Rui Costa is renowned for his fine technique and his excellent passing, he’s now considered as one of the greatest midfielders of his generation. In 2004, he was named by Pelé in the FIFA 100, as one of the 125 greatest living football players.
Costa was named the best number 10 player in the Serie A a few times. His departure from Fiorentina was discussed every season, since many clubs constantly showed interest in signing him. However, he only left when Fiorentina went bankrupt after the 2001–02 season.
Fatih Terim was the coach of Fiorentina in the 2000–01 season. When he was leaving Fiorentina for Milan, he took Costa with him, paying a reported £30 million for the player. In doing so, Costa became Milan’s most expensive transfer of all-time. Costa played five seasons in Milan, where he won one Serie A title, one Italian Cup, one Italian Super Cup, one UEFA Champions League, and one European Super Cup.
In 2006 Rui Costa had been released from Milan after both the player and the club reached an agreement to end his contract. Costa also gave up his €4.6 million per year contract to play in the club that, year after year, had dreamt of his return. Costa’s affection for Benfica is publicly known and so is his desire to end his career at the Portuguese club.
Rui Costa was a member of Portugal’s most consistent years at senior level as the team reached the quarter-finals of Euro 1996, the semi-finals of Euro 2000, and the final of Euro 2004. Costa was especially instrumental in helping Portugal reach the 2004 final.
Costa also took part in the World Cup 2002 in Japan and South Korea scoring Portugal’s winning goal in their 4–0 win over Poland. The only time in his career that Costa was sent off was in an international game against Germany.
Despite being principally a provider, Costa chipped in with a highly impressive 26 goals in 94 games.
Luís Figo is one of the best players Portugal ever had. He played as a midfielder for Sporting CP, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Internazionale, during a career which spanned over a period of 20 years. He retired from football in 2009. He won 127 caps for the Portuguese national football team, a number that makes him the most capped Portuguese player in history.
Figo was the 2000 European Footballer of the Year, the 2001 FIFA World Player of the Year, and was named amongst the FIFA 100.
Figo is one of the few football players to have played for both the Spanish rival clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. He had a successful career highlighted by several trophy wins, such as one Portuguese Cup, four La Liga titles, two Spanish Cups, three Spanish Super Cups, one UEFA Champions League title, one UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, two UEFA Super Cups, one Intercontinental Cup, four Serie A titles, one Italian Cup and three Italian Super Cups.
Gianfranco Zola spent the first decade of his career playing in Italy, most notably with Napoli, alongside Diego Maradona and Careca, and at Parma, before moving to English side Chelsea, where he was voted Football Writers’ Player of the Year in 1997 and Chelsea’s greatest ever player. He was capped 35 times for Italy.
Zola helped Chlesea win four trophies and scored the winner in the 1998 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final just seconds after coming on as substitute. In all Zola, scored 80 goals in 312 games, with many of them being spectacular efforts.
Above all, Zola always played football as if he enjoyed it and was almost universally popular amongst opposition fans.
A native of Newcastle upon Tyne, Shearer made his professional debut with English top-flight club Southampton in 1988, scoring a hat-trickin the process. During several years on the south coast, he became known for his classic style of play, strength and goalscoring ability; he soon received an international call-up along with a transfer to Blackburn Rovers in 1992.
Shearer established himself as a player in northern England; he became a regular in the England squad, and his 34-goal tally helped Blackburn secure the Premier League title in 1994–95. He was named Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year in 1994 and won the PFA Player of the Year award in 1995.
The 1995–96 season saw Shearer make his first Champions League appearances and finish as the top scorer in the Premier League with 31 goals. He was also top scorer at Euro 1996 with England, scoring five goals, and in the 1996–97 Premier League, with 25 goals.
A world-record £15 million move to his boyhood heroes, Newcastle United, followed the Euro ’96 tournament, and Shearer spent the remainder of his career with the club.
While he would never win a major trophy at Newcastle, Shearer won runners-up medals in the Premier League and FA Cup with Newcastle, and a second PFA Player of the Year award. After being named England’s captain in 1996 and Newcastle’s captain in 1999, he retired from international football following Euro 2000, having amassed 63 appearances and 30 goals for his country.
He scored 283 league goals in his career, including a record 260 in the Premier League, and a total of 422 in all competitions including international at all levels. Shearer has amassed a goals to game ratio of 0.667, which equates to just over two goals every three games he has played throughout his career at every level and competition.
Carlos Alberto Valderrama Palacio is one of the best players in Colombian history and South America. His mass of blond, permed hair made him one of Colombia’s most recognisable footballers.
Valderrama was a member of the Colombia national football team in the 1990s. Between 1985 and 1998 he represented Colombia in 111 full internationals and scored 11 times, making him the most capped player in the country’s history.
Valderrama was known for the accuracy of his passing and his ability to provide assists that were very immaculate. In 2004, Valderrama was included in the FIFA 100, a list of “greatest living footballers” chosen by Pelé to celebrate the 100th anniversary of FIFA.
Valderrama began his career at Unión Magdalena of the Colombian First Division in 1981. He also played for Millonarios and Deportivo Calibefore joining Montpellier of the French First Division in 1988.
He then went on to play for Independiente Medellín and then Atlético Junior, for whom he won the Colombian championship in 1993 and 1995. In 1996, he went to the US to play for the Tampa Bay Mutiny (1996–97, 2000–01), Miami Fusion (1998–99), and Colorado Rapids (2001–02). While a member of the Mutiny, the team would sell Carlos Valderrama wigs at Tampa Stadium.
Dennis Bergkamp has been described by Jan Mulder as having “the finest technique” of any Dutch international and a “dream for a striker” by teammate Thierry Henry.
He was spotted by Ajax at the age of 11 and made his professional debut in 1986. Good form led to an international call-up a year later, attracting the attention of several European clubs. Bergkamp signed for Italian club Internazionale in 1993 where he had two disappointing seasons, before joining Arsenal in 1995.
It was at Arsenal where Bergkamp rejuvenated his career, helping the club to win three Premier League titles, four FA Cup trophies and reach the 2006 UEFA Champions League Final, which marked his last appearance as a player. With the Netherlands national team, Bergkamp surpassed Faas Wilkes’s record to become the Netherlands’ top goalscorer of all time in 1998, later surpassed by Patrick Kluivert.
Bergkamp was selected by Pele as one of the FIFA 100 greatest living players and is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in his generation. In 2007, he was inducted into the FIFA Hall of Fame, the first and so far only Dutch player ever to receive such honour. Bergkamp has also finished third in the FIFA World Player of the Year award twice. Due to his fear of flying, Bergkamp has been affectionately nicknamed the Non-Flying Dutchman by Arsenal supporters.
Matt Le Tissier spent his entire club career with Southampton and gained eight caps for the England national football team. An attacking midfielder with exceptional technical skills, Le Tissier is the second-highest ever scorer for Southampton behind Mick Channon and was voted PFA Young Player of the Year in 1990.
He was the first midfielder to score 100 goals in the Premier League. He is notable for his record at scoring penalty kicks, converting from the spot 47 times from 48 attempts and is considered one of the greatest ever from the 12 yard spot.
In spite of interest from bigger clubs such as Tottenham Hotspur in 1990 and Chelsea in 1996, Le Tissier remained at Southampton for his entire professional career, his loyalty garnering special affection from Southampton’s fans who nicknamed him “Le God”.
Hristo Stoichkov is regarded as one of the best footballers of his generation and the greatest Bulgarian footballer of all time.
Stoichkov began his career in his hometown, moving to Hebros in 1984. The next year he went to CSKA Sofia.
There, he was involved in a fight during the final of the 1985 Bulgarian Cup which resulted in an original lifelong ban, which was eventually reduced to a month suspension. After he was brought back to football, he managed to win the European Golden Boot with CSKA by scoring 38 goals in 30 games.
He then moved on to FC Barcelona, where he was part of Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team‘, Stoichkov helped Barcelona to one of the most successful eras of the club, winning the Primera Division four years in a row between 1991 and 1994 and the European Cup after defeating Sampdoria in 1992. During his stay in Barcelona, he had become an idol for the club’s fans.
In his first season with the club Stoichkov was suspended for two months for stomping on a referee’s foot, but he still netted 14 league goals and six more in the Cup Winners’ Cup. Stoichkov then had short spells with Parma, Al-Nassr, and finally finishing his career in Japan with Kashiwa Reysol and the United States with the Chicago Fire and D.C. United.
He was a member of the Bulgaria national team that finished fourth at the 1994 World Cup. Apart from his footballing talent, he was notable for his on-pitch temper. He was honoured as European Footballer of the Year in 1994. He was named by Pelé as one of the125 Greatest Living Footballers at a FIFA Awards Ceremony in 2004.
Augustine Azuka “Jay-Jay” Okocha first began playing football on the street just like many other football stars, usually with a makeshift ball. In 1990 he joined Enugu Rangers. In his time at the club he produced many spectacular displays.
Okocha joined Eintracht Frankfurt in 1992, where he shined, one highlight being a goal he scored against Karlsruhe, dribbling in the penalty box and slotting the ball past Oliver Kahn even going past some players twice. The goal was voted Goal of the Season by many soccer magazines.
Okocha joined Turkish club Fenerbahçe following Eintracht Frankfurt’s relegation to Bundesliga 2. In his two seasons with the team he amassed thirty goals in sixty appearances, many of them coming from direct freekicks which had become something of a trademark for him at the club. He was also part of the side that historically defeated Manchester United 1–0 at Old Trafford in the 1996-1997 UEFA Champions League group stage. While at Fenerbahçe he became a Turkish citizen as “Muhammet Yavuz“.
In 1998 French side PSG splashed around $24 million on Okocha, making him the most expensive African player at the time. During his 4-year stint with PSG, he played 84 matches and scored 12 goals.
Okocha joined Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer after leaving PSG in the summer of 2002 after the FIFA World Cup. His debut season, despite being hampered by injury, made him a favourite with the Bolton fans, with the team printing shirts with the inscription “Jay-Jay – so good they named him twice“. He steered the team away from relegation with seven goals, including the team Goal of the Season in the vital league win against West Ham. This was voted Bolton’s best Premier League goal in a fans vote in 2008. The next season saw Okocha receive more responsibility as he was given the captain’s armband following Guðni Bergsson’s retirement. As captain he led Bolton to their first cup final in nine years where they finished runners-up in the 2004 Football League Cup.
After just one season in Qatar, Football League Championship side Hull City signed Okocha on a free transfer in 2007, at the end of the season, after changing his mind on a proposed retirement due to Hull’s promotion, he was released by the club, which sent him into retirement.
Patrick Kluivert is the Dutch national team all-time leading goalscorer with 40 goals.
Kluivert was part of Ajax’s Golden Generation of the 1990s. He made his debut in the senior team of Ajax in 1994 at the age of 18 in the Dutch Super Cup win against Feyenoord, in which he scored his first goal. The 1994–95 season saw Kluivert make his mark – along with a host of youngsters from the Ajax youth academy, including Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, and Edwin van der Sar – on the European stage with a triumph in the UEFA Champions League. Kluivert came off the bench to score an 85th minute winner in the 1995 Champions League Final against A.C. Milan in Vienna, Austria. He soon became Ajax’s “Golden Boy” of the mid-90s, leading the Ajax front-line as the side claimed several pieces of silverware during that period.
He declined a new contract to leave for Milan on a Bosman transfer in 1997, by which time he had scored 39 goals from 70 games in the Dutch league over three seasons. His career at A.C. Milan started well, when he scored a sensational goal against Juventus in a friendly match. After scoring only six goals in the Serie A, he left for FC Barcelona.
On 28 August 1998, an hour before the transfer deadline, Kluivert signed a four-year contract with FC Barcelona for a fee of £8.75 million. Kluivert was reunited with Louis van Gaal, a mentor from his days at Ajax. Kluivert formed a successful partnership with Rivaldo, which enabled Barça to defend the Spanish La Liga in 1998–99. The following season was also a successful one for Kluivert. Although Barcelona failed to win a third consecutive league title, Kluivert finished the season as the club’s top scorer with 15 league goals. He was released from Barcelona in the summer of 2004. He scored 90 league goals in his time with the club, leaving him as the 6th (sixth) all time top-scorer for the club in La Liga.
Kluivert joined Newcastle United in 2004, despite scoring 13 goals in his debut season, Newcastle finished the league in the bottom half which triggered a clause in his contract saying either party could decide not to extend his contract a further year. Patrick had another two short spells with Valencia, Lille and PSV.
Kluivert will be remembered for rising to the occasion in front of partisan home crowds, scoring five goals in as many games, jointly claiming the Golden Boot with Savo Milošević.
Roberto Baggio is as one of the finest footballers of all times (4th at a Fifa internet poll; member of the Fifa World Cup Dream Team), Baggio won both the Ballon d’Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1993. He is the only Italian player ever to score in three World Cups. He is also one of the top 5 all-time goalscorers for Italy. Baggio is known as Il Divin Codino (The Divine Ponytail), for the hairstyle he wore for most of his career and his Buddhist background.
Baggio totalled 27 goals in 56 caps for his national team, the fourth-highest of all time for Italy. He is the only Italian player ever to score in three World Cups with a total of 9 career World Cup goals, which puts him even with Christian Vieri and Paolo Rossi as Italy’s top World Cup scorers. For all his talent he was never rewarded with a victory in an international competition. He infamously missed the deciding penalty in the final of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, which contributed to Italy losing the trophy to Brazil.
He made his Serie A debut for Fiorentina on 21 September 1986 against Sampdoria and scored his first league goal on 10 May 1987 against Napoli, in a match best remembered for Napoli winning the Scudetto for the first time in their history. In 1990, Baggio was sold to Juventus, amid outcry from Fiorentina fans, in 1990 for €10 million (US$13.6 million), the world record transfer for a football player at the time. In 1993, he won his only European club trophy, helping Juventus to the UEFA Cup final in which he scored twice. His performances earned him both the European Footballer of the Year and the FIFA World Player of the Year titles. In 1995 Baggio won his first Scudetto with Juventus.
In 1995, after strong pressure from Milan chairman Silvio Berlusconi, he was sold to the Milanese club. At this time, he had been linked with English Premier League clubs Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers, but no firm offers were made from either of these clubs. He helped Milan win the Serie A title, becoming the first player to win the Scudetto in consecutive years with different teams.
In 1997, Baggio transferred to Bologna in order to resuscitate his career, and after scoring a personal best 22 goals that year. After the 1998 World Cup, Baggio signed with Internazionale. This proved to be an unfortunate move, as the then coach Marcello Lippi did not favour Baggio. This caused Baggio to lose his place in the national team.
Baggio maintained a high level of performance in the next years, playing at Brescia until his retirement in 2004. He played his last game on 16 May 2004 at the San Siro against Milan. In the 88th minute, Brescia coach Gianni De Biasi subbed Baggio off so he could get his curtain call. The 80,000 present at the San Siro gave him a standing ovation. He ended his career with 205 goals in Serie A, making him the sixth-highest scorer of all time behind Silvio Piola, Gunnar Nordahl, Giuseppe Meazza, José Altafini and Francesco Totti. His number 10 jersey was retired by Brescia. He scored his 300th career goal on 16 December 2002 in Brescia’s 3–1 home victory over Piacenza. He was the first player in over 50 years to reach this milestone.