Who are the most successful retired soccer players? A top 10 list

Who are the most successful retired soccer players? A top 10 list

Kevin Omuya
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:22 PM

There are billions of soccer fans around the globe, which makes the sport the most popular one in the world. Successful careers are the norm for retired soccer players; it is a question of opinion and criteria like statistics, trophies won, and individual accolades, to determine the most successful retired soccer players. So, who are the most successful retired soccer players? Let's find out!

Most successful retired soccer players
Real Madrid's midfielder David Beckham of England (L) and team-mate Ronaldo Luiz before an exhibition match against Thailand in Bangkok, 29 July 2005. Photo: Saeed Khan
Source: Getty Images

Soccer players are widely held in the highest regard among athletes. They fall in love again after spending precious time together on the soccer pitch. You will become wealthy and famous, gaining the admiration and respect of all who hear your story. After retirement, however, this is not always the case. Some of the most famous former athletes who are generally believed to have been among the most successful are:

10. Gianfranco Zola

Best retired soccer players
Gianfranco Zola of Chelsea celebrates after scoring a goal during the FA Carling Premiership match against Coventry at Stamford Bridge on April 12, 2000, in London, England. Photo: Frank Coppi
Source: Getty Images

Since leaving active management, Zola has ignited a flourishing career. He led the Italian U-21 team as coach from 2006 to 2008. He became West Ham United's manager in 2008 but was fired after the 2009–2010 campaign. Zola signed a two-year contract with Watford after that. He is currently the seventh most successful former soccer player. Zola is considered one of the most successful athletes after retirement.

9. Gerd Muller

The most successful soccer player
Torjäger Gerd Müller vom FC Bayern München in einer undatierten ARchivaufnahme vom August 1974, aufgenommen in München. Photo: Istvan Bajzat
Source: Getty Images

German soccer legend who retired Muller was the best striker the Germans had produced. After retiring, he started drinking too much, but he went to treatment and is now sober. Since then, he has been Bayern Munich's head coach. In addition, Muller is an avid collector of Adidas gear. As a bonus, he is considered one of the best goal-scorers in Bundesliga history.

8. Pele

Recently retired soccer players
Legendary Brazilian footballer Pele during the first day of the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit (HTLS) 2018 at Taj Palace, on October 5, 2018, in New Delhi, India. Photo: Satish Bate
Source: Getty Images

Brazilian legend and retired soccer player Pele is often recognized as one of the sport's all-time greats. In the pantheon of gaming greats, a true icon. The ambassadorial work the 72-year-old former Brazilian star did is notable.

Pelé has represented the UN and UNESCO as an environmental advocate. A prolific autobiographer and documentary subject, he has penned several books about his life. In 2010, he was also given the title of Honorary President of the New York Cosmos. Pele is considered the best-retired soccer player of all time.

7. Ronaldo

Successful soccer player
Ronaldo speaks at the Football for Hope Festival at Vila Olimpica Mane Garrincha Caju on July 7, 2014, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Alexander Hassenstein
Source: Getty Images

The former Brazilian striker has overcome his past difficulties. He is a partner with the Brazilian A1 conglomerate. Also, Ronaldo is widely expected to become the president of the Brazilian Football Confederation in 2014. To top it all off, Ronaldo is currently ranked 7th on our list of the top 10 best-resigned soccer players of all time. Ronaldo is one of the most successful soccer players of all time.

6. Garry Neville

Famous retired soccer players
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville looks on during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Aston Villa at Etihad Stadium on May 22, 2022, in Manchester, England. Photo: James Gill
Source: Getty Images

Since leaving the field, Neville has begun a career as a coach. Licensed by UEFA in 2012, he was named England's head coach that year. The University of Bolton awarded Neville an honorary degree for his illustrious career in the sport of football.

He is a frequent columnist and TV expert for several networks, among other media contributions. Currently, Neville ranks sixth among the top 10 most successful retired soccer players.

5. Zinedine Zidane

Most successful soccer player of all time
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane during the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Villarreal CF played at Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium on May 22, 2021, in Madrid, Spain. Photo: Ruben Albarran
Source: Getty Images

Despite being a retired French soccer player and one of the best Muslim sportsmen, Zidane is still recognized as the most excellent playmaker. His talent and the infamous headbutt he delivered on Materazzi in the World Cup final in 2006 earned him widespread acclaim.

Since retiring, Zidane has regularly spoken on behalf of Real Madrid's veteran players. He is currently the manager of Real Madrid, where he was formerly a coaching staff member under Jose Mourinho. The endorsements he has earned are worth millions more. Zidane is one of the famous retired soccer players.

4. Sir Bobby Charlton

Best retired soccer players of all time
Sir Bobby Charlton of Manchester United ahead of the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford on April 3, 2016, in Manchester, England. Photo: Matthew Peters
Source: Getty Images

Preston North End hired Sir Bobby Charlton, a former Manchester United midfielder and arguably the country's most famous athlete, to lead the club. After that, he joined the board of directors at Manchester United and became the director of Wigan Athletic. Charlton made history when he was elected into the Hall of Fame as the first English football player.

And in 2008, the BBC named him their Sports Personality of the Year for all time. He has also been involved in several significant humanitarian efforts and is a Laureus World Sports Academy member. Bobby is considered one of the most successful soccer players.

3. Luis Figo

Most successful athletes after retirement
Luis Figo looks on after the UEFA Champions League final match between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid at Stade de France on May 28, 2022, in Paris, France. Photo: Matteo Ciambelli
Source: Getty Images

The former Portugal international star is quite successful even in his football career and is being played for several significant teams, including Real Madrid and Internazionale. He raced in the A1 Grand Prix for Team Portugal in 2005 and 2006.

Together with Internazionale, he represents the Stop TB Partnership. In Portugal, he also opened a bar called Network 90. Figo is now one of the top 10 most famous former soccer players and one of the best-retired soccer players.

2. Eric Cantona

Most successful retired soccer players
Eric Cantona looks on during the Soccer Aid for UNICEF 2018 match between England and The Rest of the World at Old Trafford on June 10, 2018, in Manchester, England. Photo: Lynne Cameron
Source: Getty Images

After his playing career ended, the former French striker got active in the media. He had cameos in several films and advertisements. And now Cantona even leads the French beach football squad as captain. In addition, he had a small part in the debut album of the French rock band Dionysos.

The famous retired soccer player returned to football in 2011 after being named the New York Universe's soccer commissioner. In addition to being politically active, he was a backer of two football video games. Cantona deserves to be listed as one of the top 10 most excellent ever retired soccer players.

1. David Beckham

Most successful athletes after retirement
David Beckham attends the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between England and IR Iran at Khalifa International Stadium on November 21, 2022, in Doha, Qatar. Photo: Richard Sellers
Source: Getty Images

David Beckham, a retired English soccer player widely regarded as one of the sport's good-looking stars, has enjoyed a bright and fruitful career on and off the field. He had extraordinarily high levels of popularity throughout his career and perhaps even now. The former successful soccer player has succeeded, earning millions of euros from endorsements and becoming a style icon.

With his extensive philanthropic activities, broadcast appearances, and position as the global ambassador for Chinese football, he has more post-playing success than any other former footballer in history. No one can argue that Beckham does not belong in the company of the ten most successful former soccer players.

As of 2021, some recently retired soccer players include:

sport's all-time greats
Barcelona's midfielder Andres Iniesta celebrates after scoring during their Spanish League football on February 20, 2010, at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona. Photo: Lluis Gene
Source: Getty Images
  • Andres Iniesta: A Spanish midfielder who played for FC Barcelona and the Spanish national team. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest midfielders of all time.
  • Xavi Hernandez: Another Spanish midfielder who played for FC Barcelona and the Spanish national team. Like Iniesta, Xavi is considered one of the greatest midfielders in the sport's history.
  • Philipp Lahm: A German defender who played for Bayern Munich and the German national team. He is considered one of the best defenders of his generation.
  • Francesco Totti: An Italian forward who spent his entire career at AS Roma, where he became the club's all-time leading goal-scorer.
  • Steven Gerrard: A retired English midfielder who played for Liverpool and the English national team. He is considered one of the best midfielders of his generation.
  • Frank Lampard: An English midfielder who played for Chelsea and the English national team. He is considered one of the best midfielders of his generation.

David Beckham, a former English football legend and fashion icon, is among the most successful retired soccer players. David Beckham and his wife, Victoria, own many football clubs and a fashion line. Among the best former soccer players, Eric Cantona of France and Luis Figo of Portugal deserve special recognition as well.

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Kevin Omuya
Kevin Omuya is a Content Writer with 4 years of experience who joined Sports Brief in 2022. In 2019 he held a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism & Digital Media from KCA University.