The Italian Serie A may be well known for its fine defensive play, but the league has also seen its fair share of excellent goalkeepers, creative playmakers and lethal scorers. This list deals with the top 10 players of all time in Italy’s elite footballing division, which was introduced to the world back in 1929/30.
All 10 of these players were fine internationals with a couple of foreign-born players being recognized here for the contributions they made to the league. In addition, a couple of the players are still active with the rest being retired. While there have been hundreds of players in Serie A over the years and dozens of elite ones, these are the best of the best.
10. Franco Baresi
Sweeper Franco Baresi, who was also known as ‘Kaiser Franz,’ is an AC Milan legend who was voted as the team’s player of the 20th century. The Italian Football Hall of Famer and former international spent his entire two-decade career with the club from 1977 to 1997 and helped Milan win numerous trophies along the way. The former skipper’s list of silverware includes three Champions League medals, six Serie A championships, four Italian Cups, three UEFA Super Cups and two Intercontinental Cups. And let’s not forget he helped Italy capture the World Cup in 1982. Baresi was a gifted central defender with great focus and strength and also knew what to do when attacking, especially when he moved up to the midfield. He played 719 career games with Milan, with 470 of them coming in Serie A action.
9. Andrea Pirlo
Midfielder Andrea Pirlo kicked off his pro career with Brescia in 1994 and also played with Inter Milan, Reggina, AC Milan and Juventus before heading to New York City of MLS in 2015. The 38-year-old is one of just two active players on this list and also represented Italy at every level from Under-15 up to the senior national and Olympic sides. His creative play and leadership are well known and he helped his homeland hoist the World Cup in 2006. His free-kick ability is legendary along with his passing accuracy and those skills helped his teams claim six league titles, two Supercoppa Italiana’s, two Coppa Italia’s, a pair of Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups and a FIFA Club World Cup. Pirlo has also won dozens of individual awards and was named Serie A player of the year on three occasions. He’s scored 73 goals in 755 club games (493 Serie A) and his career is still going strong.
8. Gunnar Nordahl
The third-highest goalscorer of all time in the Serie A was former Swedish international striker Gunnar Nordahl. This is a guy who found the back of the net 43 times in 33 games for Sweden and added 225 more in 291 Serie A appearances. He’s the most lethal scorer in Italian league history with a goals-per-game ratio of .77. Nordahl had played a dozen years in his homeland before joining AC Milan in 1949. He stayed until 1956 before heading to Roma for his final season. But before leaving Milan, Nordahl was crowned the club’s all-time leading scorer, helped them win two league titles and also led the Serie A in scoring for a record five seasons. Nordahl ranks as one of the best strikers in football history, but unfortunately, he’s not as well known as he should be.
7. Paolo Maldini
When Paolo Maldini played his last Serie A game in May of 2009, he was just shy of his 41st birthday. He made his debut in the 1984/85 season and currently holds the record for games played in Serie A at 647. However, that mark should be broken this season by goalkeeper Gianlugi Buffon of Juventus. Maldini played his entire career with AC Milan and the former Italian international defender took home 23 winners’ medals when retiring. He holds the Milan record for games played in all competitions at 902 and was the squad’s skipper for the last 10 years of his career. Maldini played in eight Champions League Finals with Milan, which is a tournament record, and won five of them. He also captured seven Serie A championships along with five Supercoppa Italiana’s and a Coppa Italia. Simply put, Maldini was one of the best defenders the world has ever seen.
6. Francesco Totti
Former Italian international midfielder/striker Francesco Totti gave it a good try, but had to settle for being the second-highest scorer of all time in Serie A when he retired in 2017. Totti made 619 league appearances starting in 1992/93, which were all for Roma. By the time he hung up his boots he’d scored 250 league goals, which were 24 short of the Serie A record of 274 set by Silvio Piola. Totti was the youngest captain in league history at the age of 21 and helped Roma win a league title along with two Coppa Italia’s and two Supercoppa Italia’s. He also helped Italy win the World Cup in 2006 and was named to the event’s all-star squad. Totti holds the record for games played at Roma, is a former Serie A Young Footballer of the Year winner and was also named Serie A player of the year twice.
5. Gianlugi Buffon
Juventus goalkeeper and skipper Gianlugi Buffon is the second active player on the list and will hold numerous Serie A and Italian national team records when he finally retires. The 39-year-old began his career with Parma in 1995 before being sold to Juventus in 2001 for a world-record fee of €52 million for a goalkeeper. Buffon has recorded the most clean sheets for Italy and in Serie A and went a league-record 973 minutes without allowing a goal in 2015/16. He also set a league record of 10 straight clean sheets that season and twice posted a league-record 21 clean sheets in a campaign. Buffon has never won a Champions League, but has won a World Cup, eight Serie A titles, a UEFA Cup and several domestic cups. He’s arguably the best keeper ever from Italy and certainly one of the nation’s top two along with Dino Zoff. He’ll soon set a record for most appearances ever in Serie A and has taken home a league-record seven Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year Awards.
4. Fabio Cannavaro
One of the greatest defenders in history is undoubtedly former Italian international Fabio Cannavaro who played for Napoli, Parma, Inter Milan and Juventus between 1992 and 2010. He also enjoyed a four-year stint with Real Madrid in Spain from 2006 to 2009 and retired in 2011 after a final season in Dubai. He’s just one of three defenders to ever take home the FIFA World Player of the Year Award, but has never officially won a Serie A title as Juventus had two league championships stripped from the club after the match-fixing scandal of 2006. Cannavaro won a pair of Coppa Italia’s with Parma along with a UEFA Cup and made 136 appearances for Italy while captaining the squad for a record 79 games over nine years. This includes the 2006 team which was crowned world champions.
3. Roberto Baggio
Roberto Baggio spent 19 years in Serie A from 1985 to 2004 with stints at Juventus, Fiorentina, AC Milan, Bologna, Inter-Milan and Brescia. The legendary attacker was known as the ‘Divine Ponytail’ due to his hairstyle and was just as adept at putting the ball in the net as he was at setting up his teammates. He was known for his free-kick skills and pace and finished his career with 205 Serie A goals to his name in 452 games. This ranks him number seven on the league’s all-time scoring list and his goals-per-game ratio came in at .45. He was also the best penalty taker in league history as Baggio converted 76 of his 91 spot kicks. He was recognized for his skills by being named the FIFA World Player of the Year Award in 1993. The entertaining Baggio twice won the Serie A along with a Coppa Italia and UEFA Cup.
2. Silvio Piola
It would be hard to list the 10 best players ever in Serie A history and not include the league’s all-time top scorer. That honor goes to Silvio Piola, who played from 1929 to 1954 with Pro Vercelli, Lazio, Torino, Juventus and Novara. Piola racked up 274 goals in 537 appearances with a .51 goal-per-game ratio. He was also the top Serie A scorer in history for Novara, Lazio and Vercelli and won the league’s Golden Boot Award twice. Unfortunately, all of Piola’s goals never helped any of his teams win a Serie A championship, but he was a runner-up on three occasions. Piola also scored 30 goals in 34 contests for Italy between 1935 and 1952 at a time when soccer often took a back seat due to World War II. However, his two goals in the 1938 World Cup Final helped his side hoist the trophy. Piola was arguably the best scorer in Serie A and Italian history.
1. Diego Maradona
Argentine legend Diego Maradona will likely be remembered as one of the best five footballers of all time. He displayed his incredible talents in Serie A with Napoli from 1984 to 1991 during his prime after being bought for a then world-record fee of $10.48 million. The legendary midfielder helped his club win a pair of league championships along with a Coppa Italia, a Supercoppa and a UEFA Cup. The controversial playmaker/scorer was just 5-feet-5-inches tall, but had amazing ball control and dribbling skills. He scored some of the world’s most talked about goals, including the infamous ‘Hand of God’ marker in the 1986 World Cup against England. In fact, he was named the best player in that tournament after leading his team to the title. Maradona scored 81 league goals in 188 appearances in Serie A and won far too many individual awards throughout his career to mention. He’s simply one of the best five footballers ever which makes him the best fans of Serie A have seen.