Skip to main content

Most Influential Figures in Football History

There is no doubt that football is the most popular sport in the world, with over 3.5 billion fans. It's also one of the most popular sports featured in both old and new sports bookies.

Football has produced many legends who have left an indelible mark. These individuals have not only showcased exceptional skills on the pitch but have also captured the hearts of millions of fans around the world.

That said, it's undeniable that some footballers have been more successful than others. From the dribbling legend Pele to the successful careers of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, this write-up discusses the most influential footballers of their time and throughout sports history.

1.   Pele

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento and nicknamed the King of Football, Pele is undoubtedly one of the greatest football players ever. Hailing from Brazil, Pele's achievements are nothing short of astounding.

He clinched three FIFA World Cup titles (1958, 1962, and 1970), a feat no one else has replicated. Pele's unique blend of speed, finesse, and goal-scoring prowess set him apart. He scored a whopping 1,281 goals in 1,363 official games, an astonishing record that still stands as a testament to his greatness.

He was voted the World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics in 2000 and FIFA Player of the Century.

Even after successful football career, Pele did not slow down after retiring. He became Brazil's sports minister between 1995 and 1998 and a football ambassador.

2.   Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff was a Dutch football genius who revolutionized the game with his philosophy of "Total Football." This approach emphasized fluidity, interchangeability, and skilful play, making him one of the most influential figures in football history.

Moreover, his dribbling ability and visionary passing made him a formidable force. Johan led the Netherlands to the 1974 World Cup final and inspired FC Barcelona's golden era as both a player and later a coach.

He also won the Ballon d'Or thrice in 1971, 1973, and 1974. His impact goes beyond his playing days, influencing generations of players and coaches to adopt this attractive and attacking style of play.

3.   Diego Maradona

Despite his controversial personal life, Diego Maradona is a football legend that influenced not only his generation but the generations that came after. He was an Argentine football icon known for his awe-inspiring dribbling and creativity.

His infamous "Hand of God" goal in the 1986 World Cup showcased his audacity, but his "Goal of the Century" against England in the same tournament truly reflects his brilliance. Maradona's dribbling through the entire England team is truly etched in football history. His personality and on-field exploits earned him a place in the hearts of fans worldwide.

4.   Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi is an exceptional player; his performance in the 2
022 world cup reflected that. He led Argentina to win the
world cup 2022 and picked the Golden Ball for the second time.

Messi is celebrated for his unmatched dribbling skills, close ball control, and precise finishing. He spent most of his career at Barcelona, and as of June 2023, Messi had won 43 trophies, including multiple Ballon d'Or titles.

In addition to being an incredible scorer, Messi is also an exceptional leader. His teammates praise him for making them better players.

Moreover, his ability to dribble past multiple defenders and his knack for scoring from improbable angles make him a true phenomenon.

5.   Cristiano Ronaldo

We cannot end this list without mentioning the powerhouse forward Cristiano Ronaldo, who is synonymous with athleticism and goal-scoring prowess. He has won 35 trophies and scored the most goals in the history of men's football.

Ronaldo's rivalry with Messi for the title of the world's best player has spurred both to achieve unprecedented heights.

The player now playing for Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia has set standards for what football should be, and we can only expect more from him in the future.


While there are plenty more players we can add to this list, these influential figures have left an indelible impact on football history through their extraordinary skills, unique playing styles, and trailblazing contributions. Their legacy inspires generations of players, shaping how the game is played and enjoyed worldwide.

The first three are now late. We can expect more extraordinary moments from Messi and Ronaldo in the next couple of years. 

©The Football History Boys, 2023


Popular posts from this blog

The Crest Dissected - AS Roma

It’s been a good while since I’ve done a Crest Dissected but after a bit of a summer break and time at the BBC ( Cardiff and Swansea pieces) it’s time to get back down to TFHB writing! So following FC Barcelona , PSG , AS Monaco  and US Women’s Soccer this week I’m going to take a look at AS Roma and their intriguing history.   In the summer of 1927 an Italian Fascist, Italo Foschi , was behind the merger of three older Italian Football Championships clubs all based in Rome, Alba-Audace , Roman and Fortitudo . The purpose of the move was to compete with the well established clubs, especially in the Northern cities but Lazio were not behind the move meaning the Derby della Capitale rivalry was there from the beginning and Associazone Sportiva Roma was born. AS Roma immediately endeared themselves to the masses by taking on the capital’s colours, red and yellow, something Lazio did not consider as they favoured the greek myth of Olimpia and the colour blue. Romulus a

Extra-Time | The Rise and Fall of Silver Goal

The trials and tribulations of golden goal are well documented in football histories, and although not favoured at the time, the concept has seen a wealth of nostalgic sentiment in recent years. Its short-lived successor, ‘silver goal’, however, has seen nothing of the sort. Only in existence for a year, the innovation by UEFA was designed to ‘encourage positive football’ and ‘produce a sensible and fairer ending to a game’. Used just once in a major international competition, the result of the experiment was a confusing, complicated and calamitous exercise of which football was quick to distance itself from. Silver goal was effectively designed to limit extra-time to 15 minutes. If a deciding goal was scored in the first period, or if a team was ahead at the break, then the game would end at half-time in extra-time. Unlike, golden goal 's sudden death approach, this would theoretically gave losing sides at least an opportunity to comeback after falling behind. Furthermore, it pr

The 1978 World Cup: The Most Controversial Competition in History?

In a recent poll on our Twitter feed, we asked our followers, "Which World Cup shall we write about next?" - the response was unanimous - the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Admittedly, before starting this blog, this tournament was probably the one we knew least about - perhaps due to the general negativity which surrounds it. The second World Cup in succession without English involvement, Scotland would be the sole British representative. Taking place in Argentina, the South American nation had seen a ruthless military coup just two years before. As the opening game approached, the 1978 World Cup was to be about far more than just football. Taking place during the Cold War, the tournament's preparations were overshadowed by the removal of President Isabel Peron by the right-wing Argentine military. Supported by the US, the 'junta' would ruthlessly imprison and even kill thousands of left-wing activists which were seen as a threat to the new government. Global