Very few nations have produced world class players and achieved international success quite ass consistently as Italy. The Azzurri have shone from the start and maintained their success up through to the current generation. They are second in the all-time World Cup wins tally, having won 4 titles, and are also double European champions after winning Euro 2020. This success can be attributed to the constant stream of top talent that the country has produced, so who are the best Italian footballers ever?
An XI of the best Italian footballers ever
GK: Gianluca Buffon
When Dino Zoff claims you to be the best keeper of your country, there is no better shining endorsement. That was the praise heaped on Buffon in one of the most successful careers of the modern era. Buffon’s lightning reactions and spectacular agility has made him one of the best keepers of his generation and a natural leader that many of his teammates inspired to be.
The success has translated across all facets of the game for Buffon who won 10 Serie A titles with Juventus as well as a major part of the 2006 World Cup winning team. Having made 176 appearances for his national team, Buffon is the all-time record for his country in a spell that very few will manage to beat in future years to come.
RB: : Paolo Maldini
Paolo Maldini proved himself to be one of the best defenders of any generation and is certainly one of the best Italian footballers in history. Maldini was naturally suited to play anywhere in defence and was just at home as a full-back as he was in the heart of the backline. He was surprisingly quick for a centre-back, catching many strikers unaware and was one of the best tacklers of his generation.
Not afraid to snag a goal either, Maldini could also be a threat from set pieces with his excellent aerial ability. All this led many to being inspired by Maldini as he captained both Italy and AC Milan for much of his career. Having won 7 Series A titles and 5 Champions League trophies, Maldini is one of the most decorated defenders ever to step onto a football pitch
LB: Giacinto Facchetti
If anyone was responsible for pioneering the attacking full-back role, then look no further than Giacinto Facchetti. The lively left-back was the best of his generation tearing defences apart as well as being a key part of his own. His composure and temperature was exemplary and was just as inspiring as his skills on the ball throughout a glittering three-decade career.
His blend of hybrid football was a major part of helping Italy win the Euro 1968 title and helped Inter Milan win four Serie A titles throughout the 1960s and 1970s. It was this form that still causes many young footballers to idolise a player whose career finished decades before many were even born.
CB: Franco Baresi
Very few defenders led the line quite like Franco Baresi. Whilst he may have not been the biggest player on the pitch, he was one of the most skilful defenders of all time. He could calmly control the ball and deposit it without making any errors providing a true anchor for his team to rally around.
He made his presence felt at all times and his sense of positioning was unmatched by any of his rival teams. It was this skillset that led Baresi to being part of the 1982 World Cup winning squad and also guided younger stars on home soil as they reached the last four at the 1990 World Cup. A true icon of his era and a worthy inclusion in any list of the best Italian footballers.
CB: Fabio Cannavaro
Fabio Cannavaro was one of the hardest players to beat in a one on one situation. With an imposing frame, his physical presence as only matched by his timing and anticipation when tackling, It made him the best defender of his generation and saw him star for many of the top clubs in Europe.
He helped guide Parma to the 1999 UEFA Cup title as well as secure 2 La Liga titles with Real Madrid and the 2006 World Cup with Italy. His coolness under pressure also earned the respect of many within the game and fans alike. This all-round blend made him a leading defender of his generation and secure the 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year – the only time a defender has won the prestigious award.
MF: Andrea Pirlo
One of the best midfielder conductors of his generation, Andrea Pirlo was a magician with the ball at his feet. His technique was nigh on flawless and he could pick a pass across the pitch with real ease. His ability to strike the ball with real curve and flair also made him a highlight reel for fans to enjoy.
Whether it was stunning free kicks, cheeky panenka penalties or outrageous stepovers, Pirlo was able to do it. It was this skillset that made him a star for both AC Milan and Juventus winning 6 Serie A titles in his career and 3 Player of the Year Awards. He also won the World Cup in 2006 ensuring that Pirlo won almost everything there was to win in modern day football.
MF: Adolfo Baloncieri
A real pioneer of the game, Baloncieri is often considered to be the first superstar midfielder and was one of the best Italian footballers ever in his own right. His eye for goals made him the deadliest player of the pre-war game even if he played in the middle of the park. He was an icon for Torino scoring 97 goals in 197 games and helping win 2 Serie A titles throughout the 1920s.
He also regularly scored for the emerging Italian national side scoring 25 goals in 47 games between 1920-1930. It was this goal threat that made him such an icon and underlined the skills that many would idolize over the coming years and decade. Still sitting in the all-time top 10 goalscoring list for Italy nearly a century since he played, it underlines just how far ahead of the times Baloncieri was.
MF: Alessandro Del Piero
Not a typical midfielder, Alessandro Del Piero was able to fit naturally almost anywhere within both midfield and attack. His dribbling speed and skills were amazing to behold as the ball so often stuck to his feet. His ability to score was just as deadly as it was to create enabling Del Piero to be an all-out goalscoring machine.
The 6x Serie A winner wowed fans everywhere from Italy to Australia showing that he was a star no matter where he played. His good-natured attitude also saw him adored by both players and fans alike leading him to win awards across the world including 2x Serie A Footballer of the Year awards and a spot in the AFC Team of the Decade. A true global great.
ST: Giuseppe Meazza
One of Italy’s first superstars, Giuseppe Meazza was able to create chances out of nothing. In a time where skill was not always easy to see, Meazza was always coming up with new ways to bamboozle defenders and lash the ball into the back of the net. It was these abilities that helped Meazza guide Italy to successive World Cup victories in both 1934 and 1938 and becoming one of the first players to succeed in multiple World Cup finals. This legacy has gone onto be immortalized in Milan with Meazza’s name being the official title for Milan’s iconic stadium – the San Siro. A legend who is rightly immortalized in the game.
ST: Luigi Riva
Luigi Riva was always a player who starred for the underdogs but helped lift them to the realm of giants. Riva’s eye for goal is almost unmatched as his powerful running abilities helped him break down the best defences of his time. It was this skillset that helped Riva lead Cagliari to their only Serie A triumph in the 1969-70 season.
He was also a star for the national side scoring 35 goals in 42 games for the Azzurri – a national record that stands to this day. This run helped Italy secure the 1968 European Championship and also reach the 1970 World Cup final against Brazil. An iconic name who still has a mark on the modern game today.
ST: Roberto Baggio
He may be best known for that penalty miss in the 1994 World Cup Final but that severely undermines the true legacy of Roberto Baggio and no list of the best Italian footballers ever would be complete without him.
One of the top strikers of the 1990s, his technical acumen was unmatched by many of his colleagues anywhere in world football. His surging runs were nightmares for defenders to handle and his clean striking ability made him a leading score for several top teams such as Juventus, Inter & AC Milan. It was this consistency that made him widely lauded by many of his peers and saw him voted the 4th best player of the 20th century. That, alongside a Ballon D’Or triumph, secures Baggio’s place as one of the best Italian footballers of all-time.
You could earn up to £10 (or currency equivalent) in bonus funds by joining Colossus with our New Player Bonus. Click here to join the action.