The Decades Best World Football XI From The 1950s To The 2020s

By Ian John
March 5, 2023

If there is one thing that is guaranteed to get football fans talking, it is when they start debating over which players were the best of any era.

At the moment, the talk is of who was best between Messi and Ronaldo, I say who was because at the moment it seems like Kylian Mbappe is the sole heir-apparent to the title of the world’s current best footballer.

But this is a debate that has raged on through the ages and there is a long list of players who people will vote in as their top player of any era.

So what we have done is tried to settle the debate, by giving you our list of the top XI’s from each decade from the 1950s, through to the current era of the 2020s+.

For players that span more than one decade, we will take account of their appearances in both before deciding if they should appear in one team, both or perhaps neither.

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So here’s our lists of the World’s Best XI from each decade from 1950 through to the 2020s and we are going to start way back in time.

For each selection we are going to pick the same formation, 4-3-3 and for players that could play numerous positions, we are going to put them in a ‘best fit’ for the team especially if that enables another superstar to have a place in the team.

The World’s Best XI – 1950s

You can trace the modern era of football back to the 1950s, when the World Cup became firmly established and the first European competitions were mooted. It was an era of superstars that included a number of British stars who would be giants of the world game. This team is dominated by players from the mighty Magyars Hungarian team of 1954 who changed the game forever and led by the superstar Alfredo Di Stefano in attack, with big John Charles of Wales at centre half.

1950s Best XI

  • GK – Lev Yashin (Soviet Union)
  • DR – Billy Wright (England)
  • DL – Nilton Santos (Brazil)
  • DC – John Charles (Wales)
  • DC – Joan Segarra (Spain)
  • AMRC – Nandor Hidekguti (Hungary)
  • AMLC – Francisco Gento (Spain)
  • MC – Duncan Edwards (England)
  • AMR – Josef Czibor (Hungary)
  • AML – Ferenc Puskas (Hungary)
  • AC – Alfredo Di Stefano (Argentina/Spain)

Subs (2) – Sandor Kocsis (Hungary), Stanley Matthews (England)

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The World’s Best XI – 1960s

England’s World Cup Winning team of 1966 provides three players for this team in Banks, Moore and Charlton, with George Best of Northern Ireland also making the pick. Beckenbauer, Pele and Eusebio are also automatic selections in what was one of the easier teams to pick. Add to that two outstanding fullbacks in Schnellinger and Fachetti, plus the brilliant Spanish midfielder Luis Suarez (No not the nibbly Uruguayan one) and I feel this is one of the stronger teams of all of the decade teams.

1960s Best XI

  • GK – Gordon Banks (England)
  • DR – Karl-Heinz Schnellinger (Germany)
  • DL – Giacinto Fachetti (Italy)
  • DC – Bobby Moore (England)
  • DC – Franz Beckenbauer (Germany)
  • MC – Luis Suarez (Spain)
  • AML – George Best (Northern Ireland)
  • AMC – Bobby Charlton (England)
  • AMR – Garrincha (Brazil)
  • AC – Pele (Brazil)
  • AC – Eusebio (Portugal)

Subs (2) – Denis Law (Scotland), Francisco Gento (Spain)

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The World’s Best XI – 1970s

This is the first era where I can remember many of the stars named in this team (yes, I am that old). Pele makes it for his 1970 World Cup Finals performance alone, while Johan Cruyff was THE outstanding talent of this decade along with a couple of other Holland superstars who makes this team. We also have Gerd Muller and and Beckenbauer from the Germany World Cup winning team in 1974. The 1978 World Cup also gives us a couple of players in Passarella, Nelinho and Arie Haan.

1970s Best XI

  • GK – Sepp Maier (Germany)
  • DR – Nelinho (Brazil)
  • DL – Paul Breitner (Germany)
  • DC – Daniel Passarella (Argentina)
  • DC – Franz Beckenbauer (Germany)
  • MRC – Roberto Rivelino (Brazil)
  • MLC – Arie Haan (Holland)
  • MC –Johan Neeskens (Holland)
  • AMR – Pele (Brazil)
  • AML – Johan Cruyff (Holland)
  • AC – Gerd Muller (Germany)

Subs (2) – Kenny Dalglish (Scotland), Kevin Keegan (England)

The World’s Best XI – 1980s

I’m prepared for some flak to come my way for these selections with the likes of Dino Zoff, Rinat Dasayev, Ray Clemence, Peter Shilton and Luis Arconada overlooked for the player I viewed as better than them all for a time, Everton’s Neville Southall. The fantastic Brazil 1982 World Cup team give us three players, Junior, Zico and Eder, and Socrates and Falcao were also very close to making it too. However, I can’t leave them in and leave out the midfield trio of Matthaus, Platini and Maradona. Marco Van Basten makes the 1980s squad for his performance at the 1988 Euros alone along with team mate Frank Rikjaard.

1980s Best XI

  • GK – Neville Southall (Wales)
  • DR – Jose Antonio Camacho (Spain)
  • DL – Junior (Brazil)
  • DC – Gaetano Scirea (Italy)
  • DC – Frank Rijkaard (Netherlands)
  • DMC – Lothar Matthaus (Germany)
  • AML – Eder (Brazil)
  • MC – Michel Platini (France)
  • AMR – Diego Maradona (Argentina)
  • AC – Zico (Brazil)
  • AC – Marco Van Basten (Holland)

Subs (2) – Kenny Dalglish (Scotland), Ian Rush (Wales)

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The World’s Best XI – 1990s

A tough decade to call given the number of quality options there are available. Peter Schmeichel is an easy pick in goal, while the defence was easier to pick at full back than it was at centre back with two outstanding choices at right and left back (Zanetti, Maldini) but a number of great options at centre back. I’ve given Paul Gascoigne a spot in midfield as he was the best English player of this generation and is not out of place alongside Nedved and Gullit in midfield. Romario and Ronaldo line up together in attack as they should have done at France 1998, with Stoichkov playing wider left role.

1990s Best XI

  • GK – Peter Schmeichel (Denmark)
  • DR – Javier Zanetti (Argentina)
  • DL – Paolo Maldini (Italy)
  • DC – Laurent Blanc (France)
  • DC – Fernando Hierro (Spain)
  • MRC – Paul Gascoigne (England)
  • MLC – Pavel Nedved (Czech Republic)
  • MC – Ruud Gullit (Holland)
  • AC – Romario (Brazil)
  • AMC – Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria)
  • AC – Ronaldo (Brazil)

Subs (2) – Dennis Bergkamp (Holland), Zinedine Zidane (France)

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The World’s Best XI – 2000s

For me, there were five must-have names on this list. Zidane, Ronaldinho, Henry, Roberto Carlos and Cafu. It didn’t take me long to add Nesta, Pirlo and Cannavaro to that list leaving me with just a couple of spare positions in the team. There was plenty of competition for both but in the end I am comfortable selecting Steven Gerrard for the spare midfield role and Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the attacker and on the bench, two exciting youngsters who made an impact at the end of the decade in particular.

2000s Best XI

  • GK – Iker Casillas (Spain)
  • DR – Cafu (Brazil)
  • DL – Roberto Carlos (Brazil)
  • DC – Alessandro Nesta (Italy)
  • DC – Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)
  • MRC – Steven Gerrard (England)
  • MLC – Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
  • MC – Zinedine Zidane (France)
  • AMR – Thierry Henry (France)
  • AML – Ronaldinho (Brazil)
  • AC – Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

Subs (2) – Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Lionel Messi (Argentina)

YouTube video

The World’s Best XI – 2010s

After Spain dominated the last decade in World Football, it is unsurprising to see Xavi, Ramos, Pujol and Iniesta named into the team. Less surprising is the inclusion of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who were the first two names down on the team sheet. I’ve plumped for Suarez over Neymar simply due to the fact he was unstoppable at times in this decade and more consistent. N’Golo Kante provides Xavi and Iniesta with legs while Philip Lahm provides unflappable brilliance at right back.

2010s Best XI

  • GK – Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
  • DR – Philip Lahm (Germany)
  • DL – Marcelo (Brazil)
  • DC – Sergio Ramos (Spain)
  • DC – Carles Puyol (Spain)
  • MRC – Xavi (Spain)
  • MLC – Andres Iniesta (Spain)
  • MC – N’Golo Kante (France)
  • AMR – Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
  • AML – Lionel Messi (Argentina)
  • AC – Luis Suarez (Uruguay)

Subs (2) – Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Luka Modric (Croatia)

The World’s Best XI – 2020s

We are barely over two years into the 2020s so there is plenty of scope for this XI to change over the coming years, but we’ve plumped for an eclectic mix of stars which has to include Mbappe, Haaland and Salah in attack, Modric, De Bruyne and Kimmich in midfield. I’ve also been impressed with youngsters Alexander-Arnold, Gvardiol and Alphonso Davies, while Alisson just gets the nod in goal ahead of Ederson and Courtois.

2020s Best XI

  • GK – Alisson (Brazil)
  • DR – Trent Alexander-Arnold (England)
  • DL – Alphonso Davies (Canada)
  • DC – Josko Gvardiol (Croatia)
  • DC – Marquinhos (Brazil)
  • MRC – Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium)
  • MLC – Joshua Kimmich (Germany)
  • MC – Luka Modric (Croatia)
  • AMR – Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
  • AML – Kylian Mbappe (France)
  • AC – Erling Haaland (Norway)

Subs (2) – Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Neymar (Brazil)

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So that is our team of each of the decades, who would you pick for each and what changes would you make?

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