Years Played: 1979 - 1997
Why he's one of the greatest: Captained Holland to her first silverware in the 1988 European Championship, scoring the opener in the final match against the Soviet Union.
Ruud Gullit epitomized football in the late '80s and '90s. Beginning as a sweeper, he was quickly moved to a forward position while at Dutch side PSV Eindhoven. His pace, agility and strength made him a formidable attacker. Following two glorious seasons at PSV, Gullit broke the world transfer record in 1987 with his move to Italian giants AC Milan. That same year the Dutchman joined an elite group of footballers when he was awarded both the European and World Player of the Year awards. He would go on to win the World Player of the Year award once more in 1989.
Gullit's most glorious years were spent with AC Milan as they hoisted two consecutive European Cups and three Italian league titles. His flailing career was revived through a 1995 move to English side Chelsea. Assuming the role of player-manager in 1996, following the departure of then-coach Glenn Hoddle, Gullit became the first non-Englishman to claim a major trophy with Chelsea's 1997 FA Cup win over Middlesbrough. He then led Newcastle to the final of the same competition two seasons later.
Years Played: 1979 - 2000
Why he's one of the greatest: He holds the record for international caps, having played 150 matches for Germany.
There is no trophy Lothar Matth�us has not lifted at one time over his 20-year career. He first reached prominence with his second club, then-powerhouse Borussia Monchengladbach. His talents didn't go unnoticed, as he was included in the West German national squad that took the 1980 European Championship. A much-unused substitute in the 1982 World Cup, Matthaus was given the daunting task of man-marking Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup final against Argentina. In 1990, West Germany reached its third consecutive World Cup final avenging its loss to Argentina four years prior. Lothar Matthaus wore the captain's armband, scored four goals, and was voted Player of the Tournament.
International success continued for both player and country as Germany reached the 1992 and 1996 European Championship final match, claiming the latter with a golden goal 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic. The World Cup stage would not be so kind with Germany performing poorly in both 1994 and 1998. Among all of his extensive international success, Matthaus claimed six Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich, an Italian title with Inter Milan, and a UEFA Cup with each of the clubs.
Marco van Basten
Years Played: 1981 - 1993
Why he's one of the greatest: Won a total of two World Player of the Year awards, three European Player of the Year awards, and a FIFA World Player of the Year award... taking all three honors in 1992!
Marco van Basten became the man to raise the gauntlet for both club and country following the glory days of Johan Cruyff. Impossible athletic strikes in high-pressure situations were his trademark, with 24 goals in 58 international appearances for Holland. His hallmark looping strike in the 1988 European Championship sealed Holland's first major honors. Considering he was the third choice striker for the tournament, his hat trick against England and semifinal winner against hosts West Germany played no small part in his winning the 1988 World and European Player of the Year awards at the tender age of 23.
Marco van Basten played a major role in the success of both his clubs, Ajax and AC Milan. Claiming three league titles in both Holland and Italy, van Basten was a scoring machine, netting 128 goals for Ajax and 90 for AC Milan. But it was at Milan that he would be heralded as the world's best, winning two European Cups and subsequent Supercups. Unfortunately for football fans worldwide, Van Basten's persistent ankle injuries forced a brilliant player into premature retirement.
Years Played: 1972 - 1987
Why he's one of the greatest: Still holds the record for European Championship goals after captaining France to the 1984 title on home soil, finding the net nine times during the competition.
Michel Platini is arguably one of the best midfielders ever produced by the European continent. Having scored 98 goals over seven years for Nancy, Platini moved on to Turin giants Juventus in 1982, from French side St. Etienne. He quickly endeared himself to the Italian fans twice, leading Juventus to the Italian Championship and claiming three top-scoring titles. It was no surprise when he was named European Footballer of the Year for three consecutive seasons, from 1983 to 1985.
France's golden boy went on to represent his country a total of 72 times, with a record 41 goals for his country. Platini played a major role in the golden age of French football, claiming a fourth-place finish in the 1982 World Cup and the bronze medal four years later. It's rumored that Michel Platini's passion for the game took a turn following the 1985 Heysel disaster in Brussels, where Juventus claimed the European Cup on Platini's penalty kick. Following an unsuccessful stint as national coach in 1990, Platini has continued to be a strong proponent of quality football, playing a large part in France's successful hosting of the 1998 World Cup finals.