What else can we say about Pele? Arguably the greatest soccer player ever to grace the game, he was just 17-years-old when he became the youngest goalscorer at a World Cup in 1958. He has also lifted the trophy a record three times.
Pele – Now
After an illustrious career with both the Brazilian national team and his beloved Santos, Pele has since become something of an ambassador for soccer in general. In 1994, he was appointed as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and became the Extraordinary Minister for Sport in Brazil the following year. One of Pele’s biggest achievements is promoting the concept of “The Beautiful Game” to world soccer, placing a strong emphasis on the enjoyment of the sport over the corporatization of it.
Zinedine Zidane, France
France owes a lot of thanks to Zinedine “Zizou” Zidane for leading their team to World Cup glory in 1998. However, it was the 2006 competition which saw the playmaker front and center of one of the most bizarre moments in world soccer history. In the 2006 World Cup final, it seemed like France would take the Italians all the way to penalties, which they did. However, it would be without Zizou. In a fit of rage, the number 10 headbutted Marco Materazzi. It would be his last ever professional game.
Zinedine Zidane – Now
Despite going out in a blaze of glory at Germany 2006, Zinedine Zidane ended up having a fruitful career in another aspect of soccer. After managing Real Madrid’s reserve team for a couple of seasons, he was eventually offered the big job at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2016. His impact on Cristiano Ronaldo and company was both instant and absolutely stunning. In just two seasons, Zizou helped Real win the UEFA Champions League twice, La Liga, and numerous other cups.
Roger Milla, Cameroon
It would be quite an understatement to refer to Roger Milla as a late bloomer in the world of soccer. The striker stole the headlines when he led Cameroon to the quarter-finals at the 1990 FIFA World Cup. Not only was it an amazing feat, seeing that he was 38 years old at the time, but it was also the first time an African nation had gone so far in the competition. Four years later, Milla became the oldest goalscorer in World Cup history, scoring against Russia at 42 years of age.
Roger Milla – Now
Since retiring from professional soccer well into his 40s, Roger Milla has still been very busy and is consistently involved with a number of African causes. When the continent hosted its first-ever World Cup in South Africa in 2010, Roger Milla was one of the most prevalent faces in a lot of the marketing for the tournament. In fact, Coca-Cola used his trademark dance in their advertising campaign. In 2004, Milla was named in the FIFA 100, a list of the greatest soccer players of all time, according to Pele.
Miroslav Klose, Germany
There is no doubt that Miroslav Klose has been a consistent performer at club level. However, it is his goalscoring record on the international stage that has blown soccer fans away over the years. Not only did he have a hand to play in Germany’s 2014 World Cup triumph in Brazil, but he also scored a goal in the infamous 7-1 semi-final thrashing of the Selecao in Belo Horizonte. Klose’s goal was extra sweet, as it made him the top goalscorer in World Cup history!
Miroslav Klose – Now
Although he has only been retired from professional soccer for a couple of years, make no mistake about it; Miroslav Klose is a German legend. During the time that he reached his world record with the national team, Klose was actually in the prime of his life, banging in the goals for S.S. Lazio, the first club he had ever played for outside of the German leagues. Since Klose retiring from playing, Germany manager Joachim Loew has brought him onto his coaching staff.
Franz Beckenbauer, Germany
They didn’t call him “Der Kaiser” for nothing. In his heyday, Franz Beckenbauer was the man who Germany could count on when push came to shove. The versatile player helped Die Mannschaft overpower Johan Cruijff’s “total football” Dutch side to lift the trophy in 1974. Amazingly though, Beckenbauer achieved the same thing 16 years later. However, the second time saw him win the competition as the manager of the German national team. He is the only person who has ever achieved such a feat.
Franz Beckenbauer – Now
When it comes to keeping busy after his playing and managerial days, Franz Beckenbauer has had nothing to worry about. He is still considered to this day to be one of the most influentials figures in German soccer, as well as the wider soccer community. Many consider “Der Kaiser” as one of the key figures that helped bring the World Cup back to German soil in 2006. In more recent times, Beckenbauer has worked as a columnist and a pundit.
Pele will go down in history as Brazil’s most beloved soccer player. However, Jairzinho deserves plenty of praise, most notably for his goalscoring prowess that contributed heavily to Brazil’s World Cup triumph in 1970. In that tournament, the winger became only one of three players to ever score in every single game at a World Cup tournament. Jairzinho scored against Czechoslovakia, England, and Romania in the group stage. He then scored against Peru in the quarters, Uruguay in the semi, and Italy in the final.
Jairzinho – Now
In all honesty, Jairzinho is probably one of the least active individuals on this list since his World Cup heroics back in the ’70s. With a brief time spent playing outside of Brazil, there is no denying that his biggest success at club level came during his days at Botafogo. It seems like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as far as Jairzinho is concerned. His son, Jair Ventura, also played professional soccer for a number of clubs and is currently the manager of Santos.
Just Fontaine, France
It wasn’t just Pele who was making history in 1958 as the youngest goalscorer in World Cup history. France’s Just Fontaine may not have been a household name quite like the Brazilian forward, but he is an absolute legend as far as the French people are concerned. The forward did an incredible feat that year, scoring the most goals in one single tournament. He scored 13 goals, including a hat-trick against Paraguay, a brace against Northern Ireland, and a staggering four goals against West Germany.
Just Fontaine – Now
Another one of the players to be named in Pele’s coveted 125 Greatest Living Soccer Players, Just Fontaine hasn’t played professionally since 1962. He had minor success working as a manager, coaching the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Toulouse and even Morocco, his country of birth. In 2003, the French Football Federation named him the best French player in the last 50 years at the UEFA Jubilee Awards. On the back of France’s lackluster performance at the 2010 World Cup, Fontaine was particularly critical about the forwards’ poor displays.
Lothar Matthaus, Germany
When it comes to longevity, not many can quite compete with Lothar Matthaus. Many have compared the Bayern Munich legend to his predecessor Franz Beckenbauer for his leadership skills and sheer versatility on the field. Matthaus made history when he became the only outfield player to have played in five World Cups, playing in 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998. However, 1990 was his finest hour, as he led West Germany to their third World Cup triumph, beating Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the final.
Lothar Matthaus – Now
Since his long playing career came to an end at the turn of the millennium, Lothar Matthaus has had mixed levels of success as a manager. He has been in charge of a variety of teams at both club and international level. These include clubs such as Rapid Wien, Red Bull Salzburg, as well as the nations of Hungary and Bulgaria. However, the majority of his post-playing success has come in the world of broadcasting. Matthaus has worked as a columnist and a pundit for numerous soccer events.
Many will probably remember Roberto Carlos better for being such a powerful left-back for both club and country. However, it was his right-back counterpart, Cafu, who made an even bigger impression at international level. Cafu stood out from the crowd, especially when he made history with his national team, Brazil. He is the only player ever to have played in three consecutive World Cup finals, playing in 1994, 1998 and 2002. He captained the Selecao in the latter and lifted the trophy in 1994 and 2002.
Cafu – Now
Despite having the chance to compete in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Cafu ultimately decided against it and retired in 2008. After winning so much for Brazil and clubs such as A.S. Roma and A.C. Milan, Cafu was inducted into both clubs’ halls of fame. With a staggering 142 international caps to his name, the right-back is officially the most capped player in the history of the Brazil national team. Like other players on this list, Cafu was named by Pele in his prestigious 125 Greatest Living Soccer Players list.
Carlos Valderrama, Colombia
For 13 years, Carlos Valderrama was the heartbeat of Colombian Football. He is the most capped player in the history of Colombian football and represented his homeland in three world cups. Valderrama was known as a classic ‘Number 10’ due to his creativity however frequently would find himself playing deeper than most number 10s. Outside of his excellent play, Valderrama was always known around the world for his incredible hair.
Carlos Valderrama – Now
After spending most of his career in Colombia, Valderrama ended his career in the MLS with the Colorado Rapids. Since, he continues to make appearances for his country and has been honored numerous times for his contributions to the game of football. He was chosen to FIFA’s 125 Top Living Football Players in 2004 as well as the MLS All Time Best XI (even though he was in the twilight of his career).
Gary Lineker, England
One of the greatest English players to have never won the World Cup is, without a shadow of a doubt, Gary Lineker. In 1986, the striker stole the headlines when he ended the tournament of that year as the top scorer. He scored a hat-trick against Poland, a brace against Paraguay, and a consolation goal in that controversial quarter-final defeat of Diego Maradona’s Argentina. Then, just four years later, Lineker scored four goals, helping the Three Lions reach the semi-final.
Gary Lineker – Now
Despite retiring from soccer back in the early ’90s, Gary Lineker has gone on to become the face of British soccer broadcast journalism. Since 1999, the former England forward has been the host of BBC’s popular soccer show Match of the Day. That’s not all though. Due to his close affiliation with his home city of Leicester, Lineker has been the face of Walkers, a potato chips brand that was founded in the aforementioned city. The salt and vinegar flavor was at one point marketed as “Salt-n-Lineker.”
Paul Gascoigne, England
When Paul Gascoigne played for England during the early-90s, many fans hadn’t seen a creative force quite like him. A lot of the nation’s hopes were riding on “Gazza,” with many believing that he would inspire England to World Cup glory in 1990. Amazingly, the team reached the semi-finals and were just one game away from reaching the final. However, when Gazza received a yellow card, which would’ve prevented him from playing in the final, he cried. It was one of the most memorable moments of the tournament.
Paul Gascoigne – Now
Although Paul Gascoigne managed to play for an impressive list of clubs in his career such as Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, Lazio and Glasgow Rangers, many believe that his potential was wasted. This could have been due to the many years that he suffered from alcoholism, as well as a number of run-ins with the law. After being in and out of rehab over the years, Gazza recently entered a long-term rehab program in an effort stay sober for good.
Gheorghe Hagi, Romania
They didn’t call him “The Maradona of the Carpathians” for nothing. Gheorghe Hagi is, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest soccer player that Romania has ever produced. The attacking midfielder was the heartbeat of the Romanian team that reached the quarter-finals in World Cup ’94. On the way to that round, Hagi’s team defeated Colombia, USA (who were the host nation) and most notably, Argentina, who Hagi scored against in arguably the shock of the tournament.
Gheorge Hagi – Now
Ever since his World Cup heroics in 1994 for Romania, Gheorghe Hagi has a remained an important figure in soccer, both on and off the pitch. After hanging up his boots in 2001, Hagi began a managerial career and has since managed a number of teams such as Bursaspor, Galatasaray, Steaua Bucurest and most recently, Vitorul; a club that he also owns. Hagi has also founded the Gheorghe Hagi football academy, which is one of the biggest of its kind in Eastern Europe.
Marco Tardelli, Italy
Has there ever been a more emotional goal celebration in the history of the World Cup? Probably not. Marco Tardelli had been one of Italy’s star performers at the 1982 competition. However, it was the goal that he scored against Germany in the final that etched his name into World Cup lore. Upon scoring, Tardelli started to cry and ran around the pitch screaming “Gol! Gol!” The “Tardelli Cry” has since become one of the most iconic moments in World Cup history.
Marco Tardelli – Now
Marco Tardelli has been retired from playing soccer since 1988. However, he has had a number of jobs in management, spearheading the likes of Internazionale, Bari, and event the Egyptian national team. His most recent managerial job was spent working as an assistant to Giovani Trappatoni, who managed the Republic of Ireland national football team from 2008 to 2013. Together, they helped the Republic of Ireland qualify for Euro 2012. He was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
Harald “Toni” Schumacher, Germany
There is no denying that Germany has been blessed with talented goalkeepers over the years. Oliver Kahn, Manuel Neuer, and Sepp Maier all come to mind. Then there is Harald “Toni” Schumacher, who helped his team reach the finals of both the 1982 and 1986 editions of the World Cup. However, there was a particular moment in the former competition that cast a huge shadow over the goalie’s career. Schumacher seriously injured French defender Patrick Battiston after colliding with him in the semi-final.
Harald “Toni” Schumacher – Now
The incident that involved Patrick Battiston may have overshadowed his career, but Toni Schumacher has learned to roll with the punches and revealed all about the fiasco in his autobiography. Since his playing days came to an end, Schumacher has spent a lot of time working as a goalkeeping coach for a number of clubs such as Schalke, Bayern Munich, and Borussia Dortmund, to name a few. Since 2012, he has been the vice president at German club 1. FC Koln.
Michael Owen, England
It’s safe to say that Zinedine Zidane wins the award for the most polarizing performances at World Cups. However, you could have Michael Owen in at a very close second place. At the ’98 World Cup in France, the striker became the youngest player in England’s history at the time to not only make an appearance but to score a goal. Owen stole the headlines when he ran with blistering pace past the Argentinian defense and put the ball past Carlos Roa.
Michael Owen – Now
Sadly, Michael Owen also had one of the darkest moments in his career at a World Cup. In 2006, the striker suffered an injury that kept him off the field for over a year and pretty much destroyed his career. Despite also having brief spells at Manchester United and Stoke City, Owen hung up his boots in 2013. He has since had success as a commentator and has even competed in a series of horse races. Owen has recently done a lot of work for Sport Relief.
Roberto Baggio, Italy
You can’t quite see it from this angle, but if you are a diehard soccer fan, you’ll know well enough that Roberto Baggio had one of the most iconic hairstyles in the game. Il Divin Codino (“The Divine Ponytail”), as he is colloquially known, was the creative spark in the Italian side that made it all the way to the final in 1994. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t penetrate the Brazilian defense, who went on to lift the trophy.
Roberto Baggio – Now
Unlike many other soccer players who enjoy careers in management, Roberto Baggio has pursued other passions in his life – specifically, human rights. In 2010, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates awarded the former attacking midfielder with a Man of Peace award for his human rights activism. He has worked as a Goodwill Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, funding a number of hospitals. The following year, Baggio was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame.
Tim Howard, USA
The most capped goalkeeper in Team US’s history, Tim Howard, has managed to make the squad in not one, not two, but three World Cups! After warming the bench in 2006, Howard made the number one spot his own by the time that 2010 came around. His stability in front of goal inspired the team to make the round of 16 in both 2010 and 2014. In the latter, Howard made history when he made the most saves in a World Cup match, 15 saves against Belgium.
Tim Howard – Now
Amazingly, Tim Howard is the only World Cup legend on this list who is still playing professionally. In 2016, after spending the good part of a decade playing for Everton, the goalkeeper returned to the MLS and signed for Colorado Rapids. In 2014, Howard had a book published called The Keeper, which details how he was able to deal with both Tourette syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder while playing soccer at the highest level. Howard has two kids from a previous marriage.
Gerd Muller, Germany
For a while, Gerd Muller was the highest goalscorer in World Cup history, with 14 goals to his name. This was until Ronaldo, and later fellow German Miroslav Klose, overtook him. However, he held the record for over three decades. With his last ever international goal coming in the 1974 FIFA World Cup final, Muller scored what would prove to be the winning goal against Johan Cruijff’s awesome Dutch squad. He wasn’t the flashiest player, but not many can compete with Muller’s goalscoring records.
Gerd Muller – Now
Unfortunately, the years following Gerd Muller’s retirement from soccer saw the former forward descend into a tough battle with alcoholism. However, many of his former teammates helped him get into rehab. After successfully overcoming his addiction, Muller became a coach for the Bayern Munich reserves. German brand Adidas honored Muller by naming a clothing line after him. However, more bad news came for diehard Muller fans in 2015. It was announced that Muller had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Dino Zoff, Italy
Lothar Matthaus may have been known for his longevity, but there was still one player who played in the World Cup at an older age. There have been a number of older players to compete in the prestigious soccer tournament. However, goalkeeper Dino Zoff is, to this day, the oldest player to ever compete in a final. Zoff was 40 years and 133 days old when he led Italy to World Cup glory against West Germany in 1982. He was over twice the age of his teammate Giuseppe Bergomi.
Dino Zoff – Now
Not only did Dino Zoff have a longlasting career as a player. He also had a considerable amount of success as a manager, working for the likes of Juventus, Lazio, and even the Italian national team. However, he was unable to achieve the feat that Franz Beckenbauer once did – winning the World Cup as both a player and a manager. In recent times, Zoff has been dealing with some health issues, having suffered a neurological infection back in 2015.
Bobby Charlton, England
To this day, England’s only World Cup victory came on home soil when they hosted the tournament in 1966. They were an overall solid team, but it was Manchester United midfielder Bobby Charlton who was at the heart of everything they did. He contributed three goals during that particular competition, with two against Eusebio’s Portugal side in the semi-final. Unfortunately, Charlton was never able to recreate that magic he created with that special ’66 team, but he will forever go down in history as one of the true England greats.
Sir Bobby Charlton – Now
Since 1984, Bobby Charlton has been a member of Manchester United’s board of directors and has remained on the board until this very day. In 2008, the former midfielder was presented with the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award by none other than his brother, Jack. There is no denying that Charlton’s influence on English sport runs extremely deep, especially since he has had fields named after him, as well as one of Old Trafford’s stands.
Diego Maradona, Argentina
For some, he’s a hero; but for others, he is certainly a villain. At the World Cup in Mexico in 1986, Diego Maradona demonstrated the polarizing nature of his game in a matter of minutes against quarter-final opponents, England. Firstly, he punched the ball out of goalkeeper Peter Shilton’s hands to score Argentina’s first goal. Then, moments later, he took the ball and ran with it passed most of the England team to score the winner. Maradona went on to lift the trophy for his country.
Diego Maradona – Now
To say that Diego Maradona has had an eventful life both during and after his soccer career is the understatement of the century. In 2008, “El Pibe de Oro” tried to do what only Franz Beckenbauer had previously done: win the World Cup as both a player and a manager. He became the coach of Argentina in 2008. However, his managerial style was criticized by the Argentinian press, and his team bowed out of the competition after an unceremonious 4-0 defeat to Germany in the quarter-finals.
It appeared that Ronaldo was going to lead Brazil to another victory when they reached the final in 1998. However, on the day of the final, the striker was reported to have an illness, which many speculated hindered his performance that day. In spite of this, the forward bounced back four years later, helping Brazil lift the World Cup for a record fifth time and becoming the top scorer in the process (bad haircuts aside). Then, at the 2006 competition in Germany, he overtook Gerd Muller as the all-time top scorer.
Ronaldo – Now
It may be Cristiano Ronaldo who has carried on the name, but the original Ronaldo is still keeping busy after his professional playing days. The Brazilian was forced to retire fairly early in 2011 due to a series of injuries. However, he has served as United Nations Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador and did a lot of good work when the World Cup was hosted in Brazil in 2014. Other passions that Ronaldo has followed in recent times include poker and motorsports.