By 90Min
May 24, 2019

There's a new generation of world-beaters vying for the crown of 'the best footballer of their generation'.

Kylian Mbappe, Matthijs de Ligt, Jadon Sancho, Frenkie de Jong, etc. They're all 'once in a generation' level talents, and they're all fighting to prove that they are the rightful heir to the throne. 

And while they all battle one another for this 'best footballer of their generation' crown, we take a look at the players who were the kings of their generations.


Diego Maradona

DANIEL GARCIA/GettyImages

Years: 1989-92

The best player on this list? At his very best, probably. 

At the height of his powers, Diego Maradona led SSC Napoli to their second Serie A title ever - with the first coming three years prior - their first ever European trophy (the UEFA Cup to be exact), and guided a fairly average Argentina team to second successive World Cup final.

A mercurial talent, a leader, and above all else, a winner.


Roberto Baggio

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Years: 1993-94

Trequartistas aren't exactly a thing anymore. 

There's really only one, his name Mesut Ozil, and people don't take too kindly to his supposed lack of work ethic - despite his obvious talent on the ball.

But way back in 1994, trequartistas were a thing.

And there was one in particular who played the position like no one else could: Roberto Baggio. 

Despite the 220 internal stitches that bound his right knee together, between 1993 and 1994, Baggio was the most effective and dazzling footballer in Europe. Be it in black and white stripes at Juventus (where he won the UEFA Cup, the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award), or in the royal blue of Italy (who he dragged to a World Cup final in 1994 with five of Italy's six goals in the knockout rounds - no, we do not talk about the final), Baggio was a game changer, a game breaker, a natural born world-shaker.

Truly a once in a generation talent.


George Weah

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Years: 1995-96

Sunday, 26 September 1996. AC Milan vs. Hellas Verona. San Siro. 

The ball lands at George Weah's feet on the right hand side of his own penalty area after a rather terrible corner kick.

He flicks the ball forward and proceeds to sprint up the pitch with the ball perfectly in his control.

There are 90 yards and seven players between him and the goal. 

Weah runs the 90 yards in roughly 1.45 seconds, shimmying past seven players - through a combination of luck and obvious skill - then tucks the ball coolly into the bottom right corner with his right foot.

All the aforementioned point to one thing: George Weah was unstoppable.


Ronaldo

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Years: 1997-99

There was a period in the late 90s when everyone and their dog thought they were bearing witness to the greatest footballer of all time.

The perfect footballer. 

That perfect footballer was Ronaldo, in his prime. Before the knee injuries, before the weight gain, even before the World Cup win. 

Between 1997 and 1999, Ronaldo was perfect. 

Combining the skill of a Garrincha, the finishing prowess of a Pele, and the athleticism of a Bo Jackson, it can't be said enough: RONALDO WAS PERFECT. 


Zinedine Zidane

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Years: 2000-03

Elegant.

If you had to describe Zinedine Zidane in one word, the first one that should spring to mind is: elegant. 

For Zizou was the most elegant football of all time. A backheel here, a roulette there, the France legend had every single trick you could possible imagine up his sleeve, and he would do these skills with devastating effect. 

One of only four footballers EVER to score in more than one World Cup final, Zidane was a big game player. One of the biggest big game players of all time.


Ronaldinho

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Years: 2004-06

Ronaldinho was the player we all pretended to be when we were out on the street, with the jumpers down as goalposts, playing football with our friends. 

We all wanted to be Ronaldinho. 

And we all wanted to be the Barcelona star because he played the game with a rare joy. Every single time he got the ball, he received it with a smile on his face, and then he would do something magical that would put a smile on every spectator's face.

The beautiful game in its purest form. 


Kaka

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Year: 2007

The 15-20 goal a season midfielder is a rare breed. There's been Bobby Charlton, Michel Platini, Frank Lampard, Yaya Toure (for a season anyways), and Kaka.

In 2007, the final name on that list was the best footballer anywhere in the world.

He was so good in fact, that his team - AC Milan - won the UEFA Champions League that season, he won the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award.


Cristiano Ronaldo

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Year: 2008

Another Ronaldo.

This time it is Cristiano Ronaldo - who you've probably heard of.

Many will point to the halcyon years of Ronaldo winning back to back to back UEFA Champions League titles as his best, and while trophy wise it was, 2008 was when CR7 was at the peak of his footballing powers.

At his most athletic, his most involved (at Real Madrid he was used as poacher more than anything) and his most potent. In 2008, CR7 could, and did, do it all.


Lionel Messi

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Years: 2009-17

Eight years. For eight years straight years, Lionel Messi was untouchable. 

The Argentine won five of eight Ballons d'Or in this time period, scored the most goals in a single calendar year EVER (91 in 2012) and won five European Golden Shoe awards.

In short, for those eight years, Lionel Messi was astonishing. 

In long, for those eight years, Lionel Messi might've been the best player we've ever/will ever see. 


Luka Modric

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Year: 2018

The man who ended Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi's decade of Ballon d'Or dominance. 

Luka Modric had been long considered to be one of the best midfielders - if not one of the best players - in the world, but in 2018 he proved to himself to be a truly generational talent.

Guiding an unfancied Croatia team to their first ever FIFA World Cup final and winning yet another (his fourth overall) UEFA Champions League, the midfielder proved to the world that even when Messi and Ronaldo are still playing, someone else can still stand-out.


Kylian Mbappe

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Year: 2019-

There are a myriad of young players currently staking a claim to be the current generation's best (De Ligt, Sancho et al), but out of all these talented starlets, Kylian Mbappe is the one who stands out the most. 

A modern day R9 Ronaldo, Mbappe permeated the wider conscious of football fans around the world when he starred at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and since then he has gone from strength to strength.

With 38 goals in all competitions this season (from the right wing), Mbappe looks set to become this generation's superstar, and a multi-time Ballon d'Or winner.

It is incredible that he is only 20 years old.


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