While the other players on this list are renowned for their records, Johan Cruyff is in this list because of the sheer influence he has had in the modern game.
Born in Amsterdam, Cruyff was the crown jewel of football in the Netherlands and was the catalyst in the European nation’s rise to football royalty. When Rinus Michels developed his game of totaalvoetball, Cruyff was the deep-lying forward who made the formation and strategy tick.
Cruyff led the Netherlands to the 1974 World Cup final where they lost to West Germany. Despite losing, the side is fondly remembered for the intricate passing game and attacking mindset. In essence, it laid the foundation for how the game was going to be played in the modern era with highly versatile players who could perform multiple functions on the pitch.
Cruyff adapted the same philosophy on to the club level where he led Ajax from relative obscurity to powerhouse status. The Dutch legend won eight Eredivisie titles with the club and three successive European Cups in 1971, 1972 and 1973.
He then moved to FC Barcelona where he won a league title in the 1973-74 season along with a Copa del Rey in the 1977-78 season. His influence at the Catalan club, however, would emerge out much later as the playing style and values he would instill would serve as the bedrock for the club’s unparalleled success in the 21st century.
After retiring from his playing career, Cruyff became an equally successful manager, leading FC Barcelona to four successive La Liga titles in the early 90s. He also managed them to their first Champions League title in 1991-92. His most telling legacy, however, was the establishment of La Masia, FC Barcelona’s youth academy which would produce world-class players like Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and more.