Ronaldo (Ronaldo Luiz Nazario da Lima)
Years Played: 1993 - Present
Why he's one of the greatest: Through his outstanding play, Ronaldo has twice earned the triple honor of being named the European, World, and FIFA Player of the Year.
Ronaldo's meteoric rise to fame began at Brazilian club Cruzeiro in 1993, where he scored 58 goals in 60 matches. Following two outstanding seasons at Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, he joined Spanish giants Barcelona in 1996. In his first season with the Catalan club, he scored an amazing 34 goals in 37 games to finish as the top scorer in the Spanish League. His 1997 move to Italian side Inter saw him make a mockery of the famed Italian defenses, scoring 25 goals in the league and helping Inter win the UEFA Cup, all during his first season. When Real Madrid came knocking in 2002, Ronaldo answered the call. He went on to score 23 goals in his debut season for Madrid and 24 the following season, which resulted in another Spanish scoring title.
A much unused substitute in the 1994 World Cup, Ronaldo shone in the 1998 edition of the competition, netting four goals before mysteriously falling ill the day of the final as his side lost 3-0 to France. Four years later, Ronaldo returned to prove his point: eight goals throughout the competition, including both goals in the final match against Germany, and Brazil was crowned the 2002 World Cup champion.
Alfredo Di Stefano (Alfredo Di Stefano Laulhe)
Years Played: 1943 - 1966
Why he's one of the greatest: At Real Madrid, Di St�fano claimed eight Spanish League titles and won the first five editions of the European Champions' Cup, scoring in every final match.
Alfredo Di Stefano's leadership on the field and commanding skills translated into Real Madrid's dominance of Europe in the late '50s. Unfortunately, the world stage was unkind to Di Stefano. As an Argentine international, he missed out on the 1950 World Cup and by 1954, having played for both Argentina and Colombia, FIFA refused to let him represent Spain. In 1958, Spain did not qualify, while in 1962 he didn't partake in the World Cup due to injury.
He more than made up for his lack of presence in international competitions with his outstanding club play. Spotted by Real Madrid while playing for Colombian side Millonarios of Bogota, the Spanish side snatched him out from under Barcelona's grasp. In one of the most famous European Cup finals of all time, "The Blond Arrow" completed a spectacular hat trick as Real Madrid thrashed Eintracht Frankfurt 7-4 to lift the trophy for the fifth consecutive season. From "The Machine" line at River Plate, to the "Blue Ballet" at Millonarios, and finally as a member of one of the most lethal strike partnerships alongside Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas at Madrid, the five-time Spanish league top scorer was the world's first total footballer.
Years Played: 1943 - 1966
Why he's one of the greatest: With an amazing record of 83 goals in 84 internationals for Hungary, and four more while playing for Spain, Puskas remains one of the most dominant strikers of all time.
The legacy of Hungary's "Magic Magyars" of the 1950s revolved in no small part around striker Ferenc Puskas. The short, barrel-chested "Galloping Major" terrorized the opposition with his thunderous left foot. After winning the 1952 Olympic title and ending England's dominance of Europe, the Hungarians were heavy favorites to win the 1954 World Cup. Hungary hit 17 goals and allowed only three in the group stages before taking out Brazil and Uruguay in the following rounds. Despite serious injury, Puskas played and scored in their heart-breaking final loss to West Germany.
Due to civil unrest back home, Puskas and several of his Honved teammates decided to remain in the West while their team was abroad. After being turned down by several Italian clubs due to his age, he made a home at Real Madrid, consequently winning five Spanish titles. His four goals in the famed 1960 final against Eintracht Frankfurt marked the second of his three European Champions' Cups at Madrid. Despite a hat trick in the following year's final, it would not be enough to defeat Eusebio's Benfica. Throughout his strike partnership with Alfredo Di Stefano at Real Madrid, Puskas truly was Spain's "Little Cannon."
Years Played: 1932 - 1965
Why he's one of the greatest: The longest-standing player of all time, Stanley Matthews' career spanned 33 years by the time he decided to retire.
Playing in the traditional outside-right position, Matthews was without rival, tearing up defenses with his surging runs. Nicknamed the "Wizard of Dribble," he turned professional with Stoke City in 1932 at age 17. He inspired the team's promotion from the second division, a feat he repeated at age 46 in 1961. Two years after joining Stoke City, he made his debut for England against Wales. Matthews was a key figure in his country's four-goal rout of Italy in 1948, considered by many to be one of England's greatest ever victories. In 1957, Matthews played the last of his 84 international matches for England, a career that had spanned the war.
Matthews inspired Blackpool to a 3-1 comeback against Bolton, to win the 1953 FA Cup medal. The glory was long overdue, as Blackpool had twice reached the finals in 1948 and 1951, only to lose to Manchester United and Newcastle respectively. At the age of 50, he ended his footballing career with a testimonial match including the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, and Lev Yashin. Matthews maintained that he could have kept playing well into his 50s.