Defending is one of the hardest skills to master in football. While strikers can miss a plenty of chances and eventually grab a goal to snuff any negativity, defenders simply cannot put a foot wrong. If they do, their mistakes are played on a loop for years, making the mastering of the defensive art incredibly difficult.
In this article, we will be having a look at some of the greatest centre-backs of all time. The selection is made on the basis of skills, consistency, impact on their team, success, big game performances and work rate.
Here are the ten greatest centre-backs of all time.
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=10. Ronald Koeman
Ronald Koeman enjoyed an illustrious playing career back in the 80s and 90s. He was a key component of an extremely solid Dutch side and went on to earn a remarkable 78 caps for his country.
Unbelievably, in the 503 league appearances he made, Koeman bagged a fascinating 193 goals – making him the highest goal-scoring defender in footballing history. To add to his phenomenal finishing ability, he was also a composed figure on the ball, and possessed an exceptional passing range.
It is no coincidence, then, that he has such an impressive trophy haul. In his career he has picked up four Dutch league titles, three Dutch Cup titles, four Spanish league titles, one Spanish Cup, and two European Cups.
At international level he was a key part of the great Holland team that won the European Championships of 1988. He was also voted the Dutch footballer of the year twice; in 1987 and 1988.
=10. Ruud Krol
Ruud Krol is the greatest defender ever in history of Dutch football. He was a remarkably all-round defender who could play anywhere in defensive line. He was also supremely confident taking the ball out of defence, putting the Oranje back on the offensive.
Krol played as left-back for both club and national level before switching to libero in World Cup 1978, in which he was captain of the team.
Krol played an important role in helping Ajax Amsterdam to 3 consecutive European Cup trophies. He was also a part of Dutch teams that finished runner-up in the World cups of 1974 and 1978.
Later in his career, he moved to Napoli and became one of the best defenders in the Italian league. He can easily be considered as one of the greatest centre-backs of all time.
9. Billy Wright
Perhaps the greatest captain England have ever had, Billy Wright was the first player in world football to win 100 caps for his country. He went on to win 105, 90 of which were as captain.
He spent his entire playing career at Wolverhampton Wanderers, playing 541 times for the club and cementing his status as the club’s greatest ever player. Despite playing in defence where just one mistimed tackle can earn you your marching orders, Wright was never cautioned or sent-off in his 20-year career.
8. Elias Figueroa
On a continent where attacking flair has always had a tendency to take precedent, Figueroa is nonetheless regarded as one of Chile’s finest football products.
He was noted for his elegant style of play, his calmness in the center of defense and his ability to cut out opposition attacks and immediately launch counter attacks from the back.
The star was named South American footballer of the year in three consecutive years and matched defensive nous with no shortage of talent and technique. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest centre-backs of all time.
7. Fabio Cannavaro
What he lacks in height, Fabio Cannavaro makes up for in sheer quality. The diminutive Italian centre-back Fabio Cannavaro is only the second, and most recent defender to get his hands on the prestigious Ballon d’Or trophy.
Cannavaro, thus, was never an aerial ordeal for opposition attackers but gave them sleepless nights because of his mere physicality and never-say-die attitude. In his heydey, the former Real Madrid and Juventus man could walk into any European side and strengthen its defence.
Not only was he an exceptional defender, but was also an equally terrific leader and an inspiration for the youngsters that looked up to him in the dressing room. His captaincy inspired Italy to lift the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which in turn saw him being rewarded with the World and European Player of the Season.
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6. Daniel Passarella
Passarella was a defender with an uncanny eye for goal. In fact, with 182 goals in 556 matches, he was the highest scoring defender then. He was also one of the greatest centre-backs of all time.
He won the Argentinian Premier League four times, but was most successful at international level. His presence on the pitch reflected the political issues surrounding Argentina at the time, and he was named captain for the 1978 World Cup, which Argentina won.
In 1986 he was part of the squad that won another World Cup, but illness ensured he didn’t play a major part, unlike eight years previously.
5. Gaetano Scirea
Gaetano Scirea was part of the world-class Juventus side of the 1980s. Due to his glorious performances for the Old Lady, Italian fans quickly began to take note of his abilities and gave him the status of a cult hero.
He is regarded as one of the greatest defenders Italy has ever produced. For Italy, he won 78 caps, which included helping them to success in the 1982 World Cup.
He was an extremely elegant defender and seldom committed fouls or saw himself on the receiving end of criticism from the opposition fans. A true professional in every sense of the word, Scirea rose from the Juventus academy to not only achieve legendary status at his club, but he also did a phenomenal job for the national side.
4. Franco Baresi
Franco Baresi is the best definition of defending for anybody who knows about football. He was sp good that even today he’s still considered one of the greatest in his position. Starting his career as a young prospect in AC Milan academy, Baresi made his professional debut for the club at just 17 years of age.
Ever since that, Franco lived the best of his life, playing his entire 20-year career with the Rossoneri, being the captain of the Italian side for 15 years. His tackling ability was second to none, and despite not being overtly verbal, he ensured that his teammates understood what he expected of them
With Milan, he won more than 15 titles, earning the right to be nominated for the Ballon D’Or (1989), winning the Serie A Player of the Year (1989-90) among other prizes. To credit him for his phenomenal career at the San Siro, AC Milan decided to retire the number 6 jersey that he made famous by wearing for nearly two decades.
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3. Bobby Moore
West Ham legend, Bobby Moore will always hold a special place in the heart of every England fan. He is the only English player to have captained his country to victory in the World Cup.
Pele considers him the greatest defender he ever played against, as, I’m sure, do many others. In his career he won the aforementioned World Cup, as well as a Cup Winners’ Cup and an FA Cup with the Hammers.
In one of the best FA Cup finals ever, the Hammers, led by 23-year-old Bobby Moore, came back from being a goal down on two occasions before scoring in the dying minutes of injury to seal a memorable 3-2 victory. Moore played his heart out in that game, and motivated his team to fight against all odds and etch their name in English folklore.
Individually, he was voted the FWA Footballer of the Year in 1964, and the Players’ Player of the World Cup in ’66. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest centre-backs of all time.
2. Paolo Maldini
Very few Italian defenders have come close to matching Paolo Maldini’s undisputed skill. Being a rock in the back line for AC Milan, the Italian went on to achieve greatness in his professional career.
Maldini was a stalwart of over 20 years in AC Milan, driving the Rossoneri to their most successful era in history. Either out wide or in the centre, he was an elegant defender of rare quality and consistency.
The Italy legend represented Milan a remarkable 904 times. He was part of the coveted “Immortals” team of the late 80s and early 90s that comprised of the likes of Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten.
Maldini won an astounding 24 honours at club level – in what was an exceptionally trophy-laden career. He won the European Cup/Champions League on no less than five occasions and is regarded as one of the finest defenders to participate amongst Europe’s elite.
1. Franz Beckenbauer
Franz Beckenbauer dominated any defence he was in. His leadership made him a prime candidate for captaincy and his elegance made it look like he found even the toughest of tasks easy. The Bayern Munich legend was a leader, a role model, an avid believer in his philosophies, and moreover a complete footballer.
He was perhaps the most important part of the great Bayern Munich side of the early ’70s, winning four Bundesliga titles, four German Cups, a Cup Winners’ Cup, and three consecutive European Cups. Later, at Hamburg, he was to win another Bundesliga title.
Beckenbauer went on to win 103 caps for West Germany and he also appeared in three World Cup finals for them. He was influential in guiding his team to a World Cup triumph in 1974 and achieved the same feat as head coach sixteen years later. He also won the European championship in 1972.
Individually, Beckenbauer was a four time winner of German Footballer of the Year and a two-time Ballon d’Or winner. He was voted as the third greatest player of the 20th century, and the second greatest European player of the 20th century, losing out to Johan Cruyff.