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The 11 Best Attacking Midfielders Of All Time

The 11 Best Attacking Midfielders Of All Time

The role of the attacking midfielder in football is a fascinating one. When it comes to creating chances, no player on the pitch is relied upon more than an attacking midfielder, and as a result this soccer position has gained an almost legendary status amongst many fans of the game. Many of the greatest players of all time have plied their trade in attacking midfield.

In this article, we'll be taking you through some of the very best. We'll search back over the decades and pick out 11 of the best attacking midfielders of all time, scouring the greatest footballing nations and competitions across the world. But before we get into that, we'll be explaining what the role of the attacking midfielder involves, and what the key skills and attributes are for a player in this position. 

What Is An Attacking Midfielder?

Attacking midfielders make things happen. When a match is tight and a team is looking for someone to unlock a defence, find and exploit a weakness, or pick out a gap for that killer offensive pass, the attacking midfielder is the person they'll look to.

Often, attacking midfielders will have the ability to roam around far more than any other player, looking for spaces where they can work their magic. Sometimes, these players will be positioned wide from the start, although even some nominal Central Attacking Midfielders (or CAMs) will regularly drift toward the wing where they're unlikely to be marked quite as tightly.

Attacking midfielders are the bridge between midfield and attack, their job primarily being to pick up the ball from more defensive-minded teammates and work with other attacking players to create chances for strikers, or get into goalscoring positions themselves.

There is a great degree of flexibility in this position, with some attacking midfielders creating chances from deep and others regularly driving into the opposition penalty area, but whatever the specifics, the brief is always about creativity first and foremost.

Key Attributes For An Attacking Midfielder

In order to perform effectively in this position, you need a variety of different attributes and skills. Here are a few that are particularly important.

First Touch

It sounds basic, but all attacking midfielders need to have a killer first touch; while centre backs or big, physical strikers might be able to get away with not having the most precise, deadly first touch, this technical aspect of the game is absolutely essential for the players tasked with finding the gaps between midfield and attack. A great touch is the key to kicking off a dangerous move in the final third.

Creative Vision

Attacking midfielders should have a knack for spotting runs from teammates, picking out the spaces on the pitch that are most beneficial to target, and constantly developing a mental picture of what's in front of them in order to effectively mount attacks from midfield areas. Without great vision, central attacking midfielders will risk simply building up plodding, 'pedestrian' football, without turning possession into genuinely threatening chances.

Excellent Passing

That vision must be coupled with the ability to pull off a quality pass, whether it's a sharp, low, medium-distance pass into a striker's feet, a chipped ball in behind an opposition full-back to a winger, or a quick-one to with another midfielder (all the best center midfielders of all time had this range of passing in their locker). 

Dribbling Skills

Dribbling offers an alternative path forward when it's not quite possible to play a particular pass. If there's no space to give the ball to a teammate, or those around you simply aren't making the right run, dribbling offers a chance to drive forward, and attacking midfielders need to be able to do it with speed, power, and most importantly, close, precise ball control.

Shooting Ability

A skill that can be somewhat underrated for attacking midfielders is shooting. Because of the advanced nature of the role, players in this position will regularly find themselves in goalscoring positions, and it's crucial that when this does happen they are able to put chances into the back of the net. Some CAMs will focus overwhelmingly on the creative side of their game, but if you can add goals as well as assists to a team, your importance becomes even greater.

The 11 Best Attacking Midfielders Of All Time

The amount of players who have shone on the world stage in this position is staggering, therefore it's difficult to pick a definitive list of the best attacking midfielders of all time. That being said, here's our verdict.

Andres Iniesta

A central part of Spain's iconic trophy-laden spell under Vicente Del Bosque — when La Roja won the 2008 Euros, the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 Euros — Andres Iniesta is a glorious dribbler of the ball, an excellent passer with outstanding vision, and a dynamic, tactically intelligent operator who works extremely hard to help his teams keep possession and dominate the ball. The Spaniard has won everything there is to win, including nine La Liga Titles, four Champions Leagues, twelve domestic Spanish cups, and three major tournament wins with his country.

Michel Laudrup

Denmark's most successful period on the international stage came during the 1990s, when they were often led by pioneering central midfielder Michel Laudrup, a player with amazing tactical intelligence, speedy dribbling, grace and elegance, as well as an eye for goal. He's widely considered to be one of the greatest players of all time, and a huge trophy haul that includes a European Cup with Barcelona and league titles in Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands is a reflection of that prowess.

Ruud Gullit

Gullit is one of the true greats of Dutch football, captaining his national side to glory in the 1988 European Championships and scoring 17 goals in 66 games from midfield for his country. His 1987 move from PSV to AC Milan commanded a world record fee, and his Ballon d'Or win in the same year shows exactly why. Known for his outstanding technical ability, attacking vision, physical attributes, and ability to play across the pitch, Gullit is undeniably one of the best attacking midfielders of all time.

Kevin De Bruyne

De Bruyne's injury troubles mean he may not have too many years left at the very top of the game; however, during his gloriously successful time at Manchester City (whom he joined from Wolfsburg in 2015), he has redefined what it means to be an attacking midfielder. He's been the most important creator in Pep Guardiola's star-studded team, racking up an insane assist tally — in under 700 games for club and country, he's managed a remarkable 285 assists — and stunning football fans across the world with his inch-perfect passes and crosses. The Belgian will go down in history as one of football's greatest ever midfielders.

Sir Bobby Charlton

Manchester United recently mourned the loss of arguably their greatest ever player, Sir Bobby Charlton. The naming of a stand at their iconic Old Trafford stadium after the old England legend is a testament to his impact on the city, where he won three First Division titles, an FA Cup, and a European Cup. Charlton also guided England to their legendary 1966 World Cup victory on home soil, and won the Ballon d'Or in the same year, becoming only one of four English Ballon d'Or winners in history.

Johan Cruyff

A marvellously gifted attacking midfielder who was impossible to pin down, constantly floating between central and wide areas and rotating with teammates to create the system we now know as Total Football, Johan Cruyff was a player like no other. The Dutchman had outstanding technical ability and ball control skills, as well as a knack for finding a clever pass or providing a killer finish. A three-time Ballon d'Or winner who went on to manage at the highest level with Barcelona and Ajax, Cruyff's impact on the modern game has been colossal.


A playmaker with amazing creative vision and top notch passing skills, the elite level of Brazil legend Zico is confirmed by the fact that he's referred to by many as "the white Pele". Playing for the Selecao between 1976 and 1986, he scored 48 goals in 71 games, an outstanding tally for an attacking midfielder, and while he was unable to win a major tournament with his country, he had huge success in Brazil with Flamengo, winning eight league titles and a historic Copa Libertadores in 1981.

Diego Maradona

It's impossible to leave Maradona out of this list. The Napoli legend enjoys god-like status in his home country of Argentina thanks to his pivotal role in their 1986 World Cup win and the cult of personality that built around him during his pomp throughout that decade, and he's considered by many to be the greatest player of all time. Known for his wonderful dribbling ability, his inch-perfect passes, the range of shots in his arsenal and of course his wacky, infectious personality, El Diego is a legend of the global game in every sense of the word.

Michel Platini

During the 1980s, Michel Platini was one of Europe's greatest midfielders, winning three consecutive Ballon d'Ors between 1983 and 1985 and operating as the key creator in a Juventus midfield that won the 1984-85 European Cup, the European Super Cup the previous year, and two Serie A titles. He was renowned for his shooting skills and passing ability, which also helped lead France to glory at the 1984 European Championship, aided by teammates such as Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse, and Luis Fernandez.

Thomas Muller

Not many attacking midfielders can claim to have invented their own position, but Germany and Bayern Munich legend Thomas Muller can count himself in that number. The 34-year-old's mix of tactical intelligence, creative vision, excellent timing and lethal finishing has helped him have a relentlessly successful spell at the top of the global game, in which he has pioneered the "Raumdeuter" role. Literally meaning "space investigator" in German, Muller's unique approach to the attacking midfielder position is all about finding space in the final third just at the right time, and his 298 goals in 840 career games highlight how effective his style of play is.

Zinedine Zidane

We end with a player who many consider to be the best attacking midfielder of all time. Zizou was one of the key names in Real Madrid's early 2000s 'Galacticos' era, his wondrous first touch, technical ability, passing range, and elegance on the pitch creating a special aura that dazzled fans across the world. Zidane's career was packed with trophy wins, but perhaps his most famous role was as a key architect of France's iconic double triumph at the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship, in the glory years of Les Bleus.

Check out our guide to the attacking midfielder role for more information about this position.