UK: Who is the GOAT men’s footballer?
March 1st, 2023, YouGov

UK: Who is the GOAT men’s footballer?

Lionel Messi’s triumph at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and the recent death of Pelé have both reignited the debate around who is the greatest men’s football player of all time. So who do fans think is the GOAT of football?

We ran a poll on YouGov Surveys to find out.

We asked British football followers to choose the greatest of all time from FourFourTwo Magazine’s top 25 players. Our data shows that Pelé is considered the “Greatest Of All Time” (GOAT) by almost a third (31%) of British fans. Lionel Messi gained a massive leg up in the Messi vs Ronaldo debate, with the Argentine coming in second place (27%).


Three players came in a rather distant third: George Best – who Pelé himself once described as the best player in the world – won 5% of the vote, as did Diego Maradona and Messi’s long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo. Bobby Charlton ranked fourth (3%), Zinedine Zidane ranked fifth (2%), and no other player got more than 1% of the vote.

We also gave fans the opportunity to nominate footballers outside of the 25 options we offered. Among the write-in candidates were Bobby Moore, Alan Shearer, Matt Le Tissier, Steven Gerrard, and Nicklas “Lord” Bendtner.

Messi is the GOAT among younger fans

So the GOAT contest is an all-South American two-horse race. But the results tell us that Pelé’s legend is being eclipsed by Messi’s in the mind of younger fans.


When asked to choose the GOAT, 46% of 18–34-year-old Brits picked the seven-time Ballon d’Or winning Argentine – with just 16% opting for the Brazilian icon. Messi also slightly edges out Pele among Britons aged 35-54.

There may be an element of recency bias at play here: we polled fans in January 2023, Messi won the World Cup in December 2022, and most fans who voted would have been born well past Pelé’s prime.

In any case, O Rei remains O Rei in the mind of British football fans – for now.

Methodology: YouGov Surveys: Serviced provide quick survey results from nationally representative or targeted audiences in multiple markets. This study was conducted online on 26 January 2023, with a [nationally] representative sample of 2000 adults in Great Britain (aged 18+ years), using a questionnaire designed by YouGov. Data figures have been weighted by gender, age, region, and social grade to be representative of all adults in Great Britain aged 18 years or older, and reflect the latest ONS population estimates. Learn more about YouGov Surveys: Serviced.