The world of soccer is made up of unforgettable moments; last minute goals, sudden death overtimes, and fans from all over the world that live and breath the game. In that respect, there is perhaps no other sport that creates so much passion on and off the pitch. Of course, the consequence of passionate players and fans is the birth of unprecedented rivalries. Players that are always racing for a scoring title, players that are trying to break records simultaneously, or players that simply do not like each other, and never will.
A perfect example in the current generation is Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. While the players seem to like and respect each other, they play on rival clubs and have constantly competed for the Ballon d'Or for nearly a decade now. Fans of these players seem like they can't give both their due. If they love one, they hate the other. It actually is quite fascinating how much fans of one of these players seem to inevitably despise the other.
There are countless examples of passionate rivalries in the world of soccer. It makes matches all the better. Fans choose sides and constantly try and explain why one is simply better then the other. They create Facebook groups, youtube videos, and even websites dedicated to the sole purpose of proving why the player he likes wins this rivalry. They’re just part of why we love and breathe the game. Here are the top 10 rivalries in the history of futbol.
15 Romario and Bebeto
Better known simply as Romario and Bebeto, the two Brazilians share an interesting rivalry off the pitch. The two were glorious teammates in the 1994 World Cup. But today, both as Brazilian politicians, the two had a recent disagreement over Brazil hosting the World Cup. The two are some of the best goal-scorers in the history of Brazil, Romario third with 55 goals, and Bebeto fifth with 39. Now, as retired football players reborn into politicians, they’ve had a bit of a scuffle.
Romario, as a Rio de Janeiro congressman, lashed out at FIFA and at Brazil for hosting the World Cup, and was a strong advocate against the tournament being played in Brazil, thinking the money could be used more constructively on health care and such. He criticized Brazil for the major delay in construction and operations as well.
Bebeto is at the opposite side of the argument, a legislator for Rio De Janeiro who was a strong advocate for the World Cup in Brazil saying “we have struggled hard to get where we are. And where we are is the result of the struggle and efforts of all Brazilians.” Romario himself took a swing at Bebeto, saying to the New York Times “either Ronaldo and Bebeto aren’t aware of what is going on, or they are pretending they aren’t aware of what is going on. Either way, it is ignorant.” Bebeto answered “my relationship with Romario is that he’ll be my friend for life, forever. It’s just that he has his ideas, and I have mine.
14 João Vieira Pinto vs Paulinho Santos
Although not a rivalry as renowned as the others, Portuguese fans around the world are bound to remember this one. The pair formed perhaps the most memorable rivalry in the Portugese League. João Vieira Pinto played for Benfica for the bulk of the 90’s, whereas Santos played in enemy territory with FC Porto. Paulinho Santos was a very hard worker on the ball and was part of a squad with FC Porto that won five consecutive titles between 1994-1999. The games with Benfica were perhaps the most exciting, especially because of the animosity created between Santos and Pinto. Pinto was by far the best player for Benfica, which is why he was an easy target for Santos.
It is also said that Portugal coach Antonio Oliveira made the two share a room to settle any problem the two had with each other. Still the two had a large respect for each other and were seen exchanging shirts out a respect at the end of a few games.
13 Johan Cryuff vs Franz Beckenbauer
The year was 1974. The scene was the FIFA World Cup final. The teams were Germany and the Netherlands. For many, it is considered the greatest match in the history of the tournament. For many others, it was considered a full on battle between the best players on both teams, Cryuff for the Deutsch, and Beckenbauer for the Germans.
What makes the rivalry between these two so special is that it came at a time where the world of football was experiencing changes. The World Cup format changed, and classic styles of soccer adopted by the Brazilians and Italians in the past were now being replaced by a new superpower, Total Football, a system perfected by the Deutsch and the Germans that allowed players to always fill an empty position when someone was out of place, increasing the overall effectiveness of attack.
The final of that match will always be remembered as Cryuff versus Beckenbauer, the two pillars of Total Football for their respective teams. Despite the Dutch coming out strong with an early goal, the Germans would eventually win the final 2-1.
12 Gerd Müller vs Jupp Heynckes vs Klaus Fischer
We have our first triple threat on the list, as these are the three highest scorers in Bundesliga history. Gerd Müller with 365, Klaus Fischer with 268 and Jupp Heynckes with 220. Even more amazing is they all played at the same time, between he 1960s and the 70s. Muller finished top of the scoring pack most often in his career in the Bundesliga, winning the honour four times and sharing it another three. But Heynckes and Fischer were always breathing down his neck, and each won the scoring title once apiece as well.
Still, the decade these players played together were exciting years in the Bundesliga because they featured some of the league’s biggest legends. Of course, constantly trying to outscore each other to have the most goals made for a good three-way rivalry in the German League.
11 Ronaldinho vs Zinedine Zidane
One could call this the Messi and Ronaldo rivalry of the early 2000’s. The two played for Barcelona and Real Madrid and were considered playmaking legends. Of course, the animosity in their rivalry is somewhat nonexistent, as opposed to the animosity created by everyone in regards to the Ronaldo and Messi rivalry. The reason these two masters of football make it to this list is because both played such a unique style of football, that when comparing the two, it’s quite difficult to see who wins. Zidane played with a simplicity so unique and so effective that not one person can match him in his prime. Ronaldinho, on the other hand, is a god on the pitch, with an understanding of the game that runs so deep, it makes him very had to compare.
Of course, the two were legends for their respective clubs, although Zidane’s career and story is perhaps incomparable. Still, hats off to the both of them for the way they play the game. Ronaldinho has won two Ballon d’Ors for it, and Zidane an amazing three.
10 Rio Ferdinand vs John Terry
In their prime, when Chelsea and Manchester United were the two best teams in the Premier League and were competing for the title year after year, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand defined the notion of strong defence for their respective teams, and were both pillars in the back for years. The two also played for England internationally, and together they made up the bulk of England’s defence. This rivalry stems from those years, constantly facing each other in the EPL and both making a case for themselves as to who is the better defender.
But the reason this rivalry makes it onto this list is because things got ugly between the two in recent years, after John Terry abused Rio’s brother Anton Ferdinand with racial slurs. He claims that John Terry “will always be the biggest idiot.” Ferdinand says that Terry never apologized for the incident. "I've never actually spoken to John about the case. I no longer talk to him, but even three years later I find it impossible to forgive or forget the pain he put us through."
9 Oliver Kahn vs. Jens Lehmann
The rivalry between these two German goalkeepers stems from the fact that both were feuding against each other for the right to be a starter with Germany for many years. Kahn had always been a step up on Lehmann, when Jurgen Klinsmann took over the squad in 2004, he stripped Kahn of his captaincy and said the he and Lehmann would be fighting for starts. When it came down to the World Cup in 2006, it was Lehmann who would be between the posts. Obviously, the entire situation did not seem to amuse Kahn.
Their rivalry somewhat ended in 2006 when Oliver Kahn retired from football at 40 years old. Lehmann, however, continued playing into his 40’s, something Kahn has apparently taken issue with and made fun of in the past. When Lehmann signed with Arsenal at 41 years old, Kahn said "We can see how difficult it is for many to find a fulfilling, meaningful job after leaving professional sports.” Sarcasm at its finest from the world class keeper.
8 Pele vs Eusebio
Pele and Eusebio, playing in similar generations, spark a fierce debate when people try and decide which of the two is better. Of course, it is difficult to even compare anyone to the greatness of Pele, but Eusebio is not just anyone. The Portuguese star had an impressive career, winning the Ballon d’Or in 1965. He scored a remarkable ninr goals in the 1966 World Cup, including a monster four-goal performance against North Korea when his team was down 3-0. Eusebio was deadly for his club as well, scoring a remarkable 748 goals in 733 games for Benfica, beating Pele’s numbers, although not by a lot.
Internationally, Pele was, and still is the king. He has won three World Cups, more than anyone in the world, and Eusebio has only played in the 1966 World Cup. Comparing the two remains difficult. Pele played on an amazing Brazilian side, and Eusebio played in Europe, whereas Pele played in South America. No matter, the two still electrified millions with their quality.
7 Roy Keane vs Patrick Vieira
These two shared what was perhaps the most compelling rivalry of the late 90’s and early 2000’s in world football. Vieira was the skipper for Arsenal and Keane for Manchester United. Both played near the centre of midfield and fought for a title on their respective clubs for the better half of a decade. The two teams were fierce competitors for many years, and seemed to always be inches from each other on the table. The team rivalry made the clash between the two all the better.
Despite the rivalry and the hatred between the teams, there was still a large element of respect between the two players. Vieira once said this about Keane: “He’s a winner. He’s a leader. He’s my favourite enemy.”
6 Ruud Van Nistelrooy vs Thierry Henry
This particular rivalry runs quite deep. If you’re new to soccer, this is what you need to know. In the early 2000’s when these two majestic strikers were in their prime, perhaps the deadliest strikers in the game. Van Nistelrooy playing with Manchester United and Thierry Henry with Arsenal, both were competing for the English Premier League title year after year, pushed by each other’s success and race to earning the goal scoring title.
In their time in the Premier League, Henry had 130 goals to Van Nistelrooy’s 95, with 21 more games played. It was during these years that the race to the title always seemed to come down to Arsenal or the Red Devils. The two made the move to the Spanish League just a year apart, and once again on rival teams, Van Nistelrooy heading to Madrid while Henry tested his skills with an unstoppable Barca squad. Despite their difference in football styles, both were as effective for their teams, and were electrifying to watch.
5 Steven Gerrard vs Frank Lampard
It’s hard to say which of these English legends is better than the other. Both have mastered their positions in midfield, have proven to be able leaders for their respective Premier League clubs, and have both been the centrepiece in midfield for England for the past decade and more. They played the bulk of their careers with rival English teams, and have impacted those clubs positively for years. Their style of game is a little different.
Lampard mastered quick passing in tight areas, arguably one of the best passers in his time. He has great vision long range, and a shot that can almost match Gerrard’s. Lampard has won everything there is to win as well, including three Premier League titles. The Liverpool man, on the other hand, created a name for himself with his ability to show up in big games. He plays an emotional game with the whole of Liverpool behind him, and that’s why he’s so loved in those parts. He’s notorious for carrying a somewhat mediocre Liverpool sides over the years, and although he’ll always be considered one of the best to play in the EPL, he leaves the Premier League never having won a title.
We’ve now reached an age where this rivalry has passed; Gerrard leaving Liverpool for the first time in his career to join the Los Angeles Galaxy, with Lampard’s future uncertain at Manchester City.
4 Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas
Take a look at the last 15 years and ask yourselves the following. Have you ever seen more dominant keepers than Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas since the turn of the century? The two keepers define world class, and have proven time and time again how much they mean for their club and country. Both have over 100 caps for their respective international teams, including one World Cup each to boast. Casillas’s came in South Africa in 2010 and Buffon’s in Germany just four years earlier.
Their track record is just as impressive for their clubs. Both have amassed over 600 appearances for their respective teams. Both have won five league titles. San Iker has a slight edge on Buffon when it comes to club play, although arguments can be made for the quality of the 37-year-old Juventus sensation. All in all, both have made an argument to be considered the greatest keeper of all time, although I’m sure Manuel Neuer will have something to say about that in the next few years.
3 Diego Maradona vs Pele
These two players may just be the two best soccer players to have ever played the game. Although the two did not play in the same generation, their rivalry has sparked much debate, mainly over who was the greatest player of all time. Of course, it doesn’t help that Pele was Brazilian and Maradona was Argentinean, two countries that are intense rivals on the international scene. Although Pele has won an astonishing three FIFA World Cups with Brazil as opposed to Maradona’s one, it’s important to note that Pele was playing for one of the greatest soccer teams of all time, whereas Maradona had to carry a mediocre Argentine team to glory.
Of course, there’s also the matter of Pele being considered a much better role model. Maradona had his spell of issues with drug abuse. Unfortunately, what happens off the pitch has no importance once you’re on the pitch.
2 Alessandro Del Piero vs Francesco Totti
The Italian giants make it onto this list as international teammates, but also as league enemies. Del Piero played his club football at Juventus, while Francesco Totti is still being his legendary self with AS Roma, most recently becoming the oldest player to score a Champions League goal in the history of the tournament. However, what makes Del Piero so special as opposed to Totti in the UCL was his ability to show up in huge games. He has 89 appearances in the UCL, and is on the top 10 of highest scorers in the tournament’s history. Totti himself doesn’t even make the top 50.
Of course, Del Piero also played for a Juventus team that was financially much more comfortable than AS Roma. So although Del Piero had an incredible career, he had the right supporting cast to achieve that. Totti, on the other hand, played on a team with a much smaller budget at hand, meaning the success he found as a footballer is just as impressive, if not more impressive, than Del Piero’s achievements. Totti was also wonderfully technical, and his skill was unmatched, so much so that he won Serie A player of the year twice, whereas Del Piero never did.
As Italy icon Gianni Rivera said: "Totti is better than Del Piero, and even better than me." Although I know quite a few people that would beg to differ.
1 Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi
Every few years, perhaps every few decades, there’s a player that comes along and changes the way we look at the game. The moment they touch the ball, you know there’s the potential for something special to happen. A player that can change the pace of the game with one magical run, that can shut teams down by their sheer skill and ability. These players come along so rarely that we must rejoice when they do come, because we know that we’ll perhaps never see quality like this for the rest of our lives.
In our generation, we’ve known two such players. Have you ever seen a more mesmerizing rivalry than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi? Can it be anymore spectacular that what it’s already been? Not only are the two competing for the Ballon d’Or every single year, the two also play on teams that have arguably the greatest and grandest rivalry in the history of sports. Since Ronaldo’s move to Madrid, Messi and Ronaldo’s stats have been alarmingly close. Messi has 319 goals as opposed to Ronaldo’s 301; 58 Champions League goals to Ronaldo’s 60. Both are making an argument to be the greatest in the world, and will continue to do so until they hang their cleats in modest retirement. Now you may have your opinions as we all do, but whether it’s Ronaldo or Messi you prefer, realize that you are living in an era where the two greatest players in the world are going head to head as foes. All we need to do is enjoy the show.