15 Best Portuguese football players of all time

The ultimate list of the best Portuguese football players ever to play the game of soccer.

Two of the best Portuguese football players in history, Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo celebrate a goal

Who are the best Portuguese football players in history? This is a million dollar question that has been on and will always linger on the lips of fans and football enthusiasts every time the Portuguese team are in action.

Portugal is a small country in Southern Europe that barely exceeds 10.5 million inhabitants. 

Set on the shores of the Atlantic in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula, her footballing tradition began in 1966, the year in which she managed to play her first World Cup and reach the semifinals.

Although it cannot be considered a football powerhouse, the truth is that the Portuguese soccer team has become one of the most important in Europe. 

After winning the European Championship, some of its players have become part of the list of best footballers, in which one maestro undoubtedly stands out above the rest.

Portugal has a very rich history in terms of football. From 3rd place at the 1966 World Cup to victory at Euro 2016, the country has had its days in the sun. 

Legendary players, like Eusébio and Coluna in the 60s, or Cristiano Ronaldo today, are some of the best players in the world.

Almost all of these players have played for one of the country’s three emblematic clubs, Benfica, Sporting or FC Porto. Despite a less glorious period nowadays, these clubs are among the greatest European clubs in history.

Without further ado, discover the top 15 list of the best Portuguese football players of all time. 

Best Portuguese football players of all time

15. Vítor Baía

Vitor Manuel Martins Baía was born in Vila Nova de Gaia, in 1969 and is considered one of the best goalkeepers in the history of the Portuguese national team. 

He won 33 championships for Futebol Clube do Porto and FC Barcelona, becoming the player with the highest number of titles in the history of world football. 

In the time capsule buried in the annals of UEFA for its golden jubilee in 2004, is a pair of Vitor Baía’s gloves. He worked professionally as a football player from 1980 to 2007.

14. Ricardo Carvalho

Ricardo Alberto Silveira de Carvalho was born in Amarante, in May 1978, where he started playing in 1993. He also passed through Porto, Leça, V.Setúbal. FC Alverca, Chelsea, Real Madrid, AS Monaco and Shanghai SIPG. 

Carvalho has several titles and championships in his cabinet for both club and country, making him a necessary inclusion in this list of best Portuguese football players ever. 

He represented Portugal at the 2004 and 2008 Euro Cups and at the 2005 and 2010 World Cups. Alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, he won the European Football Championship, in 2016. 

13. Paulo Sousa

Paulo Manuel Carvalho Sousa was born in Viseu, on August 30, 1970. 

He started his career at Benfica and won the 92/93 Portugal Cup for the team, before going on to play for Sporting and Juventus, for whom he won the 1996 Champions League. 

In 1997 he also won the Champions League for Borussia Dortmund, before moving to Inter Milan 1998, then to Parma, Panathinaikos and Espanyol, in 2002, where he ended his career.

For the Portuguese team, Paulo Sousa was world champion at the 1989 and 1991 Under-20 Championship, on his way to becoming one of the best Portuguese footballers of all time. 

He also played roles in the national team’s technical team and coached the Under-16 team until 2007. Currently, he works as a coach for Poland.

12. Fernando Chalana

Fernando Albino de Sousa Chalana was born in February 1959, in Barreiro, and began his career at Barreirense in 1973 before moving to Benfica, where he played for ten consecutive years. 

He was the first Portuguese player to have a career outside of his home country, which automatically makes him one of the greatest Portuguese football players of all time.

Chalana played for Bordeaux, France, returned to Benfica, then pursued a career at Belenenses and Estrela da Amadora. He was famous for his short feint and served as a professional player from 1976 to 1992.

11. Fernando Couto

Ricardo Carvalho could surely be in his place, but Couto was a little more than the former Real Madrid man. 

He was capped 110 times at international level (the second most), and had more ability to finish, better secure in the rear, served the ball better and had a lot of leadership qualities.

Now to the top ten best Portuguese football players of all time

10. Nuno Gomes

Nuno Gomes is certainly one of the best Portuguese strikers of all time. Very skilful in front of goal, he has shaken the net more than 200 times during his career. 

But the Portuguese also had a good outlook on the game, regularly distilling assists for his teammates.

His debut at Boavista, with whom he won the Portuguese Cup, was very promising and opened the doors to Benfica for him. 

After 3 good seasons in Lisbon without winning any title, Nuno Gomes tried his luck in Italy with Fiorentina, but did not win. He then returned to Benfica and would stay with the club for 9 seasons, during which he won the championship twice.

With the Portuguese team, Nuno Gomes was often very decisive in important moments. However, that didn’t stop him from experiencing some big disappointments. 

We can notably mention the semi-final loss against France at Euro 2000, as well as the final loss against Greece 4 years later, and then a disappointing fourth place finish at the 2006 World Cup. 

Nonetheless, Nuno Gomes is still one of the best Portuguese football players of all time.

9. Pepe

Pepe is one of the best defenders in Portuguese history. With an uncommon physical strength, he is known for his rough tackles and his aggression. 

As well as being one of the best defenders of all time, he is a Legend of FC Porto and Real Madrid. 

Pepe has an impressive trophy cabinet, whether in club or with his national team.

After his debut with CS Maritimo, he joined Porto and won his first league and cup titles. Pepe then left for Spain and Real Madrid, where he would stay for 10 seasons. 

He formed, with Sergio Ramos, one of the best rearguards in Europe for a decade. During his time at Real, Pepe won the Champions League 3 times and also La Liga 3 times.

Born in Brazil, Pepe decided very early on to join the Portuguese team, but he would have to wait until he was 24 to be naturalized. 

He was then called up for the national team immediately, and today already has 105 caps. Pepe was one of the best Portuguese players when they won the Euro in 2016 and was also named man of the match in the final against France.

8. Pauleta

Not only is Pauleta one of the best Portuguese football players in history, he is also a legendary PSG striker. 

He’s a real fox in the box, very agile on the ball and always efficient in front of goal. Pauleta is a complete striker with good head and feet, and also possess the ability to combine seamlessly with his teammates.

His professional career began in Salamanca in Spanish D2. In his first season, he was crowned top scorer with 19 goals, guiding his team to promotion to the La Liga. 

Pauleta then went through La Coruña for 2 seasons, where he won a Spanish championship title in 2000, before joining Girondins de Bordeaux for 3 seasons. 

In 2003, Pauleta joined Paris, where he would become one of the best players in the history of PSG, slipping into the hearts of Parisian supporters.

With the Portuguese set-up, Pauleta participated in international tournaments between 2000 and 2006. 

He was a semi-finalist of Euro 2000, vice-champion of Euro 2004 and semi-finalist of the 2006 World Cup. 

In total, Pauleta  scored 332 goals in 620 games in all competitions during his career. Truly impressive statistics and one worth the title of best Portuguese footballer. 

7. Mario Coluna

Mário Coluna is a legendary attacking midfielder, as much for his national team as for his lifelong club, Benfica. 

Born in Mozambique in 1935, Coluna is Portuguese, due to the fact that Mozambique is still a Portuguese colony. Undisputed leader and warrior in the field, he is the soul of the great Benfica of the 60s.

Coluna has spent almost his entire career at Benfica Lisbon, which is one of the most prestigious European clubs in history. 

In 16 seasons at the club, he won everything.He won the Portuguese Championship 10 times and the Portuguese Cup 6 times. But his best performance remains his 2 victories in the Champions League, scoring in each final.

With the Portuguese Seleção, Coluna played 57 matches and scored 8 times. He was above all part of the team that finished 3rd at the 1966 World Cup, alongside Eusébio, of which he was also a club teammate. Mário Coluna is certainly one of the best Portuguese players of all time.

6. Deco

We return to the 2000s with one of the greatest midfielders of the decade. Deco was the centerpiece of Porto, Barcelona and the Portuguese side, thanks to his precise passing and his vision of the game. 

In addition to his skills as a passer, he also scored a hundred goals during his career.

It was in Porto, where Deco spent 6 seasons, that his career really took off. Author of very good performances, 3 championships and 3 Portuguese Cups with his team, as well as a UEFA Cup in 2003. 

But it is above all the victory in the Champion’s League in 2004 that will reveal him to the general public and allow him to place 2nd in the Golden Ball that same year. 

He then moved to Barcelona, where he was also the hub of the team and won 2 league titles and a second Champions League with the Blaugranas. After 2 seasons at Chelsea, he returned to finish his career in his native Brazil.

Naturalized Portuguese, Deco began his international career in 2003. As at club level, he quickly became an indisputable player and a key element of his team. 

Very good at Euro 2000, where Portugal were finalists, he was even better at the 2006 World Cup, despite elimination in the semi-finals. Deco today is a legend of the game and one of the best Portuguese players ever. 

5. Paulo Futre

Great legend of FC Porto and Athletico de Madrid, Paulo Futre is one of the best Portuguese players in history. 

His speed, dribbling and agility on the ball made him a very capable winger. Some have even compared him to the great Maradona. In addition to being technically gifted, Futre was able to create and finish actions.

Paulo Futre went through a multitude of clubs during his career, but it was in Porto and at Athletico de Madrid that he had his best seasons.

In 3 seasons with Porto he won 2 championships and, of more importance, the Champions League in 1987. 

But it is with the colchoneros that he will become a true legend. Even though Futre only won 2 Copa del Rey during his 6 seasons at the club, his exploits, including the performance against Real in the Cup final, have remained etched in the history of the club.

With the national team, Paulo Futre did not experience any truly successful competition. He played 41 matches for the national team between 1983 and 1995, and scored 6 times. 

His only participation in a major tournament was the 1986 World Cup where Portugal were eliminated in the first round. This did not prevent him from being elected second in the 1987 Ballon d’Or.

4. Rui Costa

Rui Manuel César Costa was born in Damaia, Amadora, Lisbon, in March 1972 and became famous as one of the best playmakers of the 90s and 2000s. 

One of the best Portuguese football players of all time, he played for teams in Portugal and Italy.

He became famous for crying when he scored a goal for Fiorentina against Benfica, his boyhood dream team. 

From 1992 to 2006 he won several championships for the clubs in Portugal and Italy, where he played, and was elected as the best midfielder of the Italian Serie A on numerous occasions. 

For the Portuguese national team, he won the 1991 U-20 World Championship, playing as a football player from 1990 to 2004.

Rui Costa was an exceptional attacking midfielder and playmaker. 

Very technical and endowed with a great quality of passing, he was a key element in all teams where he featured. Rui Costa was also known for his long shots, often very precise, whether in open-play or from set pieces.

Rui Costa’s career went through three very big clubs. 

First of all Benfica, with whom he won the Portuguese Cup in 1993 and the championship a year later. 

Then he joined Fiorentina, where he will stay for 7 seasons. Forming a memorable attacking duo with Batistuta, he won 2 Italian Cups there.

But it was with AC Milan that he won the Serie A in 2004, and then the Champions League in 2003.

Winner of the Under-20 World Cup with Portugal, Rui Costa started his international career with success. But he was not able to repeat the feat with the pros. He was eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Euro in 1996, in the semi-final in 2000, then in the final in 2004. 

With 94 caps and 26 goals scored, he is one of the best Portuguese players of all time.

3. Luis Figo

Luis Figo is one of the best offensive players of his generation. His exploits for the Portuguese selection and big clubs, such as Barcelona, Real or Inter Milan, have made him a true legend. 

Very technical and powerful, he is an excellent passer thanks to his extraordinary vision of the game.

Figo spent his first 5 professional years at Sporting in his native country, before joining Barcelona. It is with the Catalans that he will explode, charging them to 2 La Liga wins, 2 Spanish Cups and a Super Cup. 

After a transfer to the nemesis, Real Mardrid, Luis Figo finally won the Champions League in 2002. He ended his career at Inter Milan, where he also won Serie A 4 times.

With the national team, Figo played 127 games and scored 32 times. Despite a final at Euro 2000, he failed to win a major trophy with Portugal.

He still imprinted his legacy in the heart of a whole generation of Portuguese with his magical dribbling and his sumptuous goals. 

In addition to his many goals, he is also one of the best passers in history. As evidenced by his Ballon d’Or in 2000, Luis Figo is one of the best Portuguese football players in history.

2. Eusebio

Eusébio is one of the greatest legends of Portuguese football, and even of world football. He was an exceptional striker, able to score in any situation. With 631 goals in 650 games, he is one of the top 10 scorers in football history. 

Eusébio was blessed with phenomenal speed and perfect ball handling. He could dribble any defender, while remaining lucid, and deliver precise passes or score a goal.

After a promising start at Lourenço Marques in his native Mozambique, he was quickly courted by the great Benfica. 

The young player joined the club at 19 and would stay there for 15 long seasons. “The black panther” won everything with Benfica, including 11 championships and 5 Portuguese Cups. 

He also won the Champions League in 1961 and reached the final 3 more times in the following years.

Eusébio also impressed during the 1966 World Cup. In the quarter-finals, while Portugal were 3-0 down, he scored 4 goals and took his team to the semi-final. 

He was the top scorer in the competition with 9 goals, and allowed his team to grab a healthy 3rd place. 

Having won the Golden Ball in 1965, he confirmed his immense talent. Eusébio is therefore in 2nd place in our ranking of the best Portuguese players of all time.

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo

It is impossible to talk about the best Portuguese players in history without quoting Cristiano Ronaldo. 

A true workaholic, he has a solid physique thanks to his willingness to train constantly to become even better. Adept with both feet and head, CR7 is an exceptional scorer, capable of scoring in any situation. With 775 goals in 1,063 games, he is also one of the all-time top scorers. 

After his debut with Sporting, Cristiano Ronaldo quickly joined Manchester United. In 6 seasons at the club, he won the Premier League, 1 FA Cup and above all the Champions League 3 times in 2008.  

A year later, in 2009, CR7 joined Real de Madrid. With the Madrilenians, he won La Liga twice and the Spanish Cup two times. But the most impressive remains the 4 UCL won in the space of 5 years.

With Portugal, his first competition ended with a final at Euro 2004 and a semi-final at the 2006 World Cup. 

From 2007 till date, he captained the Portuguese set-up. It was finally during Euro 2016 that he won his first international title. He was also the winner of the inaugural Nations League organized in 2018-2019.

Cristiano Ronaldo is one of only two players to have won the Golden Ball five times. He is also the top scorer in the history of Real, Portugal and the UEFA Champions League. 

These successes, as well as advantageous advertising contracts, allow him to be one of the richest sportsmen in the world today. Without a doubt, it can be said that Cristiano Ronaldo is the best Portuguese football player in history.

Best Portuguese football players of all time: At a glance

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo
  2. Eusebio
  3. Luis Figo
  4. Rui Costa
  5. Paulo Futre
  6. Deco
  7. Mario Coluna
  8. Pauleta
  9. Pepe
  10. Nuno Gomes
  11. Fernando Couto
  12. Fernando Chalana
  13. Paulo Sousa
  14. Ricardo Carvalho
  15. Vítor Baía

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