The only criteria for featuring here is that you must be retired - no current players are taken into consideration.
Here are our greatest ever footballers from each of the 7 continents
7. Asia - Paulino Alcantara
For each of the continents we’ll rattle through some honourable mentions, and with Asia there are some interesting names who are probably quite obscure to a lot of football fans.
The Chinese can boast the likes of Lee Wai Tong, who could have topped this seven if it wasn’t so difficult to rank a player who only ever played in Asia itself, and Frank Soo, a fine footballer who was only half Chinese but remains the only player of Asian origin to have represented England on the international stage. South Koreans can point to former Bundesliga star Cha Bum-kun and Manchester United big game player Park Ji-Sung, and there are a raft of Japanese players who I wish I had more time to mention too.
In the end, we had to go for Paulino Alcantara. Being half-Filipino and half-Spanish, you could argue that Alcantara can only half take this one, in which case he can share it with Cha Bum-kun. Alcantara spent the vast majority of his career at Barcelona, and he was still the club’s all time leading goal scorer until being overtaken by Lionel Messi in March 2014 - this despite Alcantara playing his final game for the club in 1927. A quick and slippery second striker renowned for his lethal accuracy and power, he worked as a doctor following his retirement.
6. Africa - George Weah
Liberian politician and ex-footballer George Weah attends the UEFA Champions league quarter-final first leg football match PSG vs FC Barcelona at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on...
The fact that Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o are still playing means our choice for Africa is made somewhat easier. The likes of Roger Milla, Lakhdar Belloumi, Jay-Jay Okocha, Abedi Pele and more may deserve mentions, but Weah is the obvious choice. An incredibly gifted dribbler of the ball, Weah had explosive pace and a rare individual match-winning talent. His best years came at Monaco, PSG and AC Milan, and he won league titles in both France and Italy. In 1995, Weah won both the Ballon d’Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award. He remains the only African to have picked up either accolade. Now aged 51, the three-time African Footballer of the Year became the 25th president of Liberia in 2018.
5. Europe - Johan Cruyff
The second strongest continent in terms of producing players that we would consider as all time greats, the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo is still playing made this a relatively easy decision for us. That isn’t to say that there haven’t been a plethora of incredible European footballers over the years - Franz Beckenbauer, Bobby Charlton, Michel Platini, Eusebio and Ferenc Puskas to name just a few - but Johan Cruyff is a level above even those all time greats.
Technically almost perfect from a young age, Cruyff had impeccable close control even when running at pace - and he really could run at pace. Possibly the most intelligent footballer to have ever laced up their boots, Cruyff was already a pioneer in his playing days, and went on to be an incredibly influential coach at both Ajax and Barcelona. A three-time European Cup and Ballon d’Or winner, we’re happy with Cruyff as our representative for Europe.
4. North America - Hugo Sanchez
Almeria's coach Hugo Sanchez is pictured a Spanish league football match against Deportivo Coruna at Juegos del Mediterraneo stadium of Almeria, southern of Spain, on December 13, 2009....
I always knew that Hugo Sanchez would take the title for North America, but I’m a little bit surprised by just how comfortably he takes it. No other North American footballers come anywhere near Sanchez. The greatest US players like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, or Billy Gonsalves and Walter Bahr if you want to go back that far, really can’t hold a candle to Sanchez, and nor can any other Mexican player. An acrobatic, entertaining and absolutely lethal centre-forward, the Mexican hitman scored 208 goals in 282 games for Real Madrid - where he spent six of his best years - as well as turning out for the likes of Atletico Madrid and Club America. He won the European Golden Boot in the 1989-90 season, and for me, he’s the easiest selection in this seven.
3. South America - Pele
No continent has produced as many all time greats as South America, and we could reel off names such as Alfredo di Stefano, Garrincha, Zico, Maradona, Ronaldo and Jose Manuel Moreno. In terms of talent, there may be a case for Maradona being as good and possibly, maybe, even slightly a bit better than Pele, but in terms of overall greatness, we have to go with the Brazilian.
He conquered the world at 17, and for the next decade or so, there was only one answer to the question of who was the best footballer in the world. Pele was obviously supremely talented, he had real flair and mastery over the ball, but it was the completeness of his game that made him stand out, as much as anything else. His decision making was fantastic even from a very young age, he could score and create goals, he was incredibly inventive, quick, resilient and tremendous in the air, despite not being the tallest. When the Ballon d’Or reconsidered their winners to include non-Europeans, they decided Pele would have won the accolade seven times.
2. Australia/Oceania - Harry Kewell
Asian Cup ambassador Harry Kewell poses for a photo at Crown Metropol on December 13, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.
With Tim Cahill still playing, there are only a few candidates for the continent of Australia, which he have once again twinned with the region known as the Oceania. The first would be Joe Marston, a right-back and centre-back who was a regular for Preston North End in the early-mid 1950’s, playing in an FA Cup final and reportedly attracting a bid of £80,000 from Arsenal at the time. Then there is Wynton Rufer, who has long been considered New Zealand's greatest ever player, having scored prolifically and won multiple trophies with Werder Bremen in the 1990’s. The last candidate would be Mark Viduka, a really gifted centre-forward with great control and an often ruthless finish.
Top spot goes to Harry Kewell though. Although his career was actually somewhat unfulfilled due to injuries, he is still a giant of the Australian game. Kewell made his name with Leeds United at Elland Road as a quick, tricky and creative left winger. He made the PFA Team of the Year in 2000, and joined Liverpool in 2003, where he won the FA Cup and the Champions League. Kewell, who later turned out for Galatasaray and Melbourne Victory, had an absolute wand of a left foot.
1. Antarctica - Stephen McFreeze
No relation to current Antarctic Premier League star Steve Freeze, inter-war legend Stephen McFreeze is in our minds, the greatest Antarctica-based footballer of all time. Born in 1919 and nicknamed Macca. Unlike most European players, McFreeze’s career wasn’t interrupted by the war, since much like Switzerland, the penguins of Antarctica remained firmly neutral.
He spent a total of 16 years with Enderby Land Athletic, where he bagged 688 goals in 432 games, before briefly returning to his boyhood club in the Transantarctic Mountains. We should mention the likes of Donald Chill, Keith Snow, Muhammad Cold and Mark Blizzard, and once Steve Freeze finally hangs up his boots, he’ll surely be in contention, but for now, Macca gets the nod from us.