A legend of the game, Cryuff defined the game both as a player and manager. His philosophy set the tone for Pep Guardiola to revolutionize the playing style first at Barcelona before following it up with Bayern Munich and now Manchester City, where they said the passing game would not work. As a player, Cryuff enjoyed unprecedented success winning 3 Champions league titles with Ajax in the early 70s along with some 8 Eredivisie titles. In addition, he won 3 Ballon D’Or titles. However, for all his achievements at the club level, Cryuff could never follow it up with the Oranje. He did come ever so close to achieving the feat before the Dutch lost to West Germany.
Luis Figo was the central figure in the Portugal’s golden generation of the early 2000s. The Ballon D’Or winner was the Barcelona captain and famously joined Real Madrid much to the chagrin of the Catalans. However, there was never a doubt that Figo was a world-class player. Despite lacking the pace, he had a football brain and the technical ability to go with it which made him so successful with several top clubs. However, at the international stage, Figo did not have the most prolific of the times. Losing to Greece in the final in 2004 was as close as he came.
An all-time AC Milan legend, Paolo Maldini was symbolic of the Milan squad that was just relentless back in the day. Maldini’s no-nonsense attitude is a rare asset in the modern game. Maldini, like his father, holds a legendary status at San Siro and rightly so. He won a massive 8 league titles and 5 Champions league titles with the Italians. With the Nerazzurri though, Maldini could not replicate the success. Losing in the ’98 final was a huge disappointment and to make it worse, Italy won the 2006 world cup after he retired in 2002.
One of Real Madrid and Spain’s all time great, Raul wore the prestigious no 7 shirt for both the club and country. He was Real’s leading goalscorerand also champions league’s leading goalscorer. He won numerous titles with Real Madrid including 3 Champions leagues, which well placed him in Real’s history books. The same cannot be said for his international career though, which was exacerbated when he was dropped for Euro 2008, which triggered a series of honours for La Roja.
The Argentine will undoubtedly go down in the list of all time greats, if not the greatest player. Having won 9 La liga titles, 4 Champions leagues and some 4 BallonD’Ors along with myriad memorable moments, Messi never ceases to amaze. Everytime the world thinks that they have seen enough, the Argentine comes up with something from out of this world. For Argentina though, luck has been way too tough on him. He has been on the losing end of 3 straight finals, including the World Cup final of 2014.