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Messi or Maradona? Donovan or Dempsey? You decide soccer’s GOATs in these countries

Lionel Messi or Diego Maradona? Is Pele the undisputed best from Brazil? Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan? What about the No. 1 from England? After asking our writers to nominate the most iconic players from around the world, we want you to vote as we try and settle some of the game’s biggest debates: Who is the greatest male player of all time from 13 key countries?

Coming up with shortlists was no easy task, as first we had to establish a clear criteria for G.O.A.T. candidacy. Our panel of writers took into account international and club accolades, as well as considerations such as historical significance and a player’s relationship/connection with fans.

For example, Hugo Sanchez makes Mexico’s list more due to his club accomplishments in Spain than his success with El Tri, and Alfredo Di Stefano, who played for three different countries, is in Argentina’s top three due to his contribution toward the game’s growth in South America.

Simply put, let the debates — and voting — begin …

Jump to: Australia | Brazil | England | France | Germany | Italy | Mexico | Netherlands | Nigeria | Portugal | Spain | United States


Lionel Messi, FW (playing career 2004-)

Notable accomplishments: World Cup second place (1), World Cup Golden Ball (1), Ballon d’Or (6), FIFA World Player of the Year (1), The Best FIFA Men’s Player (1), World Cup Dream Team (1), Copa America Golden Ball (1), Argentine Player of the Year (11)

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Making a case for Messi: Perhaps no player in the history of the game has been able to sustain such consistent excellence at the highest level for a decade and a half — and counting. With the ball tied to his left foot, Messi is a genius in tight spaces, and seems to be watching the game from the best seat in the house, aware of what is happening all over the pitch and making pivotal decisions in a fraction of a second. True, there are no senior titles with Argentina to add to all the silverware he has won with Barcelona — though he does have an Under-20 Cup title and an Olympic gold medal to his name. Even so, he has scored more goals for Argentina than anyone else and has carried them to four finals (one World Cup, three Copa Americas). With 640 goals for Barcelona, Messi needs only four more goals to break Pele’s one-club goal record of 643.

Diego Maradona, MF (1976-1997)

Notable accomplishments: World Cup (1), World Cup Golden Ball (1), World Cup Silver Ball (1), World Cup Silver Shoe (1), World Cup All-Star Team (2), World Cup All-Time Team; FIFA Player of the Century; Serie A (2), South American Footballer of the Year (2), Argentine Footballer of the Year (4)

Making a case for Maradona: Maradona could be his own worst enemy, and his life and career followed a path as mazy as some of his low centre of gravity dribbles, with drug problems and plenty of controversy along the way. But it is doubtful that any player, before or since, has hit the heights in a World Cup that he reached in 1986. It came at a time when he was unstoppable, even for those who tried to foul him. Standing just 5-foot-5, he needed exceptional bravery to perform as he did so superbly in club football in Argentina and, most notably, in leading Napoli to a pair of Serie A titles. Maradona’s career featured various peaks and valleys, but his best stretches are among the best we’ve ever seen.

Alfredo Di Stefano, FW (1945-1966)

Notable accomplishments: South American championship (1), Ballon d’Or (2), World Team of the Century; European Cup (5), La Liga (8)

Making a case for Di Stefano: The last and greatest product of the 1940s golden age of Argentine football, Di Stefano helped Argentina win the 1947 Copa America, but that barely scratches the surface of his influence. He helped get professional football in Colombia up and running starring for Millonarios, but that was a mere warm-up for what he would do in Europe. When the European Cup (now Champions League) was launched in 1955, the continent was still recovering from war. It could have failed but thanks largely to Di Stefano, the heart and brains of Real Madrid, it was a stunning success. Nominally a striker, he dominated the field as Real won the first five versions of the competition, imposing his technique, intelligence and will on all around him. Those years changed football and, by helping improve the image of Spain, changed the course of post-war European history. No player has been more influential. — Tim Vickery




ESPN FC’s panel is unanimous in declaring Pele Brazil’s all-time best over Garrincha and Ronaldo.

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Pele, FW (1956-1977)

Notable accomplishments: World Cup (3), World Cup Golden Ball (1), Ballon d’Or (7), World Cup Silver Ball (1), FIFA Player of the Century, South American Footballer of the Year (1), Copa Libertadores (2), Brazilian league (6)

Making a case for Pele: Pele had it all: strength, speed, balance, vision, immaculate two-footed technique, aerial ability, cunningness, intelligence, a big match temperament, and a fearsome will to ensure he got the most out of his talent. Before Pele, Brazil were all potential. By the end of his playing career, they were the undisputed global power, both for the quantity of titles and for the audacious and joyful way in which they were achieved. From the exuberant skinny teenager of Sweden 1958 through to the outstanding wise old owl of Mexico 1970, Pele was the soul of the beautiful game.

Garrincha, RW (1951-1972)

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