15 Greatest Portuguese Football (Soccer) Players of All Time
Updated by Facundo, 17/12/2019
We introduce you to the 15 greatest Portuguese Football (soccer) players of all time!
When spending some time in Portugal with Portuguese people, you will soon realize that soccer really is a big deal. People love soccer and their soccer players! The country is mostly divided between three major teams: Benfica, Porto and Sporting, but the national soccer team gets everyone to agree and cheer for the players together!
In 2019, the national team won their inaugural UEFA Nations League tournament. They went on to take part in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Tournament in Qatar with impressive performances. In the group stages, they won two games and lost one. They started off by beating African representatives, Ghana 3-2 with Ronaldo opening the score sheet. Their second game saw them face Uruguay whom they also thrashed 2-0 with Bruno Fernandez scoring a brace.
Unfortunately, they lost their last group match against South Korea though they had already qualified for the knock-out stages. They recovered to whitewash Switzerland 6-1 to proceed to the next stage of the competition. In the game, they made history when Goncalo Ramos scored the first hat trick of the tournament.
They went into the quarter-final match against Morrocco and were highly expected to beat the African representatives. However, the “surprise” Morocco team had other ideas and played defensively to hold them at bay. A 42nd-minute goal from Moroccan Youssef En-Nesyr -which was also the only goal of the game, was enough to send the Portuguese home!
Despite their sad Qatar World Cup exit that saw Ronaldo “CR7” cry openly, the players still stand out for many other reasons. In this article, you will learn a little about each one of them, why they are part of the greatest Portuguese Football (soccer players) of all time, and a few of their exploits!
1. The greatest: Cristiano Ronaldo “CR7”
First on the list of the 15 greatest Portuguese football (soccer) players of all time is obviously the amazing Cristiano Ronaldo. He was born on February, 5th of 1985, in Funchal on Madeira Island. Nicknamed “CR7“, thanks to his shirt number, Cristiano Ronaldo is considered to be the best active soccer player in the world along with Lionel Messi.
The famous attacking player won the Ballon d’Or prize five times: in 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017. Cristiano Ronaldo has scored about 650 winning goals throughout his career, some of which were during the Champions League, which makes him the best scorer of the UEFA Champions League and of the Real Madrid team.
After being trained during his time in the Sporting team, Cristiano Ronaldo was recruited by Manchester United in 2003. Then, in 2009, he joined Real Madrid for about 94 million euros, which was the most expensive transfer at the time of his signature. While he was part of the Real Madrid team, he won La Liga twice and the Champions League four times.
At 33 years old, he left Real Madrid and joined the Juventus team in 2018. He is also a Manchester Legend having rejoined the team from Juventus, though his second spell was characterized by controversies leading to a lack of playing time during the 2022-23 season. Just before the World Cup he mutually agreed with Manchester United to part ways and is yet to announce his next move.
In 2016 and in 2017, he was considered to be the better-paid athlete in the world by Forbes magazine, thanks to his advertising contracts. He also owns his own underwear brand and a luxury hotel chain.
While his team may have progressed to the knockouts, Cristiano Ronaldo’s performance in the group stages of the Qatar World Cup left much to be desired. Such was Ronaldo’s lacklustre form that he was named in the worst XI of the World Cup group stage. The 37-year-old’s performance against South Korea was perhaps directly responsible for the opening goal. Consequently, Portugal was beaten by the Taegeuk Warriors in the final group match that saw him leave possibly his last World Cup tournament in tears!
2. The promise: Bernardo Silva
Born on January, 25th of 1942, Eusébio started showing his talents and skills for soccer very early! In the neighbourhood of Mafalala, one of the poorest places in Maputo, the Benfica legend started kicking the ball before getting noticed and famous around the world!
Eusébio, also known as Pantera Preta – Black Panther in English, first began as a soccer player in the Benfica team. The first match was against Atlético, against which he scored three goals. Over time, he became a reference for the team’s attack and a real nightmare for the opposing defences.
He was fast, easily led the ball over the opponent’s goal lines, and his shots were accurate, which made it very hard for the opponents to defend!
Eusébio made his debut in the Portuguese national soccer team in 1961 against the Luxembourg team. The peak of his career as a player for the Portuguese national team happened in 1966, in England. During the World Cup of 1966, the Black Panther realized great competition. Thanks to him, the team got to reach the podium but the England team actually ended up winning the cup.
As an active member of the Portugal team in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, he showed maturity and received admiration from fans across the board. In an unusual scene midfielder, Bernardo Silva did not join his teammates in celebrations and chose to remain inside the field, by the corner flag during their match against Switzerland. This did not go unnoticed and he stated the reason behind his decision was that he did not want his team to concede a goal.
3. The best: Luís Figo
On November, 4th of 1972, Luís Filipe Madeira Caeiro Figo, one of the greatest Portuguese soccer player, was born in Lisbon. Figo is a world icon! He left the soccer world a good deal poorer, when he retired in May of 2009. During his career as a soccer player, the world was able to witness his elegance and talents! For more than twenty years, Figo played in several teams, part of Portugal, Spain and Italy. He’s one of the Portuguese players that wore the National team jersey the most times, 127 times to be precise! In 2001, he was elected the Best Player in the World by the FIFA and won the Ballon d’Or prize in 2000.
Figo first started playing soccer in a small team of Cova da Piedade, which is only known due to the fact Figo was once a player of the team. His potential was immediately noticed and he got a contract with the Sporting team. During his time as part of the Sporting, he completed his training, marking the beginning of his outstanding career. From 1989 to 1995, Figo represented the Sporting, for which he played 129 matches and scored 16 goals.
His talents were so obvious that many European clubs wanted him! Luís Figo signed a contract with two teams, the Juventus and the Parma. Due to the situation, he was forbidden to play for Italy for two years. As he was so talentend, he had no issue to sign a new contract, this time with Barcelona! He won La Liga twice, Supercopa de España once, and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup also once.
In 2000, Figo was on the frontpages of the newspapers, because he was part of one of the most controversial transfers the soccer world ever witnessed! Florentino Perez, the former President of the Real Madrid, promised to contract the Portuguese soccer player for his team. He bought Figo for sixty millions of euros and stole him from the Barcelona! Figo became one of the few soccer players to ever play for the two main Spanish soccer teams, the Real Madrid and the Barcelona. The Barcelona fans never forgave, they felt betrayed. But Figo easily won the hearts of the Real Madrid fans, thanks to his talents. He scored many goals and won many cups, Ligas, one Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
Finally, he got to play for the Inter Milan, with whom he won four Serie A league competitions, three Supercoppa Italiana and one Coppa Italia! For these and so many other reasons, Figo is one of the greatest Portuguese soccer players of all time!
4. Otávio Edmilson da Silva Monteiro
Otávio Edmilson da Silva Monteiro, commonly known as Otávio or Otavinho, plays as an attacking midfielder or a winger for Primeira Liga club Porto and the Portugal national team.
He started with Internacional, before signing with Portuguese Primeira Liga side Porto in 2014 as a free agent. He has won three Primeira Liga titles, two Taca de Portugal and two Supertacas Candido de Oliveira. He was also part of the squad that won two domestic doubles in 2020 and 2022, making over 200 official appearances for them.
He joined the senior Portugal national team in 2021 and has made 9 appearances, scoring two goals for his country. Incidentally, he was included in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
5. The unpredictable: Paulo Futre
Paulo Futre was trained in the Sporting team, and then got transferred to the Porto team. During his time playing for Porto, his skills were obvious and won two Portuguese cups and one Champions League cup.
In 1987, he signed a contract with the Atlético de Madrid. Then, five years later, he got transferred to the Benfica and won the Taça de Portugal. During his career, he got to play with the Olympique de Marseille, Reggiana and the AC Milan.
6. The Master: Rui Costa
He started to play as a professional in 1991 but he had to wait for two years before winning his first trophy: The Portuguese Cup 1993.
After winning the league in 1994, Fiorentina paid 7 million to transfer him. He won The Italian cup in 1996. In 2001, he was hired by AC Milan, the club that paid more than £30 million to include him in its team. He played in Milano for five great seasons in which he won the A Series, an Italian Cup, an Italian Supercup, a Champions League and a European Supercup. On May, 25th, 2006, he returned to Portugal and played for Benfica.
7. The owner of the ball: Deco
Anderson Luis de Souza, known as Deco, started to play soccer in Brazil. He played his first match as a professional in 1995, when he was 18 years old, and stayed in brazil for three seasons before jumping to European Football.
There, Deco got Portuguese nationality and won the UEFA Champions League with FC Porto in the season 2003-2004. Once at the elite of European Football, he got hired by FC Barcelona , He played his first match in La Liga on the 29th of August, in 2004. A year later, in the season 2005-2006, he won his second UEFA Champions League.
8. The wall: Ricardo Carvalho
Ricardo Carvalho was a Portuguese centre defender who played in Europe from 1997 to 2017. He was one of the best defenders of his times who played for Oporto, Chelsea and Real Madrid, mostly under the command of coach Jose Mourinho. He retired in 2017 in Shanghai SIPG, in the Chinese Super League. In 2004 he won with Porto his most important trophy, the UEFA Champions League.
9. The Nomad: Ricardo Quaresma
Ricardo Andrade Quaresma Bernardo, known simply as Quaresma, is a 36 years old Portuguese right wing, who plays for Kasimpasa SK from the Turkish Super League. During his long career, he played for Sporting of Lisboa, Futbol Club Barcelona, Oporto, Inter, Besiktas, Al-Ahli Football Club and Kasimpasa.
10. Diogo Costa
Diogo Meireles da Costa is a Portuguese soccer player who plays as a goalkeeper for Primeira Liga club Porto and the national team.
A product of Porto’s youth system, he won the UEFA Youth League in 2019 before joining the senior ranks in 2021, aged 22, and earning a reputation as arguably one of the most promising young goalkeepers in the world, while helping Porto to a second domestic double, being named in the Primeira Liga Team of the Year.
Costa represented Portugal’s national team at various youth levels and was part of the under-17 team that won the 2016 European Championship, the under-19 team that won the 2018 European Championship, and the under-21 team that finished as runners-up at the 2021 European Championship. He made his senior international debut in 2021 and his first appearance at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
At Qatar World Cup, Porto Diogo Costa was the first-choice goalkeeper for Portugal throughout the group stages ahead of veteran keeper Rui Patricio. He proved himself by making some daring saves though missed some important ones including the penalty shots that sent Portugal home at the Quarter Finals stage.
11. João Cancelo
João Pedro Cavaco Cancelo is a Portuguese professional footballer who plays as a full-back or as a wing-back for Premier League club Manchester City and the national team. A creative, skilful, strong, and versatile full-back, he is considered to be one of the best full-backs in the world.
After coming through Benfica’s youth academy, before moving to La Liga club Valencia, then to Serie A team Inter Milan during the 2017–18 season. He did not last long as he was poached by Juventus, who signed him in 2018 for a reported fee of €40.4 million. During his stint with Bianconeri, Cancelo won the league and the Supercoppa Italiana in his first and only season.
Still on the rise, in 2019, he was signed by English club Manchester City, for a reported fee of €60 million. At Etihad, he has since won two Premier League titles and a League Cup. In 2021, he played a pivotal role in Manchester City reaching their first UEFA Champions League final.
He made his senior debut for Portugal in 2016 after going through the youth ranks and showing serious intentions to get to the highest level of his professional career. He played in Qatar FIFA World Cup. Though he was dropped from the starting eleven during their game against Switzerland alongside Ronaldo during the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
12. Diogo Dalot
José Diogo Dalot Teixeira is a Portuguese professional soccer player who plays as a right-back for Premier League club Manchester United and the national team.
A physically strong defender known for his speed, technique, and offensive capabilities, Jose started his career at the Porto youth side, moving to Porto and finally joining Manchester United in June 2018 for a reported fee of €22 million (£19 million). He was loaned to Italian Serie A club AC Milan and is now back at Porto.
Dalot also featured in the national youth teams and represented Portugal from under-15 to under-21 level. He boasts of being part of the under-17 squad that won the 2016 UEFA European Under-17 Championship. On 27 June 2021, Dalot made his first start with the senior national team, in a 1–0 loss to Belgium in round 16, and finally made it to play in his first FIFA World Cup in Qatar 2022.
13. Nuno Mendez
The Portuguese sensation plays as a left-back for Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain and the Portugal national team. Mendes is a beneficiary of Sporting cp’s youth academy, making his first-team debut in 2020. The following year, he won the Primeira Liga and Taca da Liga. He was also named in the Primeira Liga Team of the Year. Shortly after, he signed for Paris Saint-Germain on a one-year loan deal, winning the Ligue 1 title and joining the club permanently for €38 million.
He joined the senior team in 2021 and was selected to play in the Euro 2020 and the FIFA 2022 World Cup. He has been given a platform to showcase what he can do. Though he was involved in the group stages of the Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022, he was not available for the remaining games for Portugal. This was due to a thigh injury that he sustained, and his club insisted that he be flown to France for specialized treatment.
14. Antonio Silva
António João Pereira de Albuquerque Tavares da Silva is a Portuguese soccer player who plays as a center-back for Primeira Liga club Benfica and the Portugal national team. He started playing professional football at the age of 17, having gone through the youth ranks.
One of the newcomers to the senior national team, he won the coach’s trust and was selected to play his first World Cup in 2022 in Qatar. He played a crucial role in defence.
15. Bruno Fernandes
Fernandes is a footballer who plays as an attacking midfielder for Premier League club Manchester United and the Portugal national team. An energetic box-box midfielder, Fernandes is known for his goalscoring, playmaking, leadership, penalty-taking, and work rate making him one of the most dependable players at United.
He has represented his country at under-19, under-20, under-21, and under-23 levels. He has also been to the 2016 Summer Olympics. He made his senior international debut in 2017, being chosen in Portugal’s squads for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, 2019 UEFA Nations League Finals, UEFA Euro 2020, and 2022 FIFA World Cup.
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He was a sensation at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. He showed some brilliance in front of the goal for Portugal by netting two goals and giving three assists. That means that he has equaled a 56-year-old record for the European giants.
Portuguese football players are legends by their own right. They continue to rank highly in the Football field and fascinate fans world-wide.