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Ranking the Top 10 Best Defenders of All Time

Best Defenders All Time

The role of a defender has many variants to it. It all depends on the position that their managers want them to play in. The sub-categories for defenders are as following, center backs (left and right) and wing backs (left and right).

Over many years, defenders protected their own half from the attacks of the opposition. Depending on their physicality and versatility, players secured positions that required them to either face the onslaught of the opposing teams or join the attack and supply passes to the forward lines. The players who could achieve command over both these roles received the highest of regards from their managers.

After all, a defender should support their team in whatever manner and do what their managers request. Nowadays, the common practice allows for defenders to score goals as well. The list mentioned below will emphasize the careers of many such defenders who have made valuable contributions to their teams.

However, there are a few names that deserve a special mention.

Honorable mentions:

1. Sergio Ramos: 

Sergio Ramos has achieved with Real Madrid and Spain what most other Spanish players can only dream of. Ramos has rivaled the likes of Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal, and Gerard Pique, etc., in countless El Classico games against rivals Barcelona. The fear that emits from players when Sergio takes his position in the opposition penalty box during a corner kick stands as evidence of the dangerous player that he is.

The record of 96 goals and 34 assists that Ramos has accumulated further extends upon the point mentioned above. Thus, Cuqui has deservedly incorporated himself as one of the greats in Spanish football.

2. Philip Lahm:

Philip Lahm became a household name at the Allianz Arena. The German skipper led both Bayern Munich and the German national team to Champions League and World Cup titles during the twelve years of his career as a footballer.

During this period, Lahm made himself a force to reckon with in the center back position, and only a few players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo did not fear him or his might.

The defender portrayed versatility skills as well by competently taking over the role of a wing-back when asked of him by the team’s manager. He possessed the leadership abilities, allowing managers like Joachim Low and Pep Guardiola to take a step back after issuing their instruction to Lahm.

3. Carles Puyol 

The last player is Carles Puyol. The Spaniard made the frizzy afro look a trend in those days, but he also inspired the Culers (Barcelona fans) through numerous performances of his from the deep end of the park.

Puyol, just like Ramos and Lahm, played as the captain of Barcelona and the Spanish national team. As the skipper, he too won many UCL and WC titles, and even now, many captains are trying to achieve the confidence from their team that Puyol did during his fourteen years as a professional defender.

Top ten defenders of all time:

#10. Roberto Carlos

How many remember the 1998 World Cup?

How many remember the Tournei De France (a mock warm-up tournament before the actual world cup) gravity-defying free-kick scored by Roberto Carlos in 1997?

Carlos joined Real Madrid in the year 1996 from Italian giants Inter Milan. Despite being just a left-back, the Brazilian recorded 5 goals and 4 assists in thirty-seven games for the Los Blancos. This number increased to 5 goals and 11 assists in thirty-seven games during the 2002-03 La Liga season. At the end of his tenure at Madrid, he had recorded 70 goals and 88 assists in five hundred and seventy-four La Liga appearances.

Roberto CARLOS of Real Madrid ( Photo by Eric Renard / Onze / Icon Sport )

( Photo by Eric Renard / Onze / Icon Sport )

Besides his time at club level, he played for the Brazilian national side for a hundred and thirteen times and could only record an unimpressive 10 goals and 10 assists.

Considering his performances in the 2002 World Cup (France), Carlos became a runner-up for the esteemed Ballon d’Or award losing out to Los Vikingos and Selecao compatriot Ronaldo.

#9. Frank Rjikaard

The name Frank Rijkaard resonates well at Camp Nou. The reason for this is the Dutchman’s career as Barcelona’s manager from the years 2003 to 2008. However, he makes his way into this list for his time as an Ajax and AC Milan player.

During his time at both these clubs, he won the Champions League/European Cup three times in the 1988-89, 1989-90, and 1994-95 seasons. In overall, he recorded 70 goals and 36 assists in the three hundred and eighty-two times he appeared for the Dutch and Italian clubs.

Holland's Frank Rijkaard (left) (Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Holland’s Frank Rijkaard (left) (Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images)

In the thirteen years that he played donning the orange and white jersey of the ‘Flying Dutchmen,’ Rijkaard recorded 10 goals and 2 assists in seventy-eight national team appearances.

Thus, the French award Ballon d’Or ranked him in the third position consecutively for two years (1988 and 1989). Frank lost out on the top spot to fellow countryman Ajax and AC Milan teammate Marco Van Basten on both occasions.

#8. Alessandro Nesta

Alessandro Nesta is a Milan legend. The Rome native made himself a vital component of the 2002-03 and 2006-07 Champions League winning squad at Madrid and the 2006 World Cup-winning team under Marcelo Lippi. This feat is not one that he could have achieved had he remained with Lazio instead of moving to the San Siro prior to the 2002-03 Serie A season. Nesta rightfully deserves a place on this list for being a very reliable player, as he recorded 14,709 minutes on the pitch with the Rossoneri over a ten-year period.

Due to his position as a center-back, he could only record 6 goals and three assists in the hundred and seven times he appeared for the Italian side. Nesta had a lot of physicality and won 31 yellow and 3 red cards for his overindulgent tackles on the opposition. Though the Italian received reprimands, he did not fall into the category of hot-heads that apply to most Italy players.

#7. Daniel Passarella

The first time that Argentina won the World Cup was in the year 1978. During that tournament, Daniel Passarela had led La Albiceleste to their first-ever WC. The Argentinian skipper received praise for being the first-ever skipper to achieve that after the conception of the competition in the year 1934. In addition to his captaincy, Passarela inspired his team by scoring a goal in the Cup run’s group stages. 

Daniel came to be a part of the 1986 World Cup-winning squad as well. But due to enterocolitis and his bouts with Diego Maradona, Passarella missed out on all La Albiceleste games.

Daniel Passarella (second r) (Photo by Peter Robinson - PA Images via Getty Images)Daniel Passarella (second r) (Photo by Peter Robinson - PA Images via Getty Images)

Daniel Passarella (second r) (Photo by Peter Robinson – PA Images via Getty Images)

Despite his absence for the entire tournament, Daniel’s assist Ricardo Gareca confirmed Argentina’s qualification for the 1986 WC. Additionally to his success at the national level, the Argentine impacted at club level with Fiorentina and Internazionale and his time at Fiorentina put him on the world map. However, with Inter Milan, he recorded 15 goals in seventy-three games, and at Fiorentina, he recorded 39 goals in a hundred and thirty-nine appearances in the Serie A. 

#6. Cafu

The second Brazilian on this list and arguably one of Brazil’s best defenders to date. Marco Evangelista De Morales or Cafu played in various leagues across the world, from his home nation of Brazil to Italy nicknamed “Bel Pease.”

In fact, when Cafu joined Roma in the year 1997, he had the experience of playing in the Brasilerao Serie with Sao Paulo and Palmeiras and in La Liga with Real Zaragoza.

Cafu, Brazil (l) and Percy Olivares, Peru (r) (Photo by Phil O'Brien/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Cafu, Brazil (l) and Percy Olivares, Peru (r) (Photo by Phil O’Brien/EMPICS via Getty Images)

At Roma, the Brazilian recorded 6 goals and 17 assists in two hundred and seventeen games and helped them to the Serie A title in the 2000-01 season. He bettered his Roma record at AC Milan (2003-2008) by scoring 4 goals and assisting 22 times in hundred and sixty-six games.

Additionally, his performances for La Lupa and Palmeiras inspired him to display a magnificent performance in the 2002 World Cup. Cafu stood defensively firm and helped Brazil to a World Cup title after a year’s gap.

#5. Fabio Cannavaro

Fabio Cannavaro puts himself on this list for one reason alone. It is because he won the Ballon d’Or in the year 2006 by beating Gianluigi Buffon and Thierry Henry to win the prestigious award.

Cannavora received the award because of his contribution to the World Cup and the fact that he kept some of the world’s best players from scoring against the Italian national team.

The Naples native joined the Italian national side in the year 1997, but he took time to make an impact for the Gli Azzurri. His partnerships with Alessandro Nesta made La Nazionale a formidable team to play against.

Thus, he won the 2006 World Cup with Nesta and another player. He showcased his talents at world football’s biggest competition.
Cannavaro owed his performances to the time he spent in the Serie A with Napoli, Parma, Inter Milan, and Juventus, where he recorded an overall 16 goals and 4 assists in 559 appearances.

#4. Franz Beckenbauer

The name Franz Beckenbauer is a name that is quite famous in the football circle and it is because he has won the Ballon d’Or . The fact that he has won it twice (1972 and 1976) is awe-inspiring in itself.

Beckenbauer (Photo by Sigi Maurer/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Beckenbauer (Photo by Sigi Maurer/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Franz won the prestigious French award considering his performance at Bayern Munich, where he recorded 58 goals and 33 assists in five hundred and forty-six appearances. Also, his 14 goals and two assists in a hundred and thirteen games for West Germany gave him a nice platform as well. Beckenbauer’s performance thus led the West German side to their second World Cup win in the year 1974.

#3. Bobby Moore

A true legend and forgotten hero, Bobby Moore is a name that a true West Ham fan can never forget. It can be said that the nickname for the West London club, can be used as a metaphor for the former English international. The reason behind it is the defensive tenacity that Moore possessed and the fact that he had better defensive stats than most other defenders in the ‘Golden era of football.

The Englishman played in the role of center back, yet he recorded 24 goals in the five hundred and seventy-four games he appeared in. Moore’s performances gave him a chance to play for England and he recorded two goals and 2 assists in hundred and eight appearances. Thus Bobby won the Three Lions their first and last World Cup in the year 1966.

#2. Franco Baresi

The one to grace the number two spot on this list is Franco Baresi. If Bobby Moore belonged to the golden era, the Italian graced the world of football in the silver era and he has played for just one team in his entire career, AC Milan.

Baresi recorded 31 goals and 21 assists in seven hundred and fourteen appearances for the Rossoneri. With this, he guided them to three European Cup/Champions League trophies in 1988-89, 1989-90, and the 1993-94 seasons. At the same time, he recorded 1 goal in eighty-one appearances for Gli Azzurri and guided them to the 1982 World Cup and a second-place finish in the 1994 WC.

#1. Paolo Maldini

The best player and all-time greatest on this list, Paolo Maldini, has shared a great partnership with two other players (Nesta and Cannavaro). Yes, he is the secret and the big reveal.

Il Capitano recorded 16 958 minutes on the pitch, and he made sure he made every minute count. Maldini also recorded 23 goals and 43 assists in nine hundred and three appearances.

His Italian national team’s performances impressed the fans as he recorded 7 goals in a hundred and seven appearances. Thus he became a prime part of the 2006 World Cup-winning squad along with Nesta and Cannavaro.

Maldini has thus won the title of the best defender in history, and AC Milan fans would be delighted at the many players on the list who also make up the names in their Hall of fame.


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