The art of dribbling is one that demands a tremendous amount of skill, not to mention concentration. In today’s modern game, a footballer requires a certain level of panache in order to carry off those all-important rabonas and through balls. A dribbler is considered to be key to any team as they have the talent to unlock even the meanest of defenses. They don’t have to be the best footballer per se, but if a player has that little bit of genius to take on a centre half or right back, it can spell trouble for the opposition. Take for example the former Tottenham and current Real Madrid player Gareth Bale. The Welshman ran rings around the highly regarded Maicon when facing each other in a Champions League tie a few years ago. In fact, the situation became so embarrassing that the White Hart Lane faithful began singing “Taxi for Maicon.” This was as a result of the Brazilian being left on the floor for most of the game.
However, as we look through the ages of association football, there have been many inspirational moments where dribbling has played a vital role. This includes the likes of Saeed Al-Owairan who scored an unbelievable goal for Saudi Arabia vs Belgium at the 1994 FIFA World Cup. His winding run actually took him past at least four or five Belgians which concluded in the nippy midfielder finding the back of the net past Michel Preud’homme. Delve a little deeper into the footballing archives and you will certainly find other iconic “where were you” passages of play.
From Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier’s strike against Blackburn Rovers to John Barnes wonder goal in the Maracana, dribblers have certainly lit up the hallowed turf. Here’s who did make it into the top 20 ultimate dribblers of all time.
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20 Ryan Giggs
Known as the Welsh Wizard, Ryan Giggs has to be one of the finest dribblers of the lot. He spent an incredible 23 seasons at Manchester United before finally hanging up his boots in 2014. As a left winger, Giggs was multi-talented and could go both on the inside as well as on the outside. Under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson, he was known for his incredible bursts of pace and swerving runs which bamboozled defenses across Europe. Considered to be the most decorated footballer in British history, Giggs trophy haul includes 13 Premier League trophies, four FA Cups, three League Cups and two UEFA Champions Leagues.
19 Johann Cruyff
Johann Cruyff enjoyed a glittering career playing for not one but two prestigious clubs in the form of FC Barcelona and Ajax. He was responsible for instigating the notorious “Cruyff” turn which has now been adopted by dribblers and players all over the world. His illustrious career included spells at both Barcelona and Ajax where he won a host of European Player of the Year Awards. He was a major part of the wonderful Dutch team of the 1970’s and was just as successful as coach at FC Barcelona.
One of many Brazilians to make it into the top 20 is the tricky winger Garrincha. Hailed by many as one of the best dribblers of all time, Garrincha was part of the successful Brazilian team during the 1950’s. Better known as Manuel Francisco dos Santos, this jinky right winger adopted the number 7 jersey and made it his own. Appearing in three FIFA World Cup, Garrincha was a key figure in the 1958 Brazilian victory over Sweden and made 50 appearances for the national side
17 Franck Ribéry
Bayern Munich and French midfielder Franck Ribéry is another winger who was born to dribble. Born in April 1983, the French winger had a relatively insignificant start to his football career with spells at Boulogne, Alès and Metz. It was not until he made the move to the South of France that his dribbling skills caught the limelight. Having crafted his career at Marseille, it was only a matter of time before Ribery moved into the big leagues. He eventually signed for Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich for nearly 30 million euros.
16 Michael Owen
With pace to burn, the former Liverpool, Newcastle and Real Madrid striker Michael Owen literally had the world at his feet. Owen was best known for his blistering pace and this was clearly evident at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Owen shot to fame when he faced the might of Argentina in the knockout phase. He launched himself onto the scene at just the tender age of 18 when he dribbled past a couple of Argentinean defenders and slotted home.
15 Dennis Bergkamp
There are really not enough superlatives to describe the magic of Dutch talisman Dennis Bergkamp. The former Inter Milan and Arsenal forward has gone down in folklore at the Emirates as one of their all-time greatest players. Known as the Flying Dutchman, Bergkamp began his career at Ajax and moved to Arsenal in 1995. With an extensive repertoire of tricks and shimmies, Bergkamp amassed an impressive 37 goals in 79 games for the Dutch national team with 6 coming in World Cups.
14 Manuel Neuer
A goalkeeper makes it into the Top 20 list and it is German number 1 Manuel Neuer. The Bayern Munich shot stopper has taken the position of “sweeper keeper” to new heights. An imposing figure at 1.93m, he is highly adept on the ball. Neuer’s Munich teammates have even put forward the notion that he is even good enough to play in the middle of the park. The way in which he is able to caress the ball without the slightest need to panic has ensured he’s both adept at shot stopping and tidying up the play.
13 George Weah
Liberian George Weah is another technically gifted dribbler that saw him reach the dizzying height of the San Siro. Born in October 1966, the former AC Milan striker’s prestigious career saw him pick up the honour of African, European and World Player of the Year. A real rags to riches tale, Weah also had spells at Chelsea and Monaco where he was snapped up by the latter’s manager at the time, Arsene Wenger. Currently, Weah has turned his attention to becoming a political activist in his home nation.
12 Chris Waddle
Loved by many people on Tyneside, Chris Waddle made a name for himself as a creative winger at Newcastle United playing alongside the likes of Paul Gascoigne. The way he was able to move the ball from left to right was mesmerising and saw Waddle’s stock increase. He then signed for Marseille where he had a few successful seasons, terrorising a variety of back fours. He enjoyed spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Burnley before hanging up his boots for the pundits chair at the BBC.
11 Steve Mcmanaman
Merseyside’s very own Steve Mcmanaman enjoyed life on the Wirral thanks to a glorious career at Liverpool between 1990 and 1999. He played alongside several famous names such as Ian Rush and John Barnes before moving for sunnier climbs. The right winger was known for not only his speed but his creative thinking in and around the penalty area. After moving to Real Madrid, he went on to win the prestigious UEFA Champions League where he scored in a 3-0 win over Spanish rivals Valencia.
10 David Ginola
His Gallic flair lit up the Premier League like no other but David Ginola was much more than star power. The French winger was adored by Newcastle, Aston Villa and Tottenham fans where he spent most of his playing career. Known for his spectacular runs and even greater goals, Ginola was a real give and go kind of winger. He went on to win 17 caps for “Les Bleues” at international level, whilst winning the highly sought after PFA and Football Writers Award for the 1998/99 season.
9 Roberto Baggio
With his slicked back pony tail and film star looks, Robert Baggio was the pin up player on many bedroom walls. His unique dribbling style and low center of gravity meant he put on a series of decadent displays for the adoring fans. He was a starlet on the Italian team of during the 1990’s but will be most remembered for that penalty miss. This took place in the 1994 FIFA World Cup against Brazil where Baggio blasted over the bar and Brazil went on to become winners.
One of the most iconic faces on the planet, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind the contribution that Pele has made to world football. The 3 time World Cup winner has scored more than an incredible 1,200 goals in a glittering career and was just 17 when he won the World Cup. Having spent most of his time playing in his native Brazil, Pele made the move to North America and joined the New York Cosmos. Nowadays, Edison Arantes do Nascimento is a global ambassador for the sport.
7 George Best
One of the most naturally gifted wingers and dribblers of all time, George Best richly deserves his place in the top 10. The Northern Ireland international is most famous for his time spent at Manchester United. Adorning the number 7 shirt, Best was a natural born winner and extremely unpredictable on the ball. Yet this led to plenty of success on the field at United where he was part of the illustrious 1968 European Cup winning team under the helm of Sir Matt Busby.
6 Zinedine Zidane
An innovator, a creator and a sculptor, Zinedine Zidane was one of those rare footballing artists. “Zizou” made the game effortless and won the lot at both club and international level. The fruits of his efforts helped Zidane make appearances for Juventus and he was part of the first wave of Galaticos alongside David Beckham and Ronaldo at Real Madrid. His two goals for France in the 1998 FIFA World Cup helped the Algerian born Zidane achieve legendary status in his country.
The debonair Brazilian has caught many an eye over the years thanks to his incredible technical skills. Ronaldinho grew up in Porto Alegre, Brazil and hailed from a football mad family. He reached the highest echelons of the game winning a number of different awards along the way such as the FIFA World Player of The Year as well as the coveted Ballon D’Or in 2005. He was a figurehead at the 2002 FIFA World Cup where Brazil beat Germany 2-0 in the final with both goals from Ronaldo.
4 Bobby Charlton
It goes without saying that another Manchester United should feature in the Top 20 dribblers of all time. Manchester United forward Sir Bobby Charlton is one of the greats of the game and still holds the record for the most England goals scored at 49. A gentleman both on and off the pitch, Charlton was part of the iconic 1958 Busby Babes team and later played alongside Denis Law and George Best. In one of the most fearsome triumvirates that football has ever witnessed, Charlton made over 750 appearances for Manchester United alone. Aside from achieving 106 caps for England, he was an integral part of the United team that went on to win the 1968 European Cup. On the night, Charlton was one of the goal scorers in a 4-1 win over Benfica.
3 Diego Maradona
There are no words to describe the icon that is Diego Armando Maradona. Probably one of the most famous players to wear the number 10 shirt, the Argentine forward has consistently been voted as one of the all-time greats of the beautiful game. His skills on the ball knew no bounds, as he tempted and teased defenders into committing before sweeping past them. His playing career saw Maradona win over numerous fans at Barcelona as well as Napoli where he is still revered to this very day. Meanwhile, he courted more off the field antics thanks to a number of different incidents. This included several illegal substance charges and increasing problems dealing with obesity. Nevertheless one cannot deny Maradona’s effect on the pitch. This was not only for the controversial “Hand of God” incident but the way in which he tormented defenders and carried his nation to victory in the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
2 Lionel Messi
Arguably the greatest player of his generation, Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is on a pedestal all of his own. At just 27 years of age, Messi has already clocked up a plethora of awards such as numerous Ballon D’Or trophies and 2 UEFA Champions Leagues title. At times it is as if the ball is attached to his feet with a fine thread. His intense close control of the football enables him to dribble nonchalantly past even the best of defenders. Messi has broken all sorts of records in his time at the Nou Camp. This features when he became Barcelona’s leading scorer in March 2012 surpassing the previous record of 232 goals set by Cesar Rodriguez.
1 Cristiano Ronaldo
There could only be one Ronaldo at number 1 and Cristiano takes the top spot. Having honed his skills at Sporting Lisbon before a multi-million pound move to Manchester United, it was under Sir Alex Ferguson’s tutelage that Ronaldo blossomed. After an £80 million move to Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo has gone on to the next level with his dizzying array of dribbling and sheer athleticism. Having finally achieved the Ballon D’Or Award in 2013, Ronaldo is all set to break the goal scoring record of renowned Madrid striker Raul. Furthermore, Ronaldo is within a whisker of breaking Raul's amount of goals in the Champions League this season.
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