Exclusive: 5 Most Skilful Footballers in History Ranked by Joe Cole

Former England international Joe Cole has the tough task of ranking the most skilful footballers in history, featuring Ronaldinho, Zidane and Messi.


Joe Cole was one of the most skilful players the Premier League has seen, particularly in his younger days at West Ham and Chelsea. While injuries eventually got the better of the ex-England international, he can no doubt spot a fellow player with silky ability on the ball.

The three-time English top-flight champion is a highly respected figure in football and has now turned his attention to the world of punditry. Often appearing on TNT Sports’ coverage of Premier League and Champions League clashes, Cole gives his thoughts and feelings on all things football-related.

That was no different when the 42-year-old spoke exclusively to GIVEMESPORT. He was tasked with ranking some of the most skilful footballers the game has ever seen. Due to his own technical abilities, the answers he gave were intriguing. Just missing out on a place in the top five was Brazilian icon Neymar.


Career Span: 1998 – 2015

Ronaldinho celebrates

Ronaldinho will be a popular choice among football fans who were lucky enough to see the dazzling dribbling ability of the Brazilian. The South American nation has produced a long line of supremely talented football players, but the ex-Barcelona and AC Milan hero is widely regarded as the most silky with the ball at his feet.

Ronaldinho not only made the sport look effortless, but he also made many understand the true meaning behind the ‘beautiful game’. The mercurial talent scored some outrageous goals in his career, none more so than his sensational strike against Chelsea in the Champions League, where he confused the opposing defenders with simple body feints before firing into the bottom corner without even needing a run-up. Cole was quick to name the ex-Brazil international as his number one, saying: “Purely for skill, I’d go Ronaldinho in [first place].”

Ronaldinho’s Career


1998 – 2001

Paris Saint-Germain
2001 – 2003


2003 – 2008

AC Milan
2008 – 2011

2011 – 2012

Atletico Mineiro
2012 – 2014

2014 – 2015


2Lionel Messi

Career Span: 2004 – Present

Lionel Messi celebrates scoring for Inter Miami

A man capable of weaving through the narrowest of gaps, Lionel Messi was always going to make it into the conversation when it came to the most skilful players to have graced a football pitch. The diminutive Argentine has left fans’ jaws on the floor a ridiculous number of times with his mix of ball control and low centre of gravity.

Especially in his younger years, Messi was renowned for leaving defenders in his wake and scoring some sublime solo goals. A large part of this is down to his speed of thought, which appears to be on another level compared to anyone the game has ever seen. The 36-year-old isn’t quite as energetic in possession of the ball in 2024, but he can still manipulate a football better than anyone in the world.

Lionel Messi’s Career


2004 – 2021

Paris Saint-Germain
2021 – 2023

Inter Miami
2023 – Present

3Zinedine Zidane

Career Span: 1989 – 2006

Zinedine Zidane looks on

Ronaldinho and Messi were both helped by their smaller frames, meaning changing direction was slightly easier, but this makes Zinedine Zidane’s place on this list all the more impressive. The former midfielder is one of the greatest to ever pull on the famous white kit of Real Madrid, with his energetic bursts from the middle of the park being a joy to watch.

With his 6’1″ frame, the Frenchman was as elegant as anyone he ever faced on a football pitch and was remarkably clever with his use of the ball. Zidane would often use intelligent flicks to gain an advantage over his opponents. His ability to use either foot effectively was a huge part of his capability to go either way, resulting in many midfielders being turned inside-out by the 1998 World Cup winner.

Zinedine Zidane’s Career


1989 – 1992

1992 – 1996

1996 – 2001

Real Madrid
2001 – 2006

4Diego Maradona

Career Span: 1976 – 1997

Diego Maradona in action for Napoli.

Diego Maradona walked so that Lionel Messi could run. Before the legendary Argentine that everyone of the current generation has grown up with and adored, there was another similar wizard from the South American nation that lit up the world game.

His solo goal against England at the 1986 World Cup is still shown often in the modern day after it was named Goal of the Century. Having picked the ball up in his own half, Maradona turned away from two English midfielders with ease before driving at the heart of the Three Lions back-line, eventually beating the final defender and rolling the ball around the on-rushing goalkeeper to score into an empty net. This is just one of many examples of the iconic trickster leaving opposing players looking foolish.

Diego Maradona’s Career


Argentinos Juniors
1976 – 1981

Boca Juniors
1981 – 1982

1982 – 1984

1984 – 1991

1992 – 1993

Newell’s Old Boys
1993 – 1994

Boca Juniors
1995 – 1997

5Cristiano Ronaldo

Career Span: 2003 – Present

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring for Manchester United against Fulham.

Cristiano Ronaldo may not be best known for his trickery on the ball, especially in 2024. After all, the Portuguese superstar is the greatest goalscorer of all time with over 800 goals to his name. Even in his exploits in front of goal, the 39-year-old has shown an incredible degree of technical ability.

He has scored multiple acrobatic efforts in his long and storied career, with the best perhaps being his wonderful overhead kick for Real Madrid against Juventus in the Champions League. In his younger days at Sporting CP and Manchester United, he played as a winger and terrified opposition full-backs within an inch of their lives. The speed at which Ronaldo travelled with the ball was frightening as he left defenders red-faced multiple times each week.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Career


Sporting CP
2002 – 2003

Manchester United
2003 – 2009

Real Madrid
2009 – 2018

2018 – 2021

Manchester United
2021 – 2023

2023 – Present


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