There is no way around one simple fact: the rookie card is king. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to find a true rookie. It is a particular problem for soccer. So to remove all doubt, we give you the ultimate soccer card rookie list.
However, things can get quite complicated when it comes to soccer. There are a plethora of international releases and cards focusing on international competitions versus league ones. In addition, there are stickers and standard cards for most players’ first year. It can be hard to spot the true rookie for your favorite player with all of these factors.
We feel that it is crucial to get this list out there. Every listing of a soccer card early in a player’s career is marked as a rookie card. However, there are usually very few actual rookie cards for specific players. Therefore, we made a few tough decisions, cutting some iconic cards in favor of less famous earlier ones. But after all, a rookie must be from the first season where cards for that player are extant. Nothing less is good enough for the ultimate soccer card rookie list.
The main distinction in the soccer card world is between trading cards and stickers. However, there are some other categories worth noting.
Many players have rookies of different types. The more recent players tend to have a more extensive selection of rookie cards. Meanwhile, the old school stars will often have one or two.
This list draws significantly on the work of Blowout Forums member Fadster. However, I was stricter about what qualifies as a rookie card. Therefore, I removed some iconic later years cards. In addition, the ultimate soccer card rookie list is divided into active players and retired players.
I tried to include every truly outstanding current and retired player. However, I certainly missed some current and past legends.
With current players, the rookies tend to come early, and there is often a wide variety of cards to choose from.
Gareth rose to the absolute top of his profession, as evidenced by his 100 Euro transfer from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013. Bale also led small-time Wales to several strong big tournament campaigns, scoring 38 goals in 108 caps.
Jude is an absolute prodigy. He made his debut appearance for the senior English national team at 17 and seemed set for superstardom.
Karim is an absolute goal machine, ranking 4th all-time in Champions League goals and 3rd all-time for Real Madrid. However, his involvement in a blackmailing scandal does little to enhance the strikers’ prestige.
With over 1,100 professional appearances and no less than 176 Italy caps, Buffon is one of the best and most durable goalkeepers of all time. He won the 2006 World Cup and has countless domestic trophies.
The 19-year-old is one of the players of the future. Eduardo has already broken into the France team at a young age and has established himself for Real Madrid.
Probably the most complete soccer player in the game today. Kevin is the engine behind the awe-inspiring machine that is Manchester City.
Fati is one of the most electric young talents in the world today. There seems to be no limit to his potential. With 14 goals at the age of 19, Ansu is starting to deliver.
The little general from Stockport is probably the most talented among the sensation young English generation. His technical mastery is world-class, and we expect him to feature heavily in the 2022 World Cup.
Spain has a knack for producing midfield geniuses. Gavi appears to be the next in line in the mold of Xavi and Iniesta. As a result, many are investing in his cards.
The most creative and talented English player of his generation. However, Jack can be infuriatingly inconsistent.
Haaland is an absolute goal machine, having racked up 58 goals in 64 appearances for Dortmund and 15 in 17 for Norway. So it is only a matter of time before he leads one of the top European clubs.
Kai has a remarkable knack for upping his game and scoring in big matches, like the 2021 Champions League final. I believe he will be the leader of the German national team for years to come.
Eden appears to be somewhat past his prime, having suffered a bad injury. But what a prime it was! The creative daring of the playmaker turned Belgium into a contender for the first time in its history.
Zlatan has a larger-than-life personality. But unlike many big ego players, he has backed it up with an absolutely sensational career. He is undoubtedly the best Swedish player ever, with 63 goals for his country.
Ciro has been one of Lazio’s best-ever performers, with 149 goals in 206 appearances. In addition, he recently attained global recognition for steering Italy to victory in Euro 2020.
The two-time Premier League top goalscorer has 178 goals for Tottenham. In the meantime, Harry has been on the frontline for England, leading the excellent international side over the last few years.
Kroos was an essential part of two dominant teams. The Bayern Munich treble-winning team of 2012-13 and the 2015-2017 Real Madrid side that dominated Europe.
The Belgian striker has not integrated into Chelsea as well as expected. Nonetheless, Lukaku’s pedigree cannot be denied. At only 28, he has the proven ability to score buckets of goals at any league and any level.
Kylian is probably the best player in the world now that Messi and Ronaldo are past their respective peaks. His goalscoring record of 100 goals in 111 appearances for Paris St. Germain speaks for itself. But Mbappe does more than just score, as he possesses the most sublime technical skills imaginable.
Is he the greatest player in soccer history? It’s hard to compare different periods, but he makes a compelling case with no less than seven Ballon d’Or awards. However, if he wants to cement that place in history, Messi will be focused on winning that World Cup title in Qatar.
Modric can play any position in midfield and is one of the great playmakers in history. The maestro even led Croatia to the 2018 World Cup final, winning the Golden Ball best player award.
The latest in a long line of Brazilian attacking midfield superstars. With 71 goals in 117 appearances for the Seleção, Neymar ranks among the best of them.
At age 18, Spanish coach Luis Enrique entrusted the midfielder with a central role at Euro 2020. His success in the role made Pedri the chase card in the 2020-21 releases. Pedri has also established himself as an indispensable part of the Barcelona FC team.
They sure left foot of Podolski is a thing of beauty. His lethal explosive style has left rival defenses in tatters for club or country.
Pogba is a complete midfielder with enviable technique. He was arguably the outstanding performer in the French World Cup victory of 2018, scoring in the 4-2 final win over Croatia.
“Captain America” may be the most gifted American soccer player of all time. Since Chelsea purchased him in 2019, Pulisic has become an influential player at the mega club. And at age 23, he has already become one of the most outstanding players in the USMNT, with 21 goals in 48 appearances.
Ramos was the bedrock of the magnificent Spanish national team that won three major tournaments in 2008-2012. He also won the Champions League four times with Real Madrid. Though sometimes overzealous, Sergio is by far the best defender of his generation.
Reyna has the talent to be an international superstar. He also has the pedigree, as his father Claudio was one of the best American players ever. In addition, his American citizenship is a boost to Giovanni’s collectability.
Ronaldo has 32 trophies and a haul of over 800 goals, making him the highest career scorer (in official games) in history. If it weren’t for that pesky Messi, the Portuguese dynamo would have been by far the best player of the 21st Century.
Salah is the greatest Egyptian player ever by a mile and reigns as the marquee name in the contemporary Premier League. With the joy he brings to the game and peerless technique, Salah is the reason they call soccer ‘the beautiful game.’
At age 22, Sancho is already a veteran of the English senior team. This season he made the leap from Dortmund to Manchester United. Though his team has struggled in the Premier League, Jadon shows signs of growth and development.
This season, Gunners manager Mikael Arteta handed the 20-year-old Saka the reigns in midfield. It was a risky move, but Bukayo has repaid the boss in spades. At age 20, Saka has 92 appearances for Arsenal and is widely recognized as one of the best young players on earth.
Sterling’s incredible talent was recognized from a very early age. After breaking through as a superstar for Liverpool, Manchester City purchased the player for a then-record £49 million. Sterling has won a role as the second forward for England beside Harry Kane, scoring 19 goals in 74 appearances.
Suarez is a, shall we say, complex character. The striker has gotten into trouble for racist comments and repeatedly biting opponents. Yup. But you can’t argue with his ridiculously explosive form in the box, where Suarez has netted over 500 goals.
For older players, the rookie cards are the earliest ones available. However, they often do not appear in their first year and may even come a few years into their career.
Aguero just recently retired after a spectacular career. With 184 goals, he has the highest tally for any foreign player in the Premier League.
Baggio is perhaps best remembered for missing the deciding penalty in the 1994 World Cup final. However, he was the best player in the world in the early 1990s, winning the 1993 Ballon d’Or. Baggio had an enviable combination of vision and scoring lethality during his heyday.
Baresi anchored the fabulous AC Milan team of the 1990s, winning 3 Champions League titles and 6 Serie A championships. Franco was one of the best defenders ever.
The renowned “Batigol” was known for his killer instinct in front of goal and his equally lethal smile. The outstanding striker earned his nickname with 248 club goals and 54 for Argentina. He is second only to Messi as the top Argentine goal scorer.
Bebeto was one-half of the phenomenal Brazilian strike force (alongside Romario) that captured the 1994 World Cup title. Though he spent most of his career in Brazil, the forward proved he was top-level in his 5 years in La Liga for Deportivo.
The man known as “Der Kaiser” had the most elegant style and, while awing fans, redefined the game as a playmaking defender. Beckenbauer essentially invented the modern sweeper position. Along the way, he also won the 1974 World Cup as a player and later the 1990 World Cup as head coach of Germany.
Beckham is a major celebrity. His popularity and good looks helped increase the game’s visibility in the United States when he played for LA Galaxy from 2007 to 2012. However, David was also one hell of a player, known for lethal crosses and even deadlier free kicks.
Dennis was known as “the non-flying Dutchman” due to his fear of flying. However, he certainly had wings on the soccer pitch. Bergkamp was an absolute artist, exuding class with every touch. His goal against Newcastle in 2002 was rightfully voted the best Premier League goal of all time.
Best was the first playboy celebrity soccer player. He was also the best player of his generation, scoring 179 goals in 470 for Manchester United. However, it could have been far more if alcoholism did not take a severe toll on Best’s career. His rookies are the crown jewels of the ultimate soccer card rookie list.
Oleg was one of the best players in the world during his tenure at Dynamo Kyiv. He would undoubtedly have found his place in one of the top teams, but that would have been considered defection in the Cold War years.
Manchester United had not won a domestic title in decades, but that all changed when they signed “King Eric.” They won four titles and two doubles in five years at the club. However, Cantona also possessed a terrible temper, as manifested by kicking a fan in the stands. Eric’s unexpected retirement at age 30 has only added to the Frenchman’s enduring mystique.
I can’t speak for all-time, but Fabio is, without a doubt, the best defender I have ever seen. Indeed, he is the only defender ever to win FIFA International Player of the Year and one of only three to win the Ballon d’Or.
Carlos may be the best wing-back ever. But there is no debate that he was the most exciting. His scintillating dribbles and ferocious free-kicks remain popular YouTube fodder.
The Spanish goalkeeper was equal parts spectacular and dependable. His 656 club appearances and 167 caps for Spain evince his reliability. Meanwhile his World Cup and Champions League titles are evidence of excellence.
Bobby has long been regarded as the greatest English player. His career peaked in 1966. That year he led England to its only World Cup victory and won the Ballon d’Or.
Johan was an icon who redefined the game. Cruyff won the Ballon d’Or three times. He also led the Netherlands to the World Cup Final and Ajax to three straight European Cups. As a coach for Barcelona FC, Cruyff brought his vision of “total football” to the fore. His influence is still felt today.
Probably the greatest Scottish player of all time, Kenny won the 1983 Ballon d’Or and countless titles with Celtic and Liverpool. Dalglish also proved a top-level coach, leading Liverpool to three league titles.
With 346 goals, Alessandro is the second-highest total for an Italian. But that achievement is all the more impressive when you consider he was primarily a playmaker. Del Piero was an immaculate technician, helping Italy to the 2006 World Cup.
Di Stefano was born in Argentina but made his name in Spain as the star of Real Madrid. The Madrid side of his time was possibly the greatest team of all time, utterly dominating European soccer. How influential was Alfredo? He scored in five consecutive European Cup finals, including a hat-trick. The two-time Ballon d’Or winner was the best player of his generation.
Drogba was an explosive force, often considered the most outstanding African player ever. He scored 104 Premier League goals and netted 65 for the Ivory Coast.
Eto’o won the African Player of the Year award four times and is best remembered for his lethal partnership with Lionel Messi at Barcelona FC. But his form for Cameroon may have been more impressive. Samuel is the all-time leading scorer in the Africa Cup of Nations competition and is Cameroon’s all-time leading scorer with 56 goals.
Eusebio was born in Mozambique, a Portuguese colonial possession at the time. Therefore, he represented Portugal throughout his spectacular career. The striker scored 733 goals in 745 matches for club and country and won the Ballon d’Or in 1965.
Veteran fans remember Garrincha as the greatest dribbler ever and the classiest wing-back in the game. He led Brazil to the 1958 and 1962 World Cup titles. As a result, the dressing room at Brazil’s home stadium, Maracanã Stadium, is called the “Garrincha” room.
“Gazza” was the most gifted and controversial player of his generation. Anyone who saw his passes and free-kicks will not forget the immense quality of Gascoigne’s game. However, his alcohol and mental illness struggles have left fans wondering what could have been. His cards are favorites amongst the ultimate soccer card rookie list.
Steven was the most complete player in England’s “golden generation.” Able to defend and create with equal aplomb, Gerrard had 114 caps with 21 goals for his country. However, Gerrard’s most outstanding achievement was leading Liverpool to Champions League glory in 2005.
Giggs combined scintillating technique with unprecedented durability to become an unforgettable presence in the game. Giggs is the only player to appear in 22(!) Premier League seasons, making 672 appearances for Manchester United. Along the way, Ryan won an incredible 13 Premier League titles and the Champions League twice.
Jimmy Greaves was the most gifted scorer in England but was not selected to the 1966 World Cup squad. Still, his scoring record speaks for itself: 382 goals for various clubs and 44 in 57 appearances for England.
Ruud was beyond versatile, able to play at any position with incredible grace and effectiveness. He was a leader in the incredible AC Milan team that won three Serie A titles and two European Cups. Gullit won the Ballon d’Or in 1987 and helped the Netherlands win the European Championship the following year.
Henry was a gifted and speedy striker who helped France to the 1998 World Cup. He was also one of the best players in Premier League history, scoring 154 goals in 254 appearances for Arsenal.
Iniesta was the lynchpin of two of the most memorable teams of recent years. Pep Guardiola coached Barcelona FC juggernaut and the Spanish titans that dominated world soccer from 2008 to 2012. On and off the ball, his elegance and effectiveness were a joy to behold.
Unlike most players on this list, Keane wasn’t known for elegance and technique. Instead, the Irish midfielder was tough as nails and ruled the pitch with an iron first. Roy captained Manchester United in the most remarkable stretch of their achievements.
The two-time Ballon d’Or winner was easily the best English player of a lost generation. Keegan starred in both the English and German leagues and managed England later.
Jurgen was a wanderer as a player but always got results wherever he went, scoring 232 league goals. However, his most significant achievements were for his country. Klinsmann starred in the 1990 World Cup and 1996 Euro and helped Germany win both.
The 1964 Ballon d’Or winner is a legend in Manchester. He helped City stay up in 1960-61 and was one of United’s best-ever players in 1962-1973, scoring 227 goals in 485 appearances.
In the 1980s and early 90s, the England team suffered tragic defeats in the World Cup. However, Lineker shined in that era and remains the top English World Cup scorer.
Paolo is one of the best defenders ever. He maintained his excellence over 647 Serie A appearances. That is a league record, all for AC Milan. Maldini also had 126 caps for Italy.
The Argentine dynamo was probably the most gifted player in history. Maradona seemed able to do anything: pass, dribble, create and score. His most memorable moments came in the 1986 World Cup. An absolute icon. His cards are amongst the most sought out on the ultimate soccer card rookie list.
The star of a long bygone era. Stanley was knighted while still playing. Indeed, the “wizard of the dribble” played into his 50s. Hsi cards are the oldest on the ultimate soccer card rookie list.
Mazzola was a staple for the incredible Inter Milan team of the 1960s. They won the 1964 and 1965 European Cups. He also helped Italy to the 1968 Euro and the 1970 World Cup final.
Bobby captained the 1966 World Cup-winning England team. Widely considered one of the best defenders ever. Indeed, Pele said no-one marked him better.
Muller may be the best natural scorer in soccer history. The striker has a ridiculous 68 goals in 62 appearances for West Germany. His 14 goals in World Cup competitions were a long-standing record, and he helped win the 1974 World Cup.
Fabio Cannavaro was a brick wall in defense. Meanwhile, Nesta was more of an artist. The duo helped Italy win the 2006 World Cup. Nesta was also a four-time Serie A defender of the year.
Pele was the consensus greatest soccer player for decades. He scored over 700 official goals throughout a storied career including two World Cup victories. The Brazilian was awarded FIFA Player of the Century.
The gifted midfielder won three straight Ballon d’Or awards. In addition, Michel helped France to the 1984 Euro trophy and two World Cup semifinals. His scoring haul is incredibly high for a midfielder, with nearly 300 goals.
The forward is an absolute icon in Madrid. He scored 228 goals in 550 appearances there. Raul also led Spain capably through a disappointing period in its national team history.
Rivaldo is one of a handful of the most skillful players in soccer history. The vision of the 1999 Ballon d’Or winner helped Brazil to the 2002 World Cup
Romario was a rambling man, traveling from club to club. But the striker hit over 700 goals in his career and was the star performer of the 1994 World Cup. Today he is a Senator for the Brazilian socialist party.
Famous for his impish buck-tooth grin (since fixed), Ronaldinho was a terror on the pitch. The playmaker won the 2005 Ballon d’Or and the 2002 World Cup.
The young Ronaldo was one of the most gifted players ever. His acceleration skills were unmatched as he won the 1997 Ballon d’Or. However, a tragic injury in 2000 seemed to end Ronaldo’s dominance. But, to his credit, he came back slower but wiser. Ronaldo then helped Brazil to the 2002 World Cup and won another Ballon d’Or.
Rooney didn’t quite live up to the tremendous hype of his young years. However, he had a high-quality career for England and Manchester United.
Rossi had a fine though relatively short career. However, his 1982 season was sensational. That year Paolo won the Ballon d’Or, World Cup, player of the tournament, and was the highest scorer in Mexico. Top of the world indeed.
Shearer has more Premier League goals than any other player. He was England’s star striker at Euro 1996, where he was the leading scorer.
Peter had 1,390 professional appearances as a goalkeeper. A phenomenal achievement, and world record. Shilton excelled over 30 active years and represented England 125 times.
Named after the Greek philosopher, Socrates was the coolest player of the 80s. He is best known for leading the 1980s Brazil team that thrilled the world without winning a World Cup.
Hristo emerged as the highest scorer in all of Europe in 1990, with 38 goals in 30 appearances. Stoichkov signed for Barcelona FC and later led Bulgaria to the 1994 World Cup semifinal.
Totti was the beating heart of Roma, the only team he represented. In over 600 appearances for the club, “the golden boy” thrilled fans with his technique.
Van Basten was the best player in the world. Then an injury cut his career short. Marco won the Ballon d’Or three times, in 1988, 1989, and 1992 and helped the Netherlands to a Euro victory. With 219 goals in 281 top-level appearances, we can only imagine the tally if Van Basten had remained healthy.
Another Dutch striker extraordinaire. Ruud, was a prolific scorer from Manchester United and Real Madrid. Now he is poised for glory as a manager.
If there was ever a better defensive midfielder, I haven’t seen him. Vieira was the ultimate multi-faceted and modern midfielder. He covered miles and was seemingly always in the right place. He was the often unsung hero of the French 1998 World Cup-winning side.
The current President of Liberia was also their finest soccer player. In 1995, Weah was the best player in the world: winning the FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d’Or.
Usually, the great teams are remembered for their attacking stars. But the sensational 2008-2012 Spanish team was most notable for its midfield engine room. Xavi was the most complete player in that lineup. He also appeared 133 times for Spain.
I am certainly not old enough to tell you. However, many older soccer fans swear that Yahsin is the best goalkeeper ever. Indeed, he is the only goalkeeper ever to receive the Ballon d’Or.
Zidane was probably the best pure playmaker in history. He won the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1998, 2000, and 2003, and the 1998 Ballon d’Or. The Frenchman is best remembered for his triumph at the 1998 World Cup. He would like you to forget his sending off in the 2006 World Cup final after headbutting an opponent.
Another candidate for the greatest goalkeeper. Zoff capped off an incredible career by winning the 1982 World Cup at age 40.
It can be hard to find the true rookies for the greatest soccer players. So, we saved you the trouble by compiling the ultimate soccer card rookie list. Every rookie listed here is a genuine one for one of the best players you can collect.