Football is full of tales about the Ronaldinho flicks, the Neymar skills, the Messi dribbles and the Ronaldo goals that it often forgets about the men that do the dirty work. Football and all its beauty would not be present without the defenders that rarely take the limelight. Let’s take a look at ten defenders who have outshined even the best players on the field.
Nicknamed, “The Rock, this man of African descent was the key to the French defensive unit. He is one of the greatest midfielders to have graced the beautiful game and is also one of the most successful. A centre-back who also plays as a centre-defensive midfielder, Desailly was a commanding figure in the back-line. Impeccable organisation skills combined with unmatched defensive ability; Desailly is regarded as one of the best French defenders ever.
— Carli Barraza (@carlibarraza) May 3, 2021
From 1993 to 2004, he earned 116 caps for his country. A record number of appearances was only broken by Lilian Thuram in 2006. A key figure in the FIFA World Cup-winning team of 1998 and the Euro 2000. Following the retirement of close and teammate Deschamps, Desailly was appointed the captain of the French national team. He led the team to victory in the 2001 FIFA confederations Cup. With France, he won the Confederations Cup once more in 2003 before announcing his retirement in 2004.
Numerous laurels came his way as a result of the performances he showcased. He was named in the Overseas Team of the Decade and the Overall Team of the Decade in the Premier League (1992-2002). He was also listed in the A.C Milan Hall of Fame and Golden Foot Legends award.
A Legend at Barcelona and Spain with curly, dangling hair that covered his face almost reminds us of a caveman. He was even called “Captain Caveman” once by Simon Talbot of the guardian. He is without question, one of the best defenders that have emerged from Spain. Known for their technical prowess and passing ability, Spain’s attacking units could not have survived without the presence of a defender like Puyol. Commanding, passionate and a no-nonsense player, Puyol was the shouting presence in the back-line.
— Carles Puyol (@Carles5puyol) January 26, 2021
Puyol was a captain on the field in all rights. He was the voice that the players tend to listen to follow. Unerring and incredibly consistent, Puyol was the captain without the armband for Spain. If not for the magnificent Iker Casillas in goal, Puyol would have definitely earned the Captainship. His efforts helped Spain lift the 2018 UEFA European Championship, the 2019 Confederation Cup and the FIFA World Cup in 2010.
His goal tally suggests he was more of an attacker than a midfielder. This Dutch defender is the top-scoring defender of all time with 239 goals to his name. In his 78 international caps, Koeman has netted fourteen times. These are numbers that the average striker fails to replicate. A composed ballplayer, Koeman was known for his attacking prowess. He was an excellent dead-ball specialist and is even regarded as the King of Freekicks. He is the second-best free-kick taker in Barcelona’s history, only behind Lionel Messi. He was a key figure in the Netherlands European Championship triumph in 1988.
A defensive list without Paolo Maldini seems incomplete. The Italian defender is one of the most loved defenders in world football. A true artist of the game that attracted man younger players to learn the trade of defence. Maldini made the job of his goalkeepers profoundly easy. He never lunged into a tackle unless he absolutely needed to! Calm and composed, Maldini made defending look easy. He was capable of playing anywhere in the defensive third. Technically strong player who was renowned for his work ethic. His ability for marking players was incomparable.
Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Demetrio Albertini, 1992. pic.twitter.com/fC9sTNitvt
— 90s Football (@90sfootball) March 9, 2021
“I always found it very difficult when I came up against Paolo Maldini. He was the best defender I faced over the course of my career. He definitely deserved to win the award FIFA World Player of the Year several times over.”- Ronaldo
Although he didn’t win any major trophies with Italy, he was a driving force in the many finals they appeared in. Italy was the runner-up in the 1994 World Cup and the European Championship in 2000. Maldini’s efforts have led him to many individual awards including being named in the FIFA World Dream Team. He was also awarded the One Club Man Award in 2016 for his 904 appearances for A.C Milan.
Sergio Ramos was named in the FIFPro World11 eleven times in his career, the most for any defender and the third-most of all time. Anything else to be said as to why he makes the list? An incredible defender with a capacity to score crucial goals. Five-time La Liga Champion and four-time European Champion with Real Madrid, Ramos has easily cemented his name along with the best defenders in World Football.
Ramos has been to Four World Cups and three European Championships with Spain. He was a part of the FIFA World Cup-winning squad in 2010 and the European Championship in 2008 and 2012. In both tournaments, he was a star performer and earned a place in the FIFA World Cup Dream team in 2010 and Euro Team of the Tournament in 2012. He holds the record for the most international victories with Spain, 131, and is their most capped player of the national side.
This list wouldn’t be complete without Fabio Cannavaro. No, he did not win the European Championship with Italy. But he is the only defender to have won the FIFA World Player of the Year award. He is also just one of the three defenders to have ever won the Ballon d’Or, both in 2006. The captain of the FIFA World Cup-winning team of 2006, Cannavaro was dubbed as “Il Muro di Berlino” (“The Berlin Wall”) by the Italian supporters. A remarkable defensive performance in which Italy conceded just two goals, none from open play.
— Rieko (@Rieko5913) April 8, 2021
He made a total of 136 appearances for the national side and is considered a legend among the Italians. The kind of defender that upholds the tradition of defensive prowess the Italians have showcased for decades.
The embodiment of English defence, the West Ham and England captain is one of the greatest English footballers to dawn the planet. The Three Lions won their first and only World Cup under the leader of this great man in 1966. A composed defender who reads the game well and anticipated the opposition movements. Considered by many including great defenders as the best defender the World has witnessed.
He could hardly run, couldn’t turn, couldn’t head a ball, and had no left foot. But he was the world’s greatest defender. He had a better head on his shoulders than any of the others, and even though he was coming towards the end of his career when he joined Fulham, he was still a great player and a tremendous asset. I remember his first-ever pass to me. It was very hard and to my right, so I had to turn sharply to reach it. I thought: ‘He only passed the ball 15 yards, so why didn’t he pass it to my feet?’ But as I turned the player marking me was on my left side – so in fact Bobby had beaten him for me. That was the difference. – John Mitchell on his Fulham teammate Bobby Moore
“He was my friend as well as the greatest defender I ever played against. The world has lost one of its greatest football players and an honourable gentleman.” Pelé
“Bobby Moore was a real gentleman and a true friend.” Franz Beckenbauer
Bobby Moore made 108 appearances for the English National side. Apart from the World Cup Win in 1966 also secured a third-place finish for England in 1968 in the European Championship.
The Italians are dominating the list, and rightly so. Franco Baresi was Milan’s captain for 15 years straight. Ranked 19th in the World Soccer Magazine’s 100 greatest players of the century, Baresi has an impressive three UEFA Champions League titles, six Serie A titles, four Supercoppa Italiana titles, two European Super Cups and two Intercontinental Cups with the club.
— AC Milan (@acmilan) April 23, 2021
He made 719 appearances for his club and 81 appearances for Italy’s national side. Although he has not won any major trophy with the national side, he is still considered one of the best defenders the Italians have produced. He was the Ballon d’Or runner up in 1989 and was named in the FIFA World Cup All-Star team in 1990 apart from other individual awards.
France’s most capped football player bolstered his trade in Italy with Parma and Juventus. A dominant player that was praised for his athletic ability is regarded as one of the best defenders in his prime. A strong player capable of playing equally well in defence and attack. He primarily played as Centre-back or as a right-back and excelled in any position he was deployed. Although a big and strong defender, he was commended for his flair as well.
— 𝙸𝚛𝚛𝚎́𝚜𝚒𝚜𝚝𝚒𝚋𝚕𝚎𝚜 𝙵𝚛𝚊𝚗𝚌̧𝚊𝚒𝚜 ⭐️⭐️ (@IF_Supporters) January 1, 2021
He was part of the French team that won the FIFA World Cup in 1998, the UEFA European Championship in 2000 and the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2003. He was awarded the French Player of the Year award in 1997 and was named in the FIFA World Cup All-Star team in 1998 and 2006.
The godfather for all defenders. Franz Beckenbauer was nicknamed Der Kaiser (“The Emperor”) because of his elegant style, dominance and leadership on the field. He is not just regarded as the best defender of all time but also as one of the best players of all time. The libero or the modern-day sweeper position was invented by this man. He is one of three men to have won the World Cup as a player and as a manager.
Er öffnet Herzen, alle mögen ihn… Lieber Uwe, alles Gute zum 80. Bleib wie Du bist, dann wirst Du 100 – und älter 😉 pic.twitter.com/7oLP6XQ4r8
— Franz Beckenbauer (@beckenbauer) November 5, 2016
“Franz Beckenbauer symbolises football and a winning mentality. On top of that, he brought the World Cup to his own country. We’re proud of him.”—German tennis player Boris Becker.
Beckenbauer has 103 caps for West Germany, in which he scored fourteen times. Not bad for a defender, eh? He won the FIFA World Cup in 1974 and the UEFA European Championship in 1972. What’s more? He won the Ballon d’Or twice in 1972 and 1976, the most for any defender. He was also named in the Ballon d’Or dream team in 2020. A true legend of the game. One of THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME.