won the European Cup in five consecutive seasons in the 1950s.
Not only has Los Blancos' honorary president won the Ballon d'Or twice, but he is the only player in the world to be awarded a "Super Ballon d'Or" for his outstanding contribution to the game.
Honourable mentions: Cristiano Ronaldo, Santiago Bernabeu, Luis Figo, Ferenc Puskas, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane
Bayern Munich, Germany's most famous club, have ushered plenty of legendary talent through their ranks in their 114-year existence, but most are eclipsed by Munich-born midfielder Franz Beckenbauer.
Der Kaiser played 427 times for Die Roten between 1964 and 1977, earning three European Cups and four league titles.
Beckenbauer's worldwide fame was somewhat elevated by his role in a dominant German national team. He went to three World Cups, lifting the trophy in 1974 and returning to win the competition as manager in 1990—a feat only accomplished by one other, Mario Zagallo of Brazil.
Honourable mentions: Uli Hoeness, Paul Breitner, Lothar Matthaus, Gerd Muller, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge
Matthias Sammer may be a sporting director at Bayern Munich these days, but one of the greatest talents ever to grace the Bundesliga enjoyed the prime of his career with Borussia Dortmund.
The defensive midfielder enjoyed his finest form between 1995 and 1997, when he led a strong BvB side to two Bundesliga titles and a European Cup, while earning a European Championships medal with the German National team.
For his superlative efforts, Sammer won the Ballon d'Or in 1996, becoming the first German to receive the honour since Beckenbauer in 1972 and Dortmund's only ever recipient.
Honourable mentions: Jan Koller, Robert Lewandowski, Jurgen Kohler, Michael Zorc, Stefan Reuter
Marco van Basten
Milan have benefited from a few world-class Dutch players over the years—Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard spring to mind—but none were as gifted as Marco van Basten, who was arguably the best player in the world during his time with the Rossoneri.
After the Oranje legend won Serie A and Euro 88 in 1988, he enjoyed what might be the finest season of his career, bagging 32 goals in 47 Milan appearances and his second consecutive Ballon d'Or award.
MVB is one of the most talented players the game has ever witnessed, who will forever be remembered for that goal in the Euro 88 final.
Honourable mentions: Ruud Gullit, Paolo Maldini, Cesare Maldini, Roberto Baggio, George Weah
Some incredibly talented home-grown players have represented Internazionale—such as Giacinto Facchetti and one-club man Giuseppe Bergomi—but none have a level of fame in the game that could approach that of Ronaldo.
Fresh from a brilliant season at Barcelona, the Brazilian headed to Inter in 1997 for a £24.6 million transfer fee, where he unquestionably blossomed into the greatest striker in the world. In that year he also won his second World Player of the Year Award and the Ballon d'Or.
Ronaldo's rampant form with the Nerazzurri was cut short in 1999 when he blew his knee out, but the Italian side were fortunate to boast one of the most familiar men on the planet at the height of his powers.
Honourable mentions: Luis Suarez, Javier Zanetti, Christian Vieri, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jurgen Klinsmann
In 2004, at the height of his powers among Real Madrid's Galacticos, Zinedine Zidane was voted the Greatest Player in Europe over the past 50 years. With his masterful command of the ball, effortless technique and ability to land a pass on a sixpence from anywhere on the field, it's easy to see why.
Two years after that survey, Zidane earned his place in the international zeitgeist with his last professional match, the 2006 World Cup Final. You probably don't need reminding about the manner in which he bowed out, but it was so famous that it was even parodied as a cultural reference in Family Guy.
At Juventus, Zizou won the World Player of the Year and Ballon d'Or awards, helping the Italian giants earn two Scudetti and two European Cups.
Honourable mentions: Michel Platini, Alessandro Del Piero, Roberto Baggio, Gianluigi Buffon, Claudio Gentile
The only man to command more respect in Rome than Caesar is Francesco Totti. Il Gladiatore joined the youth ranks at Roma as a 13-year-old and has bled maroon and yellow ever since.
Since making his Serie A debut at 17 in 1993, Totti has played over 700 games and scored 289 goals in all competitions. He’s the Giallorossi’s all-time leading scorer, Serie A’s leading active goalscorer and a World Cup winner with Italy.
When the modern football fan thinks of Roma, Totti is the first thing that springs to mind.
Honourable mentions: Cafu, Carlo Ancelotti, Daniele De Rossi, Giuseppe Giannini, Roberto Pruzzo
Discounting David Beckham for his bit-part role in the PSG story—and hoping that Zlatan isn't reading this—I've come to the conclusion that Ronaldinho is the Ligue 1 club's most famous son.
In the beautiful game, there is a very small group of players who are impossible to hate. With his positive demeanor, silky skills and hugely entertaining style, Gaucho is one of them.
Ronaldinho made the move from Gremio to Europe when PSG offered up a €5 million fee. After two seasons of dropping jaws in France, Barcelona paid six times that amount to launch the World Cup winner to megastar status.
Honourable mentions: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, George Weah, David Beckham, David Ginola, Rai
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!