Collecting the Greatest World Cup Stars of All-Time

Collecting the Greatest World Cup Stars of All-Time

The World Cup was founded in 1930 and has captivated the world since then. While many different groups of players have hoisted the winning trophy, several names stand out among the rest in terms of their World Cup legacy. With collectors in mind, we take a look at some of the greatest players to ever appear in the FIFA World Cup.

As the many who collect soccer cards have come to realize, the market for soccer cards is much different than that of baseball or basketball. While North American collectors made the move to a collecting approach more built on investment and high values, soccer cards still maintain a system mainly geared to simplicity and base cards. Soccer collecting has started to come around to more premium releases, but it has been a slower process. This difference in collecting is further separated by an ambiguous view of rookie cards. The end result is a soccer market that is light on cards for many former players from most of the last century and is comprised primarily of base and sticker cards.

Despite the lack of cards, this does not mean that there are no collecting options for the greatest players in World Cup history. It just means that it might take a little bit more work. Panini has recently alleviated some of that searching with an extensive autograph checklist found in 2014 Prizm World Cup. The following list looks at 15 of the best to ever roam the pitch at the World Cup. Top cards, including the earliest known options, are noted when available. For a look at the current crop of players, check out our 2014 World Cup collecting guide.

When narrowing down any list to 15, it is always tough to come up with a final group. Obviously there are other fantastic soccer players that are not included on this list. Do any other World Cup performers hold a special place in your collection?

Collecting the Greatest World Cup Stars of All-Time

Click the player name to browse options on eBay. 

Paolo Rossi - Italy

Paolo Rossi appeared in two World Cups (1978, 1982), scoring nine total goals. The Italian striker scored six of those goals in 1982, on the way to helping the team win the 1982 World Cup. His card options are largely limited to stickers from his playing days.

  • 1975-76 Panini Calcio

1975 76 Panini Calcio Paolo Rossi 193x300 Image

Romário - Brazil

The first of several elite players that call Brazil home, Romário was an impressive scorer with a career that stretched until 2009. He played in two World Cup tournaments (1990, 1994), but made the biggest impact in 1994. Romário scored five goals in the 1994 World Cup, held in the United States, and led Brazil to the title. His cards are slightly more plentiful, but mostly consist of the base card variety.

  • 1987 Campeonato Brasileiro

1987 CAMPEONATO BRASILEIRO 87 Romario 200x300 Image

Just Fontaine - France

Just Fontaine only appeared in a single World Cup tournament, but what a performance it was. Fontaine netted 13 goals in the 1958 World Cup, a record that still stands today. Unfortunately, his French team did not claim the World Cup trophy, losing to Brazil in the semifinals. Card options are very minimal for Just Fontaine, mainly due to the period in which he played. Most of his readily available cards are from his coaching days.

  • 1958 Heinerle

1958 Heinerle Just Fontaine Image

Gerd Müller - Germany

Known as "Bomber der Nation" or just "Der Bomber," Gerd Müller was a powerful forward for one of the top European squads. After totaling ten goals in the 1970 Word Cup, Müller followed that up with four goals in 1974, including the game winner in the final game versus the Netherlands. His 14 World Cup goals put him among the top scorers in World Cup history. Gerd Müller cards are not tough to find, but are mainly stickers from his active career, as well as cards from the Sportscasters sets.

  • 1965-66 Bergmann

1965 66 Bergmann Gerd Muller 205x300 Image

Eusébio - Portugal

Although he was born in Mozambique, Eusébio took his immense soccer talents to Portugal. The "Black Panther" tallied nine goals in his only World Cup appearance in 1966, helping Portugal win third place. In addition to his vintage card options, Eusébio was featured in a 2010 Sportkings autographed set and was honored with a short-printed tribute card in 2014 Prizm World Cup.

  • 1963 Panini Calciatori
  • 2010 Sportkings Autographs (2 versions)

1963 Panini Calciatori Eusebio 213x300 Image2010 Sportkings Series D Autographs Eusebio 211x300 Image

Michel Platini - France

While many on this list are purely scorers, Michel Platini was equally adept with his passing. The French midfielder participated in three World Cups, including 1978, 1982 and 1986. Platini scored five total goals and led France to consecutive semifinal appearances, where they lost both times to Germany. The team would finish in third place in 1986, but Platini was sidelined for the final game. His card options fall in line with most of the previous players, but he was recently featured in a 2013 Futera insert,"The Mythicals," which included real diamonds and a gold frame.

  • 1974 Ageducatifs Michel Platini #289
  • 2013 Futera The Mythicals #MYTH08

1974 Ageducatifs Michel Platini 289 208x300 Image2013 Futera The Mythicals Michel Platini 206x300 Image

Bobby Charlton - England

Seemingly old even when he was young, Bobby Charlton was the face of English football in the early-1960s. He was selected for four consecutive World Cups, starting in 1958, but only played in 1962, 1966, and 1970. Charlton helped England win their lone World Cup in 1966, defeating Germany in the final game. He ended his World Cup career with four goals. Bobby Charlton's cardboard career stretches several decades, from his vintage options in the 1950s and 1960s, to more recent releases. Collectors can find signed cards for Charlton in 2014 Prizm World Cup, including a regular version and a rare dual signed card with Steven Gerrard. It is also fair to say that he had the greatest comb over in history.

  • 1958 A&BC Gum Famous Footballers #3
  • 2014 Panini Prizm World Cup Signatures

1958 ABC Gum Famous Footballers Bobby Charlton 3 203x300 Image 2014 Panini Prizm World Cup Autographs Bobby Charlton 212x300 Image

Roberto Baggio - Italy

The pride of Italy, Roberto Baggio appeared in three World Cups, including 1990, 1994 and 1998. Known as Il Divin' Codino or "The Divine Ponytail," for obvious reasons, Baggio finished with nine World Cup goals, but is largely remembered for the one that got away. In the 1994 World Cup Final against Brazil, the game went to a shoot-out and Baggio took the last kick, with his team trailing. He put his shot over the crossbar and Brazil won 3-2. Two of his earliest cards from 1985-86 feature a similar look, but the Edis version actually included the wrong name, showing him as "Paolo Monelli." Baggio was also part of the autograph set in 2014 Prizm World Cup and has proven to be one of the more valuable pulls from the product.

  • 1985-86 Edis Calciatori #65
  • 1985-86 Panini Calciatori #93
  • 2014 Panini Prizm World Cup Signatures

1985 86 Panini Calciatori Roberto Baggio 93  198x300 Image2014 Panini Prizm World Cup Autographs Roberto Baggio 211x300 Image

Zinedine Zidane - France

Like Roberto Baggio, Zinedine Zidane is another elite player that has been seemingly defined by one specific moment. The dynamic midfielder played in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups for France, and scored five goals. Zidane helped the host team win the 1998 World Cup, defeating Brazil in the final game. He scored the first two goals in the 3-0 win for France. However, he made the most headlines for his performance in the 2006 World Cup Final. After France battled Italy to a 1-1 tie, the game moved to a shoot-out. Zinedine Zidane did not make it to that point, because he was was red-carded and thrown out of the game for headbutting Marco Materazzi of Italy. This final act by Zidane ended his international career on a sour note and was even featured in a Family Guy episode. While there is a decent variety of Zinedine Zidane card options, they are mostly limited to base and sticker cards.

  • 1992 Panini Football #43
  • 1993 Panini Football #261

1992 Panini Football Zinedine Zidane 43 210x300 Image1993 Panini Football 93 Zinedine Zidane 261 211x300 Image

Garrincha - Brazil

Although he was born Manuel Francisco dos Santos, most football fans known him as "Garrincha," which is Portuguese for "little bird." Garrincha scored five goals between the 1958, 1962 and 1966 World Cups and helped Brazil win the World Cup in both 1958 and 1962. He is most remembered for leading the team to victory in 1962 after Pelé went down with an injury. Garrincha passed away in 1983 at the age of 49. Although his cards are largely limited to regional options, Garrincha is found in many of the same sets as Pelé. One of his more notable early cards actually pairs the two Brazilians on the same card.

  • 1958 Alifabolaget #632
  • 1958 Swedish Rekord Journal w/ Pelé

1958 Alifabolaget Garrincha 632 205x300 Image1958 Swedish Rekord Journal Pelé Image

Ronaldo  - Brazil

Before Cristiano Ronaldo made headlines, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima was the Ronaldo everyone talked about. The prolific scorer finished with 15 goals in his World Cup career, including appearances in 1998, 2002 and 2006. Ronaldo was also on the 1994 World Cup Champion roster, but did not play. He currently sits as the top overall scorer in World Cup history, but Miroslav Klose has 14 goals and is playing in the 2014 World Cup. Ronaldo led Brazil to the title in 2002 and second place in 1998. Despite his relevance to the game and the fact that he is a modern player, there is not a large supply of cards available for Ronaldo. This is further complicated, because it is tougher to search for his cards given the shared name with Cristiano Ronaldo.

  • 1995 Panini Voetbal 95 #78

1995 Panini Voetbal 95 Ronaldo 78 210x300 Image

Johan Cruyff - Netherlands

Widely considered one of the greatest to never win a World Cup, Hendrik Johannes Cruijff, or Johan Cruyff, as he is more commonly known, helped lead the Netherlands all the way to the 1974 World Cup Finals against West Germany. The team came up short, but Cruyff did everything he could and is remembered as one of the greatest facilitators in the history of the sport. He notched three goals in the 1974 World Cup and is regarded as one of the top players of all-time. Although they are all largely plain, Johan Cruyff cards are relatively easy to track down.

  • 1972 Monty Gum #233
  • 1973 Panini Campioni Dello Sport #112

Monty Gum Johan Cruyff 233 Image

Franz Beckenbauer - Germany

Teammate Gerd Müller may have been "Der Bomber," but Franz Beckenbauer was "Der Kaiser," or "The Emperor." One of the greatest players in history, Beckenbauer made it look easy. He played all over the pitch and headlined an impressive West German World Cup squad in 1966, 1970 and 1974, scoring five goals. Beckenbauer helped West Germany win the 1974 World Cup. He also won the 1990 World Cup as the West German coach. Most of Beckenbauer's cards are from his final playing days, but his earliest cards are rare vintage options from the mid-1960s. Signed cards are also available in 2014 Prizm World Cup.

  • 1965 Lampo Perfetti
  • 1965-66 Bergmann
  • 1966 Panini Calciatori / Campioni Dello Sport
  • 2014 Panini Prizm World Cup Signatures

1965 66 Bergmann Franz Beckenbauer 205x300 Image2014 Panini Prizm World Cup Autographs Franz Beckenbauer 213x300 Image

Diego Maradona - Argentina

At his very best, Diego Maradona was arguably the greatest of all-time. But at his worst, his questionable actions overshadowed his brilliance. Maradona played in the World Cup in 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1994 and finished with eight total goals. He helped Argentina win the 1986 World Cup and missed out on a repeat win in 1990, as the team lost to West Germany in the finals. Compared to many of the players on the list, Diego Maradona has a good mix of base cards.

  • 1978 Crack Mundial Diego Maradona
  • 1979-80 Panini Diego Maradona #312

1978 Crack Campeonato Mundial De Futbol Diego Maradona 214x300 Image

Pelé - Brazil

All the future greats will be compared to Pelé and they will all likely come up short. Pelé is widely considered the single greatest soccer player in history and his time spent with the Brazilian National Team is a huge reason for that. He appeared in four tournaments, including 1958, 1962, 1966 and 1970. His 12 total goals puts him in an elite group and Brazil won three of the four World Cups that he participated in.

Because of his immense popularity, Pelé's cards are the most plentiful and most valuable in the group. In addition to a wide variety of cards from throughout his career and retirement, both Topps and Panini have issued autographed cards in recent sets. Showing his crossover appeal, Topps even featured his signed cards in baseball products.

  • 1958 Alifabolaget Pelé #635
  • 1958-59 Tupinamba Ltda. Quigol Pelé #109
  • Various Pelé Topps/Panini Autographs

1958 Alifabolaget Pele 635 205x300 Image2013 Topps Archives Pelé Autograph 214x300 Image

ebaysmalllogo Image
1714272485574040 1 Image
1962 62 DC Thomson Victor PELE Karalius Springett Brazil Great Soccer Card!!
$59.99
3002944934324040 1 Image
SPORTKINGS PASSING THE TORCH PELE-ADU 20
$149.99
1614183681854040 1 Image
2014 Panini Prizm Lot of 35x World Cup Star Insert Card - Cristiano Ronaldo Pele
$41.00
1712011163494040 1 Image
*VERY RARE* 1963 Ruiz Romero Garrincha BVG 3.5 POP=1
$42.95
1712011175934040 1 Image
*VERY RARE* 1961-62 WS-Verlag International Sport PELE BVG 5.0 POP=1
$199.95
2912416714254040 1 Image
1958-59 Editora Aquarela Pele rookie card black number, Highest grade known,
$699.99
2716051726394040 1 Image
2014 Panini prizm World Cup Stars Pele Red 69 149 Brazil
$79.99
2904741909064040 1 Image
PELE SPORTKINGS SERIES B (#64)
$49.99
3711415430324040 1 Image
2014 Panini Prizm World Cup STARS Complete 49 Card Set-Messi,PELE,Ronaldo,Baggio
$35.00
2814420101724040 1 Image
Pele Rookie Card (VERY RARE)
$39.50
2912235455404040 1 Image
1958-59 Editora Aquarela Pele rookie card blue number, Highest grade known
$3,999.99
2912235472854040 1 Image
1958-59 Editora Aquarela Pele rookie card blue number, 2nd Highest grade known
$1,999.99
4004010009594040 1 Image
LOT of 2000 La Liga-Soccer cards-MESSI,ZIDANE,INIESTA,CRISTIANO RONALDO,READ*
$146.25
1214353438554040 1 Image
Diego Maradona 2012 Futera Unique 1 1 Argentina Autograph Auto Code Unused Rare
$5,999.99
3215259664104040 1 Image
Panini Prizm Pele and Franck Ribéry
$60.00
3312412274614040 1 Image
2014 PANINI PRIZM SOCCER #S-RB ROBERTO BAGGIO AUTOGRAPH AUTO, ITALY, 062214
$346.45
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Trey Treutel

E-Mail Author | 
Trey Treutel is an Ole Miss grad and a lifelong sports fanatic. He is a huge fan of the NBA and NFL, as well as soccer, college basketball and college football. As a kid, he collected football and basketball cards. As an adult, he started collecting basketball cards again on a whim, and has since expanded to other sports and entertainment options. Find Trey on Twitter at @datreute.

User Comments

  1. hi I just wanted to say I have been collecting sports memorabilia for many years and just this year I have been really getting into collecting soccer cards just after panini came out with the 2014 world cup set, and I loved the fact that they made an eusebio tribute card him after recently passing away he truly was one of the all time greats on and off the pitch.I have his 2010 sportkings autographed card series d and he only ever signed 2 versions of 40 each!! after seeing what some of the autographed cards are going for in the 2014 panini prizm world cup set , in my opinion I think his sportkings autographed cards should go way up in value , he only ever signed 40 cards of each and one of the grestest ever !!! I just wanted to know if anyone agrees with me ??? his autographed cards are very rare ane it took me over a year to find one .cheers! !!

  2. hi I need an opinion I have been looking at the futera Diego maradona autographed cards there is a few 1/1 and others have been released and to me something is not right but im not really familiar with futera so Im not going to criticize they are nice cards in 1996 diego maradona came to canada and played in a charity match at birchmount stadium along side his brother for Toronto italia against the canadian soccer leaugue all stars more of a semi pro league and after the game had the opportunity to to get him to sign an old eurosports card of him from 1987 I got in Mexico .and the signature on my card and other things like jersey and balls I have seen autographed by him look pretty identical , but his signature on the futera cards looks totally different then other things I have seen.again im not criticizing but is there any reason for that I have heard people say they have questioned futera autographed cards before but you cant always beleive what you here.I know that when gretzky signs things for his own company wga the signature is different then what we see sometimes on cards or for signing someones personal items .I do find it hard to beleive futera would put out fake memorabilia and signatures.

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