The football world was recently shook by the death of Diego Maradona, one of the greatest players to ever play the game. He was so beloved by fans that his home country of Argentina went into three full days of mourning. Maradona and Pele dominated the GOAT debate long before Ronaldo and Messi. Watching them play was a true privilege, which got me to thinking about my own favorite players.
I have played football (soccer) for most of my life, from grade school up to adult leagues. It’s been my sport of choice, both as recreation and pleasure viewing. I’m a big fan of the English Premier League, so my picks will come from there. Nothing against other leagues, it’s just a personal preference. And when I highlight someone as a “favorite,” I am not claiming they are the best (although some are hard to argue). These are simply the players that I enjoy watching the most, past and present.
My favorite player of all time. Paul retired from Manchester United back in 2013 and I have missed him ever since. No other midfielder has come close to his vision and tenacity. Despite his average size, Scholes was an absolute beast on the pitch, often racking up red cards like a defender with a grudge. And let’s not forget about his scoring prowess. Paul could score goals from clear across the city. Nothing could ripple a net quite like his power shots.
Known as the “Secretary of Defense,” Howard is arguably the most talented goalkeeper ever to play for the USA. He spent most of his professional career in the Prem, playing for Man United and Everton. He was an animal between the posts and commanded matches through shouts, sneers, and angry fists. His superhuman performance against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup remains one of the best football spectacles I have ever seen.
Perhaps the most surprising name on this list, but I loved watching Berbatov because he reminded me of my own playstyle (not that I was ever near his level of talent). The Bulgarian was decidedly un-flashy, a camper striker that you forgot was on the pitch until it was too late. He was known for his strange and unusual goals, often scoring from unexpected places. I still see him as one of the most underrated players of his generation.
Vardy’s rags-to-riches tale is well-known in the footballing world, but that doesn’t make him any less of a phenom on the pitch. He was a crucial part of Leicester City’s stunning title win back in 2015-16, a triumph at 5000:1 odds. His edgy and unpredictable style is what draws so much attention. He’s a roving terror for center backs and goalkeepers, able to score against the most fortified defenses in the world.
Easily one of the best midfielders to play the game, Kante assumes the backbone role of every team he plays for. Along with Vardy, he was a crucial part of Leicester City’s incredible title win. His reads are perfect, his control is astounding, and his stamina is off the charts. He moved to Chelsea after LC, and, unsurprisingly, won the title there too. He’s a player’s player, a respected role model on and off the pitch.
Steven Gerrard (as midfielder for Liverpool)
Nemanja Vidic (as defender for Man United)
Christian Pulisic (as midfielder for Chelsea)
Mohamed Salah (as striker for Liverpool)
Didier Drogba (as striker for Chelsea)
Eden Hazard (as winger for Chelsea)
Harry Kane (as striker for Tottenham)
Fernando Torres (as striker for Liverpool)
Robin van Persie (as striker for Man United)
Edwin van der Sar (as keeper for Man United)