Identifying the best Dutch soccer players throughout history

Identifying the best Dutch soccer players throughout history

Helix Odhiambo
updated at January 31, 2024 at 9:59 AM
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The Netherlands has produced some of the greatest soccer players, but only a few rank among the best because of their talents, achievements and contributions to the sport. From Johan Cryuff and Marco van Basten to Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, we break down the best Dutch soccer players ever and what they did.

Best Dutch soccer players ever include Dutch legend Ruud Gullit (L) who lifted the European Championship trophy following their victory over the USSR at the Olympia Stadium on 25 June 1988 in Munich, Germany.
Dutch legend Ruud Gullit (L) lifted the European Championship trophy following their victory over the USSR at the Olympia Stadium on 25 June 1988 in Munich, Germany. Photo: VI Images
Source: Getty Images

The Dutch are known for their beautiful style of football and for producing historical teams that shaped the sport. They have reached the FIFA World Cup finals thrice but never won it. Despite that, their players have achieved much with their clubs and won multiple awards. Let us find out who the best Holland soccer players of all time are and what made them stand out above the rest.

Best Dutch soccer players in history

Holland players are among the most successful in football history. They have won eight Ballon d'Or awards and produced golden generations in the 1970s, late 1980s, early 1990s, and the 2010 class. So, who is the Dutch football hero? Check out the top 10 best Dutch football players and their profiles. The list is in no particular order as each left an indelible mark on the famous sport.

10. Robin van Persie

Robin van Persie of Holland looks on during their World Cup match against Costa Rica on 5 July 2014.
Robin van Persie of Holland looks on during their World Cup match against Costa Rica on 5 July 2014. Photo: Laurens Lindhout
Source: Getty Images

Van Persie is a familiar figure in football following his achievements with Arsenal and Manchester United. He was part of Holland's 2010 generation that reached the 2010 World Cup final and finished third in the 2014 edition. Van Persie is also the Netherlands' all-time top scorer, with 50 goals in 102 caps.

  • Date of birth: 6 August 1983
  • Age: 40 (as of January 2024)
  • Birthplace: Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • Career: 2001-2019
  • Clubs: Feyenoord, Arsenal, Manchester United, Fenerbahçe
  • Position: Striker

9. Edwin van der Sar

Van der Sar is the second-most capped Holland player with 130 matches. He tops the list of the best Dutch goalkeepers of all time following his achievements and records.

The legendary keeper is a two-time European Goalkeeper of the Year winner, multiple league champion and Champions League winner with Ajax and Manchester United. He also holds the record for the longest streak without conceding (1,311 minutes) in the Premier League (2008-09).

  • Date of birth: 29 October 1970
  • Age: 53 (as of January 2024)
  • Birthplace: Voorhout, Netherlands
  • Career: 1990-2016
  • Clubs: Ajax, Juventus, Fulham, Manchester United, VV Noordwijk
  • Position: Goalkeeper

8. Arjen Robben

Best Dutch soccer players include Netherlands' striker Arjen Robben who celebrates after scoring the third goal against Uruguay during the 2010 World Cup semi-final on 6 July 2010 at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.
Netherlands' striker Arjen Robben celebrates after scoring the third goal against Uruguay during the 2010 World Cup semi-final on 6 July 2010 at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town. Photo: Jewel Samad
Source: Getty Images

Robben was known for his lethal left foot, making him one of the most feared wingers. He was part of the 2010 class alongside Van Persie and Van der Sar. Robben won 32 club titles, including the 2013 Champions League with Bayern Munich. He managed 96 caps and scored 37 goals for the national team.

  • Date of birth: 23 January 1984
  • Age: 39 (as of January 2024)
  • Birthplace: Bedum, Netherlands
  • Career: 2000-2021
  • Clubs: Groningen, PSV, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich
  • Position: Winger

7. Frank Rijkaard

One of the best Dutch soccer players in history is Frank Rijkaard of AC Milan seen here celebrating after scoring the goal during their Serie A match against Atalanta at Stadio Comunale 1988-89 in Bergamo, Italy.
Frank Rijkaard of AC Milan celebrates after scoring the goal during their Serie A match against Atalanta at Stadio Comunale 1988-89 in Bergamo, Italy. Photo: Alessandro Sabattini
Source: Getty Images

The legendary midfielder had an illustrious career, putting him among the greatest Dutch soccer players ever. Rijkaard spent most of his time at Ajax and AC Milan. He won 21 major trophies for his clubs, including five Eredivisies and two Serie A titles.

Rijkaard managed 73 caps for the national team and scored ten goals. He was one of the stars of the 80s generation that won the 1988 European Championship.

  • Date of birth: 30 September 1962
  • Age: 61 (as of January 2024)
  • Birthplace: Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Career: 1980-1995
  • Clubs: Ajax, AC Milan, Sporting CP, Real Zaragoza
  • Position: Midfielder

6. Johan Neeskens

On the list of the best Holland soccer players of all time is Johan Neesken of Barcelona seen here in action in 1977.
Johan Neeskens of Barcelona in action during their 1977-78 La Liga game. He is one of the greatest Dutch footballers in history. Photo: VI Images
Source: Getty Images

Neeskens is one of the best Dutch midfielders of all time and a member of the 'Total Football' generation in the 70s that revolutionised the game. He was known for his top-notch technical abilities and work rate. The former midfielder won three European Cup titles with Ajax in the 1970s and one European Cup Winners with Barcelona.

Johan Neeskens played 49 games for Holland, scoring 17 goals. He was part of the historic team that finished runners-up in the 1974 and 1978 FIFA World Cups.

  • Date of birth: 15 September 1951
  • Age: 72 (as of January 2024)
  • Birthplace: Heemstede, Netherlands
  • Career: 1968-1991
  • Clubs: Racing Club Heemstede (RCH), Ajax, Barcelona, New York Cosmos, Groningen, Fort Lauderdale Sun, Kansas City Comets, Lowenbrau, Baar, Zug
  • Position: Midfielder

5. Dennis Bergkamp

Watching Dennis Bergkamp play during his peak was a fantastic experience for fans who witnessed his magic touches, controls, and movements. The football legend played as a second striker or attacking midfielder for Ajax, Inter Milan, and Arsenal, establishing himself among the best Dutch football players in the 90s.

Bergkamp lifted three Premier League titles with Arsenal, an Eredivisie Cup with Ajax and the UEFA Cup with Inter, among other trophies. He played 79 games for the national team, scoring 37 goals. Dennis scored one of the best World Cup goals in the quarter-final of the 1998 edition against Argentina, sealing a 2-1 with his last-minute strike.

  • Date of birth: 10 May 1969
  • Age: 54 (as of January 2024)
  • Birthplace: Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Career: 1986-2006
  • Clubs: Ajax, Inter Milan, Arsenal
  • Position: Second striker

4. Ronald Koeman

Ronald Koeman, a Dutch football player legend at the KNVB Campus on 17 November 2023 in Zeist, Netherlands.
Coach Ronald Koeman of Holland addresses the media during a press conference at the KNVB Campus on 17 November 2023 in Zeist, Netherlands. Photo: Roy Lazet
Source: Getty Images

Koeman was a versatile footballer who could play in defence and midfield. He won over 15 trophies, including the European Cup with PSV and Barcelona. Koeman played 78 games for Holland and scored 14 goals. He was part of the team that won the 1988 European Championship.

The legendary defender was also a prolific goal scorer, finishing his career as the highest-scoring defender in football history with 253 goals. His experience and portfolio elevate his status among the best Dutch soccer players of all time.

  • Date of birth: 21 March 1963
  • Age: 60 (as of January 2024)
  • Birthplace: Zaandam, Netherlands
  • Career: 1980-1997
  • Clubs: Groningen, Ajax, PSV, Barcelona, Feyenoord
  • Position: Defender, midfielder

3. Ruud Gullit

Gullit is one of the famous Dutch soccer players who won the Ballon d'Or (1987) alongside Marco van Basten and Johan Cruyff. Ruud Gullit played as an offensive midfielder for several clubs, including Feyenoord, PSV, AC Milan, and Chelsea, in the 80s and 90s.

The Dutch legend won 16 trophies, including nine with Milan and the 1988 UEFA European Championship with the national team. Gullit registered 66 caps and scored 17 goals.

  • Date of birth: 1 September 1962
  • Age: 61 (as of January 2024)
  • Birthplace: Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Career: 1979-1998
  • Clubs: HFC Haarlem, Feyenoord, PSV, AC Milan, Sampdoria, Chelsea
  • Position: Defender, midfielder

2. Marco van Basten

Dutch football players from the 90s include Marco Van Basten of the Netherlands seen here during their 1992 game in Italy.
Marco Van Basten of the Netherlands reacts during their 1992 game in Italy. Photo: Alessandro Sabattini
Source: Getty Images

Van Basten comes second in the legendary Dutch list, with over 300 goals and 20 trophies in his illustrious career at Ajax, AC Milan, and the national team. He ranks among the greatest strikers in soccer history despite having a short career after retiring at 28.

The former centre forward also bagged three Ballon d'Ors (1988, 1989, and 1992) and the 1988 UEFA European Championship. He played 58 matches for the national team and scored 24 goals.

  • Date of birth: 31 October 1964
  • Age: 59 (as of January 2024)
  • Birthplace: Utrecht, Netherlands
  • Career: 1981-1995
  • Clubs: Ajax, AC Milan
  • Position: Striker

1. Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff is widely considered a Dutch football hero and is seen here leaving the pitch after winning the 1974 FIFA World Cup preliminary round game against Ururguay on 15 June 1974.
Dutch national football team captain Johan Cruyff leaves the pitch after winning the 1974 FIFA World Cup preliminary round game against Ururguay on 15 June. Photo: Werner Baum
Source: Getty Images

Cruyff is one of the greatest figures in football and among the pioneers of the modern 'Total Football' concept used by the Dutch team in the 1970s. He spent most of his career at Ajax and Barcelona, winning 18 trophies as a player with the two clubs, including three consecutive European Cups with Ajax (1971 - 1973).

The legendary midfielder also revolutionised Barcelona as a manager, guiding them to their first European Cup in 1992. Cruyff made 48 caps, scoring 33 goals for Holland and won three Ballon d'Ors (1971, 1973, and 1974). He was part of the team that finished runner-up in the 1974 World Cup.

Cruyff died of cancer at his home in Barcelona in March 2016, aged 68, but his legacy lives on as the greatest Dutch to ever play football.

  • Date of birth: 25 April 1947
  • Birthplace: Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Date of death: 24 March 2016
  • Career: 1964-1984
  • Clubs: Ajax, Barcelona, Los Angeles Aztecs, Washington Diplomats, Levante, Washington Diplomats, Feyenoord
  • Position: Midfielder

Best Dutch soccer players right now

Holland players Virgil van Dijk (L), Memphis Depay (C), and Frenkie de Jong (R) celebrate against Belarus at the Feyenoord Stadium on 21 March 2019 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Holland players Virgil van Dijk (L), Memphis Depay (C), and Frenkie de Jong (R) celebrate against Belarus at the Feyenoord Stadium on 21 March 2019 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Photo: Eric Verhoeven
Source: Getty Images

The current generation of Holland players consists of some of the most talented footballers, continuing the legacy of their predecessors. Among the best Dutch players currently playing for top clubs include Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk and midfielder Cody Gakpo, Barcelona's midfielder Frenkie de Jong, and Memphis Depay of Atletico Madrid.

Final word

Our list has only sampled the ten best Dutch soccer players in history but excludes other legendary figures who left a mark. They include Marc Overmars, Frank de Boer, Edgar Davids, Wesley Sneijder, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Clarence Seedorf.

READ MORE: The biography and life story of Sammy Kuffour, the former Ghanaian footballer

Sports Brief published the life story of Sammy Kuffuor, the former Ghanaian footballer who had a humble beginning as a shoe shiner in his home country before pursuing football, which changed his life.

The former centre-back had an illustrious career at Bayern Munich and with the Ghana national team. He was born a Muslim but later converted to Christianity. Check out the article for all the details about Sammy, his career, and his life story.

Authors
Helix Odhiambo photo
Helix Odhiambo
Helix Odhiambo is an award-winning Kenyan journalist and content creator with over 6 years of experience. In 2016, he won the Goal Blaze Correspondent Award for young writers.