Life is complicated enough, but at least it’s gotten a little easier since the kicker published the first “Ranking List of German Football” in January 1956. This ranking list takes into account a deeply rooted human need, namely that of dividing everything for the sake of clarity, for example into the categories “World class”, “International class”, “In the wider circle” and “In the field of vision”. So maybe it is that kicker It is thanks to us that today we can fall back on so-called “rankings” in all important matters. You can find the ten best hotels for less than 80 euros just as quickly as the ten most popular oligarchs or the ten tastiest jalapeno-spinach grilled sausages that do not come from Uli Hoeneß’s production.

But if you look for the ten best footballers in history, you come across utter chaos, even that kicker no longer knows how to organize. Sometimes the Brazilian Pelé leads a ranking, sometimes Diego Maradona, sometimes Lionel Messi. Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Alfredo di Stefano as well as fat and thin Ronaldo find their supporters depending on the jury, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic would also be a worthy candidate, at least if the jury is made up of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Due to current events, the debate has just started again, Pelé will be 80 years old this Friday. Again the question of the best of the best will be asked, and again: the question of the criteria.

What speaks for Pelé – and what other big names

When it comes to the number of world championship titles (three) and lifelong goals (over 1200), Pele will remain unmatched. When it comes to the ability to decide games, the choice would have to fall on Maradona, who in 1986 managed to become world champion alone in the team sport football. If you want to honor a player’s legacy as well as the quality of a player, Johan Cruyff, who gave football in Amsterdam and Barcelona the total game, or Franz Beckenbauer, who invented the Libero (or, just to ask: Manuel Neuer, who redefined the goalkeeping game?). Anyone who advocates Messi is choosing the constant genius of a club player, whose national team career would have to be forgotten in the free skate to be on the safe side – unlike rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who was European champion with Portugal and has cooler abs anyway.

The question of who is the best player in history remains the ultimate riddle of humanity, the answer lies in the eye of the beholder. Anyone who is guided by the meaning of the game (= goals) thinks of Gerd Müller; if you want to award flawless footballers who are computer-controlled, you end up with Philipp Lahm. The duo Xavi / Iniesta stands for the modesty with which an era can be shaped, and Fritz Walter was the only player after whom a weather is named.

Fritz Walter, by the way, would be 100 years old in eight days, but of course that’s nothing. Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be 40 next year.


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