Home Back

The Greatest Portugal Players in Football History [Ranked]

Givemesport 2024/4/12

Including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Eusebio and Luis Figo, the best Portuguese players of all time have been ranked.

Cristiano Ronaldo in the middle with Eusebio and Deco on either side (all in Portugal kit) with Portugal theme background

Highlights

  • Some icons make it to the list of the 10 greatest Portuguese footballers of all time.
  • Some of those who delivered at Euro 2016 deservedly make the rankings.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo reigns supreme, of course, with unmatched statistics and numerous titles won throughout his career.

When it comes to the world of football, Portugal certainly has provided a fair few special talents over the years. And while they may still be awaiting a first-ever World Cup win, no international tournament feels complete without the iconic red and green colours of the European nation.

Countless Portuguese stars have dazzled, with the current game littered with those from the Iberian Peninsula. Cristiano Ronaldo, for instance, will go down as one of the best players to ever grace the sport. But which of his fellow countrymen also deserve to be regarded in a similar vein?

To solve this dilemma, GIVEMESPORT has written up a list, ranking the 10 greatest players to ever play for Portugal.

Ranking factors

  • International achievements (honours, appearances, goals, assists, etc)
  • Club achievements (honours, appearances, goals, assists, etc)
  • Individual awards
  • Legacy within football

10 Nani

Career Span: 2005 - present

Nani of Manchester United

Seeing as his career has tailed off somewhat, it might surprise some to learn that Nani has over 100 caps for Portugal (112, to be exact). He made that time with the international team count as well, helping his nation win their only ever major tournament.

Indeed, the tricky winger started every game at Euro 2016, scoring three times and providing one assist, thus cementing his status as a Portuguese all-time great. Had he not played on the flanks in the same generation as a certain Ronaldo – both for his country and at Manchester United – Nani may well have stood out more as a game-changing player.

Surprisingly still playing at the ripe old age of 37, the veteran will finish his career having won major honours in Portugal and England. He's also dazzled the world with his talents, playing club football in Turkey, Spain, Italy, America and Australia.

Nani's International Career

Portugal Caps

113

Portugal Goals

24

Portugal Assists

24

Portugal Honours

Euro 2016

9 Ricardo Carvalho

Career Span: 1997 - 2017

Ricardo Carvalho

Ricardo Carvalho was part of that exciting generation of talent which first burst onto the scene at Porto, famously winning the UEFA Cup and then the Champions League under Jose Mourinho. This helped him win personal honours such as Portuguese League Footballer of the Year and UEFA Club Best Defender of the Year before sealing a big-money move to Chelsea.

In England, with his old coach soon following him, the intelligent centre-back won three Premier League titles. He was a part of the Blues' side which conceded just 15 goals in the league all season, going down as one of the greatest teams in the competition's history.

More honours would later follow in Spain at Real Madrid, while he also helped Portugal win Euro 2016. Although he dropped out of the squad, Carvalho started all three group-stage games and certainly earned his winner's medal.

Ricardo Carvalho's International Career

Portugal Caps

89

Portugal Goals

5

Portugal Assists

2

Portugal Honours

Euro 2016

8 Paulo Futre

Career Span: 1983 - 1998

A player from an older generation, Paulo Futre was one of the most exciting wingers of his era. Breaking through into the national team set-up when he was still just 17, he would go on to represent his nation 41 times with his last outing coming in 1995.

Now 58, Futre was named the Portuguese Footballer of the Year in 1986 and 1987, and finished second in the Ballon d'Or rankings during this period. Winning notable honours with both Porto and Benfica, he also helped Atletico Madrid lift the Spanish Cup for two consecutive years in the 90s. He could have achieved even more, were it not for injuries.

Paulo Futre's International Career

Portugal Caps

41

Portugal Goals

6

Portugal Assists

6

Portugal Honours

None

Jude Bellingham at Real Madrid, Kylian Mbappe at PSG, Mohamed Salah at Liverpool, and Erling Haaland at Man City with Ballon d'Or in background
Related

After Lionel Messi's eighth Ballon d'Or win, next year's award is up for grabs.

7 Pepe

Career Span: 2002 - present

Pepe celebrates scoring for Porto against Shakhtar Donetsk.

It's a testament to Pepe's longevity that in the year of 2024, at the age of 41, the veteran defender is still delivering the goods at Champions League level. He was on the pitch vs Arsenal in 2006 and then again 18 years later, being arguably the best player on the pitch for the most recent encounter.

The Brazilian-born defender opted to play for Portugal instead of his birth nation and 136 caps later (the third highest of all time), he likely won't regret that decision. Winning numerous titles with Porto and Real Madrid, master of the dark arts Pepe also started and finished all but one game at Euro 2016.

Pepe's International Career

Portugal Caps

136

Portugal Goals

8

Portugal Assists

4

Portugal Honours

Euro 2016

6 Deco

Career Span: 1996-2013

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his goal with team mate Deco

Another part of Mourinho's incredible Porto side of the early 2000s, Deco announced himself – to those who hadn't been paying enough attention – with a Man of the Match display in the Champions League final win over Monaco. A move to Barcelona would follow where he'd ooze class amongst an incredible generation of talent such as Ronaldinho, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, and an emerging Lionel Messi.

He came second in the 2004 Ballon d'Or and was named UEFA Club Footballer of the Year that same season. Another Brazilian-born star, he opted to play for Portugal but didn't actually make his debut until he was 25, playing at three international tournaments for the Selecao das Quinas.

Deco's International Career

Portugal Caps

75

Portugal Goals

5

Portugal Assists

19

Portugal Honours

None

5 Rui Costa

Career Span: 1990 - 2008

Portugal's Rui Costa.

Rui Costa is name a synonymous with the best playmakers of an era. The attacking midfielder knew how to unpick defences, be that with carefully crafted through-balls or quick-footed dribbles as he danced between defenders. He started and ended his career at Benfica, but would win numerous trophies – including the 2003 Champions League – in Italy at Fiorentina and then AC Milan.

He scored twice at Euro 2004, including in the quarter-final win over England but couldn't help his team to victory as they lost to Greece in the final. His appearance in the game was actually the last for his country as he retired immediately afterwards. He remains the ninth-highest-capped player and seventh-highest goalscorer for Portugal.

Rui Costa's International Career

Portugal Caps

94

Portugal Goals

26

Portugal Assists

20

Portugal Honours

None

4 Mario Coluna

Career Span: 1954 - 1972

One of the best midfielders of his generation, Mario Coluna played for Portugal between 1995 to 1968. He captained his nation in all except one of their matches at the 1966 World Cup as the Magricos finished third – their best-ever finish.

His club career is best remembered for what he achieved with Benfica – most notably scoring in both European Cup finals won by the club in 1961 and then 1962. That the likes of Johan Cruyff, Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore, and Uwe Seeler all turned up at his testimonial match shows just how much of a legend Coluna was.

Mario Coluna's International Career

Portugal Caps

57

Portugal Goals

8

Portugal Assists

1

Portugal Honours

None

3 Luis Figo

Career Span: 1989 - 2006

Luis Figo

Playing in a similar era as the aforementioned Costa, Luis Figo is one of the most iconic footballers to ever play the game. After emerging as a huge talent at Sporting Lisbon, he spent 10 years in Spain – split evenly, and controversially, at Barcelona and then Real Madrid.

Having won the Ballon d'Or in 2000, Florentino Perez decided Figo simply had to be part of his Galacticos team. It didn't go down well with the Barca faithful, who made their feelings known with a certain pig's head but the winger still delivered the goods, with 57 goals and 93 assists in 245 outings for Los Blancos. To give an idea of just how good he was, the 51-year-old was named Portuguese Footballer of the Year six times in a row between 1995 and 2000.

Figo's International Career

Portugal Caps

127

Portugal Goals

32

Portugal Assists

46

Portugal Honours

None

2 Eusebio

Career Span: 1957 - 1979

Eusebio shoots for Portugal

One of the greatest players of all time, Eusebio achieved so much in a glittering career, which saw him be awarded with the 1965 version of the Ballon d'Or. The following year, he would score an incredible nine goals in six games as Portugal came third at the World Cup

Across his entire career, he bagged 733 times in 745 professional matches – including 41 strikes in 64 games for his country – which outlines just how clinical he was as a striker. His best years were spent with Benfica, as he helped them win eleven Primeira Liga titles and a European Cup. An undoubted legend of the sport, there have been very few better than Eusebio.

Eusebio's International Career

Portugal Caps

64

Portugal Goals

41

Portugal Assists

N/A

Portugal Honours

None

Greatest Strikers of all-time in football featuring Ronaldo, Pele and Thierry Henry
Related

GIVEMESPORT ranks the 10 greatest strikers in football history, with Thierry Henry, Ronaldo and Pele all featuring.

1 Cristiano Ronaldo

Career Span: 2002 - present

Ronaldo celebrates scoring for Portugal

Despite Eusebio's magnificence, there was only ever going to be one winner on this list. Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the greatest players of all time – some even feel as though he stands alone as number one. While that is up for debate, there is no doubting he is the greatest to ever play for Portugal.

That's proven by some simple stats. For instance, not only has he scored more goals for his country than anyone else, but he also happens to have scored more goals in the sport than anyone else – with over 870 official strikes to his name. What's more, Ronaldo managed six goal contributions in seven games as he captained his nation to their first and only major honour at Euro 2016.

Silverware has followed him throughout his career. With five Champions League wins, and league titles under his belt in England, Spain, and Italy, the five-time Ballon d'Or champions, CR7 has essentially completed football. It feels near-impossible for his spot on this list to ever be overtaken.

Portugal Caps

206

Portugal Goals

128

Portugal Assists

46

Portugal Honours

 
People are also reading