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The 10 greatest British players in football history have been ranked

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Highlights

  • British football has seen legends like George Best and Sir Bobby Charlton make their mark on the game’s history.
  • Gareth Bale and Ryan Giggs are the greatest Welsh players of all-time, while Kenny Dalglish and Denis Law represent Scotland.
  • Some legendary figures such as Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Steven Gerrard and Graeme Souness all miss out, highlighting the quality produced by Britain.

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Britain has produced some of the most talented football players to ever grace a football pitch. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all seen incredibly gifted players go on to have wonderful careers in the beautiful game.

Three of those nations have produced Ballon d’Or winners after all. From George Best to Kenny Dalglish, there are so many unique and brilliant players ot have hailed from these football fanatic nations.

That said, below are the 10 greatest British players ranked in order. As is always the case in football, it’s all subjective. In order to come to the below rankings, the following factors have been considered:

  • Team Trophies
  • Individual Honours
  • Importance to Their Teams
  • Success at International Level
  • Statistical Data (Goals, Assists, Clean Sheets etc.)

10 Greatest British Players Ever

Rank

Player

Nation

1

Sir Bobby Charlton

England

2

George Best

Northern Ireland

3

Bobby Moore

England

4

Wayne Rooney

England

5

Kenny Dalglish

Scotland

6

Gareth Bale

Wales

7

Kevin Keegan

England

8

Denis Law

Scotland

9

Jimmy Greaves

England

10

Ryan Giggs

Wales

1 Sir Bobby Charlton

Career: 1956 – 1980

Sir Bobby Charlton’s tragic passing in late 2023 left Manchester United and England supporters mourning the loss of one of their favourite sons. He is one of three men on this list with his own statue outside Old Trafford, meaning his legacy will live on forever.

After finishing second in the Ballon d’Or rankings in 1966, he went on to win the individual honour in the next two seasons, becoming the first Englishman to win the award more than once. Charlton was a big part of the Three Lions’ success at the 1966 World Cup and played a huge part in three league successes for Man United. The biggest tribute that can be paid to the United icon comes from the club website, which states: “Nobody embodies the values of Manchester United better than Sir Bobby Charlton.”

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2 George Best

Career: 1963 – 1984

Manchester United's George Best smiling.

George Best was as charismatic off the pitch as he was brilliant on it. The Northern Irish hero was lightning-quick and could hurt teams with either foot. He’s one of the greatest players in Manchester United’s history as he netted 158 times for the Red Devils and has been honoured with a statute outside Old Trafford.

He was one of the most technically gifted players of his era, as shown by his Ballon d’Or success in 1968. Best was part of Man United’s European Cup-winning team in the same year after rising to prominence during the club’s two league triumphs in the mid-1970s.

3 Bobby Moore

Career: 1958 – 1983

MixCollage-09-May-2024-11-08-AM-4758

England’s World Cup-winning captain was always going to make his way onto this list, and he makes it onto the podium. Bobby Moore is still idolised almost 60 years later as he is still the only man to lift a major trophy for the Three Lions.

His performances during that tournament in 1966 are believed to be some of the best defensive performances of all time. The West Ham legend was willing to put his body on the line for his team and his ability with the ball at his feet was severely underrated. Moore was one of the first centre-backs to be seen as a Rolls-Royce at the heart of the backline. Players such as John Terry and Tony Adams followed in his footsteps many years later.

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4 Wayne Rooney

Career: 2002 – 2021

England's Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney is the top goalscorer in Manchester United’s long history as the forward scored 253 times for the Red Devils. He is the only man to have put the ball in the back of the net on more occasions than Sir Bobby Charlton in the famous red shirt.

Bursting onto the Premier League scene as a teenager at Everton, Rooney went on to have one of the most successful careers of any English player. Five league titles and a Champions League trophy are the biggest team honours in the scouser’s trophy cabinet. Adding to his goalscoring exploits at club level, Rooney is also the second-top scorer in England’s history after being overtaken by Harry Kane in 2023.

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5 Kenny Dalglish

Career: 1969 – 1990

kenny-dalglish-liverpool

Kenny Dalglish never won the Ballon d’Or – like a lot of the names on this list – but he came extremely close in 1983, as he finished runner-up. The Scot is widely regarded as one of Liverpool’s greatest-ever players, with many who witnessed his dazzling displays in the flesh having him as the best.

‘King Kenny’ is seen as an idol in the eyes of Liverpool and Celtic fans as he achieved great success with both teams. Dalglish won 10 league titles across his spells with the two giant British clubs, as well as three European Cups at Anfield. To be considered the best Scottish player in history – ahead of one of the names still to come on this list – shows just how incredible his dribbling and technical abilities were.

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6 Gareth Bale

Career: 2006 – 2023

Gareth Bale of Real Madrid celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Liverpool

One of the more recent additions to this list is Welsh sensation Gareth Bale. No one could have foreseen the explosion onto the world scene he would have as a young left-back at Southampton and Tottenham. However, one fateful night against Brazilian legend Maicon saw Bale’s standing in the sport rise overnight as he tore the Inter Milan full-back apart in a more advanced role.

Bale never looked back from that moment as he went on to become one of the most feared forwards in the Premier League before becoming a Galactico. His relationship with the Real Madrid fan base appeared strained at times but the Welshman helped the Spanish giants to plenty of silverware including a remarkable five Champions League triumphs. Bale was also instrumental in Wales’ qualification for several international tournaments, playing a huge role in the nation’s run to the semi-final of Euro 2016.

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7 Kevin Keegan

Career: 1968 – 1985

Kevin Keegan

Very few players are good enough to win the Ballon d’Or once, never mind twice. Kevin Keegan not only achieved that special feat, but he did so in back-to-back years while playing for Hamburg in Germany. The English midfielder was the driving force behind the team’s Bundesliga success in the 1978/79 campaign.

He had already achieved more than many footballers could even dream of during his spell with Liverpool. Keegan starred in three First Division title successes in the 1970s. The England international achieved continental glory during his time on Merseyside too, lifting the European trophy in 1977. His dribbling ability and aerial presence were two of the greatest strengths in Keegan’s game in the middle of the park.

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8 Denis Law

Career: 1956 – 1974

Denis Law

Denis Law remains the only Scottish player to ever be awarded the Ballon d’Or. He won the prestigious individual honour in 1964, beating the likes of Luis Suarez (no, not that one) and Eusebio to the award.

Law is a hero in Manchester, having represented both clubs. His most fruitful spell came at Old Trafford, where he won the First Division twice and the European Cup. Law’s success wasn’t just limited to club honours, either, as the centre-forward helped Scotland to six British Home Championship titles in the 1960s and 70s. The Aberdeen-born striker is the joint-top scorer in the club’s history with Dalglish’s previously stated tally of 30.

9 Jimmy Greaves

Career: 1957 – 1980

Jimmy Greaves

Despite playing for London rivals Tottenham and Chelsea, Jimmy Greaves is remembered fondly by both sets of supporters. The striker was one of the most clinical forwards the game has ever seen as he netted 357 top-flight goals in England during his playing days.

The one regret he may have held is that Greaves missed out on his place in the England team at the 1966 World Cup to eventual hero Geoff Hurst. The Spurs icon didn’t receive a winners medal until 2009, when a FIFA rule change took place. Nonetheless, the marksman is still one of the country’s top goalscorers of all-time with 44 goals in 57 appearances for the Three Lions.

10 Ryan Giggs

Career: 1990 – 2014

Ryan Giggs

Ryan Giggs has more Premier League winners’ medals than any other player in the competition’s history as he lifted the iconic trophy 13 times during his time at Manchester United. The Welshman was a true one-club man as he broke numerous records for the Red Devils during his long and storied 24-year career.

The winger holds the record for the most successive Premier League seasons scored in (21), such was his incredible longevity. He may not have achieved much at all with his country, but his club exploits are more than enough to earn Giggs a place in the top 10.

All statistics in this article are courtesy of Transfermarkt (correct as of 22/05/2024).

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