TheFootballLovers has compiled a comprehensive list of the Best 100 Defenders in Football History. Being a defender may be a difficult job at times. The best sign that the men in the back are doing their job is when they go undetected for the entire 90 minutes.
If the defenders start making headlines, unless it’s for scoring, warning bells should start ringing. For this reason, the finest teams in the world have defenses that act as a solid foundation and make life simpler for players farther up the field.
Who is the best defender in football history? Who is the best defender in football in the world? Who is the best football defender in the world right now? So many questions, right? But worry not, we will answer them all in this comprehensive list. Here are the best 100 defenders in football history.
100. Giovanni Francini – Italy
Giovanni Francini, born 3 August 1963, is a retired Italian footballer who excelled as a left-sided fullback owing to his speed, stamina, consistency, poise, and work rate.
He was known as the “stopper” in the Italian region because he could stop the attackers from getting behind the defense. Giovanni Francini’s man-marking was exceptional which is enough for him to make the list of the best 100 defenders in football history.
99. Anatoli Maslyonkin – Russia
Anatoli Yevstigneyevich Maslyonkin, born June 29, 1930, in Moscow; died May 16, 1988, in Moscow. He was a Soviet Russian footballer who played for the Soviet Union.
He was a member of the Soviet national football team for 33 years, appearing in two World Cups and the first-ever European Nations’ Cup in 1960, where the Soviets were victors. At the 1956 Summer Olympics, he also won a gold medal in football.
98. Uli Stielike – Germany
Uli Stielike is a retired German defender and is among the greatest football defenders of all time. He was recognized for his stamina, positioning, devotion, and footballing knowledge, as well as his personality and forcefulness in defense, as a belligerent and imposing player.
In 83 European cup matches, Uli Stielike played for Borussia Mönchengladbach, Real Madrid, and Xamax.
97. Zózimo – Brazil
Zózimo Alves Calazés, better known by his nickname Zózimo, was a Brazilian footballer who played as a defender from 1948 until 1967. During his football career, Zózimo has played for S. Cristóvo, Bangu, Flamengo, Portuguesa, and Esportiva de Guarantinguetá in Brazil, as well as Sport Boys in Callao, Peru, and Club Deportivo guila in San Miguel.
Zózimo was a strong defender and his physique was incredible. Zózimo died in a car accident in Rio de Janeiro, just four weeks after his 45th birthday.
96. Kenny Sansom – England
Kenneth Graham Sansom, a former England defender. He was born on September 26, 1958. Sansom was a defender for Crystal Palace, Arsenal, Newcastle United, Coventry City, Queens Park Rangers, Everton, and Watford throughout his career. He is the second most capped full-back in England’s national squad.
Between 1979 and 1988, Kenny Sansom made 86 appearances for his country. Kenny Sansom is certainly among the best defenders in football history.
95. Andreas Brehme – Germany
Andreas “Andy” Brehme is a former football defender and current German football coach. He is most remembered for scoring the game-winning goal for Germany against Argentina in the 1990 FIFA World Cup Final with an 85th-minute penalty kick.
Despite being primarily a defender, Brehme demonstrated an exceptional knack for getting forward and scoring goals throughout his career, possessing an extremely powerful and accurate shot with either foot; his eye for goal is demonstrated by the fact that he scored for every club he played for, as well as the German national team. Andreas Brehme definitely deserves a spot on the list of the top 100 best football defenders.
94. Paul Breitner – Germany
Paul Breitner is a retired German footballer who played as a defender for most of his career. He was one of Germany’s most divisive players, with 48 caps for West Germany. In defense for the German national team, he was recognized for his relationships with Franz Beckenbauer and Berti Vogts. Paul Breitner was arguably the best defender of his time and deserves a spot on the list of the best central defenders in football history.
He also scored in the 1982 FIFA World Cup final, making him one of just four players (together with Pelé, Vavá, and Zinedine Zidane) to score in two different World Cup final matches.
93. David O’Leary – Ireland
David Anthony O’Leary is a former football player and manager in Irish football. He began his management career with Leeds United before moving on to Aston Villa. He was the manager of Al-Ahli Dubai most recently. He spent most of his 20-year playing career with Arsenal as a central defender and was a great defender during his time.
O’Leary remains to be the player with the most appearances for Arsenal with 722 caps in all competitions.
92. Roland Hattenberger – Germany
Roland Hattenberger is a former Austrian defender. He was known for his brilliant tackling and interception skills. Roland spent seven years of his career in the German Bundesliga and represented SC Fortuna Köln and VfB Stuttgart.
Due to his incredible leadership and defending attributes, Roland Hattenberger earns his spot on the list of the top 100 defensive players of all time.
91. Marek Jankulovski – Czech Republic
Marek Jankulovski is a retired Czech footballer who played as a central defender for most of his career. He is most known for winning the UEFA Champions League with A.C. Milan and being named Czech Footballer of the Year in 2007. He was a player of the Czech Republic national team for 77 games. Marek Jankulovski was a solid defender of his time and is among the top 100 best football defenders.
Jankulovski was a speedy, aggressive, and tireless player who was noted for his versatility, as he could play anywhere on the left side of the field and was utilized as a full-back, wing-back, and winger during his career. His ability to cross the ball, as well as his tremendous technical skill and aggressive attacking runs down the left-wing, made him a popular player.
90. Tengiz Sulakvelidze – Georgia
Tengiz Grigorevich Sulakvelidze is a former Georgian footballer who played as a central defender. Sulakvelidze made his Soviet Union debut in a friendly against Bulgaria on March 26, 1980. He went on to participate in the 1982 FIFA World Cup and the 1988 UEFA Euro.
He had 49 appearances for the Soviet Union and he always gave his best during the games. Tengiz Sulakvelidze deserves to be on the list of the best 100 defenders in football history.
89. Claudio Gentile – Italy
Claudio Gentile was born in Libya and is a former Italian defender from the 1970s and 1980s. Gentile participated in two World Cup tournaments for Italy, including 1982 final, when he was a member of the victorious Italian squad.
He spent most of his professional career at Juventus, where he made nearly 300 league games while winning six national crowns and two major European medals.
Gentile was recognized as one of the finest defenders of his generation, one of the hardest ever players in his position, and one of the greatest Italian defenders of all time. He was a tough, powerful, tenacious, merciless, and uncompromising defender. Claudio Gentile is certainly among the greatest football defenders of all time.
88. José Maria Rodrigues Alves – Brazil
José Maria Rodrigues Alves, commonly known as Zé Maria, is a former association footballer who was born in Botucatu on May 18, 1949. He was a defender for Ferroviário (SP), Portuguesa, Corinthians, and Internacional (RS) between 1966 and 1983. From 1971 to 1978, he appeared in 46 games for the Brazilian national team.
Strong in the air and exceptional tackling abilities earn Jose Maria a spot on the list of the best defenders in football history.
87. Bernd Bransch – Germany
Bernd Bransch is a former East German footballer and a defender. Bransch began his sports career with BSG Motor Halle-Süd when he was in his childhood. From 1954 onwards, Bernd Bransch played with SC Chemie Halle in various forms throughout his career.
Bransch competed in the 1972 Munich Olympics when his East German team won a bronze medal, and the 1976 Montreal Olympics, where he won a gold medal. He was also a member of the 1974 FIFA World Cup team.
Bransch appeared in 317 league games and scored 43 goals.
86. Daniel Passarella – Argentina
Daniel Alberto Passarella is an Argentine retired football player and former manager of the Argentina and Uruguay national football teams. He played as a central defender during the entirety of his career. He was the captain of Argentina’s World Cup-winning squad in 1978.
At a FIFA Awards Ceremony in 2004, Passarella was voted one of the 125 Greatest Living Footballers. Daniel Passarella deservedly gets a spot on our list of the best central defenders in football history.
85. Danny Blind – Dutch
Danny Blind is a former Dutch international football player. Blind represented Sparta Rotterdam, Ajax, and the Netherlands national team during his football career. Together with Arnold Mühren, he is one of only two Dutch players who have won all UEFA club tournaments.
On the pitch, Danny Blind was recognized for being a trustworthy defender and a leader. He was, nevertheless, a technically brilliant and cultured player who, for a non-attacking player, could pass and hit the ball well. Blind began his career as a right full-back, despite his fame as a central defender. Danny Blind is certainly among the top 100 defensive players of all time.
84. Juan Silveira dos Santos – Brazil
Juan Silveira dos Santos is a Brazilian former professional footballer who played as a center-back. After starting his career with Flamengo, he spent a decade in Europe playing for Bayer Leverkusen and Roma before joining Internacional in 2012.
Juan gained 79 caps for Brazil, scoring seven goals in the process. Due to his incredible tackling and recovery abilities as a defender, Juan Silveira dos Santos deserves a shout on our list of greatest football defenders of all time.
83. Sandro Salvadore – Italian
Sandro Salvadore was an Italian footballer who played as a defender. Salvadore played for AC Milan and Juventus during his career and won trophies with both clubs. He also played for the Italian national team in two FIFA World Cups and the 1960 Summer Olympics.
Salvadore was most often used as a wing-back, but he could also play in other defensive positions, such as center-back. Sandro Salvadore is regarded as one of Italy’s best defenders of all time and he is among the list of the best 100 defenders in football history.
82. Daniel Carvajal – Spain
Daniel Carvajal Ramos is a right-back for Real Madrid and the Spanish national team. He is the definition of a modern full-back and is considered as one of the best right-backs of this generation.
Dani Carvajal won 4 UEFA Champions League titles in the space of 5 years which is an astonishing achievement for the defender. Carvajal’s ability to join the attack but also recover with speed to defend is incredible. Dani Carvajal is certainly among the best 100 defenders in football history.
81. Giuseppe Bergomi – Italy
Giuseppe “Beppe” Bergomi is an Italian retired footballer who spent his whole career at Inter Milan. Bergomi, a one-club guy, was the club’s longest-serving captain and held the record for most appearances for numerous years. He is recognized as one of the greatest Italian defenders of all time, as well as one of the finest of his generation, and was named to the FIFA 100 in 2004 by Pelé.
Bergomi was a very adaptable defender who could play anywhere along the backline and in any formation. He was naturally a right-back but he could also play just fine in the left-back position. Bergomi is among the best central defenders in football history.
80. Branco – Brazil
Cláudio Ibrahim Vaz Leal, commonly known as Branco, is a former Brazilian footballer who played as a left defender. Branco was a noted free-kick specialist and he was a member of the victorious Brazilian side in the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
He also played in England, Brazil, and Italy at the club level. Branco was well-known for his pinpoint precision in putting the ball in the direction he desired for a free kick. Branco certainly deserves a shout to be on the list of top football defenders in the world.
79. Glenn Hysén – Sweden
Glenn Ingvar Hysén is a Swedish football manager and former player who gained 68 caps for his country while playing for top Dutch, Italian, and English clubs. He’s also a reality TV celebrity, a coach, and a football analyst.
Hysen was well known for his defensive leadership at the back that would unite the whole backline. Glenn Hysén is among the top 10 best defenders in soccer.
78. Dezső Novák – Hungary
Dezső Novák was a defender for the Hungarian national team. He played for Ferencvárosi TC during his club career. He was a member of the Hungary national squad that competed in the European Nations’ Cup in 1964.
He was awarded the Hungarian Order of Merit Officer’s Cross in 2004. Novák passed away on February 26, 2014, at the age of 75. Dezső Novák has to be one of the top football defenders of all time.
77. Sebastiano Nela – Italy
Sebastiano Nela is a former Italian defender who usually played as a full-back for most of his career. Nela spent most of his career playing in Italy at the club level. He also represented the Italian national team 5 times during his career.
Nela was a versatile and tough-tackling defender who could play everywhere across the backline, including the left and right sides, as well as the center, and was even used as a central midfielder on occasion, a position he had played frequently in his youth.
76. Bernard Dietz – Germany
Bernard Dietz is a retired football player and manager from Germany. In 1980, he led the West German national side to victory in the UEFA Euro. Dietz is a legend to the German club MSV Duisburg. His leadership abilities enabled Duisburg to beat Bayern Munich 6-3.
To honor Dietz’s contributions to MSV Duisburg during his career, the club’s mascot, a zebra, has been dubbed Ennatz. Dietz is known by the moniker Ennatz. Bernard Dietz has to be on the list of the greatest football defenders of all time.
75. John Sivebæk – Denmark
John Sivebæk is a former Danish football defender and a great leader. He played for Manchester United and won the Danish title with Vejle Boldklub in 1984. In 87 appearances for the Danish national team, he scored one goal and represented his country in the 1986 World Cup as well as three European Championships, including the 1992 European Championship title.
Sivebk has two sons, the elder of them, Christian Sivebk, is also a professional football player. His defensive awareness and tackling abilities made him one of the top football defenders of all time.
74. Jenő Buzánszky – Hungary
Jeno Buzánszky was a Hungarian football player and a coach. Buzánszky died on January 11, 2015. He was a defender for Hungary during the 1950s, and he was a member of the renowned Golden Team group. Ferenc Puskás, Zoltán Czibor, Sándor Kocsis, József Bozsik, and Nándor Hidegkuti were also on the team. Buzánszky is one of the legends in the history of Hungary’s national team.
The great Buzánszky was an exceptional defender and it was fairly difficult for the attackers to get past him. Jeno Buzánszky is one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
73. Gérard Janvion – France
Gérard Janvion is a former professional footballer who played as a defender for the French national team. From 1975 until 1982, he was a member of the French national team, making 40 matches. Janvion also represented France in two World Cups (1978 and 1982).
He was famously known for his exceptional stamina and pace to outrun the attackers in 1-on-1 situations. Gérard Janvion definitely deserves a shout on our list of the best defenders in football history.
72. Marinho Chagas – Brazil
Francisco das Chagas is a Brazilian businessman. Marinho, often known as Marinho Chagas or Francisco Marinho, was a Brazilian association footballer who played from 1952 until 2014. He is most remembered for his flowing curly blond hair and his fourth-place result at the 1974 FIFA World Cup, in which Brazil earned the fourth position.
Marinho Chagas died of a gastric haemorrhage on May 31, 2014, in Joo Pessoa (RN). He makes it to our list of best 100 defenders in football history.
71. Éric Di Meco – France
Éric Yves Di Meco is a former professional footballer who played as a left defender for the French national team. Following Marseille’s relegation after the 1993–94 season due to irregularities, Di Meco joined AS Monaco FC, where he remained until his retirement in 1998 at the age of almost 35, having won another league title.
Di Meco sought a career as a politician after retiring from the pitch, serving on the local council for the UMP in Marseille. His defensive abilities helped Marseille win several trophies. Eric Di Meco is one of the top 100 best football defenders.
70. Francesco Janich – Italy
Francesco Janich was an Italian footballer who played as a central defender. Janich was a member of the Italian national football team for six years, appearing in the 1962 and 1966 World Cups.
Bologna, the 1963–64 Serie A winners, had him as a player. He never scored a goal in his whole 448-match career. He achieved a record for the most games played without receiving a red card or being ejected from a game. This is a record that is yet to be broken by a defender. For this record, Francesco Janich deserves to be on our list of the top 100 defensive players of all time.
69. Cosmin Contra – Romania
Cosmin Marius Contra is a Romanian football manager and former player. He was mostly used as an offensive-minded right defender, although he was also occasionally used as a midfielder.
He played professionally in three countries, mostly Spain, where he played for Alavés, Atlético Madrid, and Getafe, totaling 188 appearances and eight goals in La Liga. He had been a Romanian international for about 15 years and had competed in two European Championships.
68. Wim Jansen – Netherlands
Wilhelmus Marinus Antonius Jansen was a professional footballer who played as a defender and a manager in the Netherlands. He spent the majority of his career at Feyenoord, where he won several awards, including the European Cup in 1970. He gained 65 caps for the Netherlands and was a member of the teams that reached the 1974 and 1978 FIFA World Cup finals.
Johan Cruyff, a football legend, regarded Wim Jansen to be one of only four individuals worth listening to when they discussed football. Wim Jansen is one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
67. Ronaldo Rodrigues de Jesus – Brazil
Ronaldo Rodrigues de Jesus is a former Brazilian footballer who was first known as Ronaldo and then as Ronaldo (big Ronaldo) to distinguish himself from his younger compatriot and teammate, also dubbed Ronaldo, who was nicknamed Ronaldinho (little Ronaldo) before footballer Ronaldinho Gacho adopted the nickname.
Ronaldo, a former defender, played 14 matches for the Seleço (Brazil national football team) between 1991 and 1995, scoring two goals and helping the Brazilian national team win the 1994 FIFA World Cup, despite not playing in any of the games; he was called to the World Cup on the first day, traveling from Japan to the United States as a substitute for injured Ricardo Gomes. He had a lot of success with his club teams, winning numerous titles. Ronaldo Rodrigues deserves a spot on our list of the best 100 defenders in football history.
66. João Domingos Pinto – Portugal
João Domingos Pinto is a manager and former football player from Portugal. He is recognized as one of the finest Portuguese right-backs of all time, having spent his entire professional career at Porto (16 years, winning a total of 25 major honors, including nine leagues and the 1987 European Cup).
Pinto was a member of the Portuguese national squad for almost a decade, competing in one World Cup and one European Championship. João Domingos Pinto is one of the most decorated and greatest football defenders of all time.
65. Roque Júnior – Brazil
José Vitor Roque Jr, better known by his nickname Roque Junior, is a Brazilian football commentator and former defender. He has 48 caps for Brazil and was a member of the World Cup-winning side in 2002. He is one of just four players in history to win the Copa Libertadores, Champions League, and World Cup, the others being Ronaldinho, Cafu, and Dida.
His defensive capabilities were out of this world which was great to help Brazil’s national team in the 2002 World Cup. Roque Junior is among the top 60 football defenders.
64. José Luis Brown – Argentina
José Luis Brown, an Argentine football central defender, and a coach. He spent most of his 14-year professional career at Estudiantes, where he played in over 300 official matches and won two major trophies. In addition to the United States, he competed in Colombia, France, and Spain.
Brown, known as Tata, played for Argentina in the 1986 World Cup and three Copa América tournaments, winning the former and scoring in the final. He started working as a manager in 1995.
José Luis Brown was one of the best defenders of his time and he deserves a spot on our list of the best 100 defenders in football history.
63. Bernd Förster – Germany
Bernhard “Bernd” Georg Josef Förster was a professional German football defender and midfielder. Karlheinz, his younger brother, was also a defender in football. Both spent a lot of time with VfB Stuttgart, where they were European champions in 1980.
Förster was a solid defender and formed an immense defensive partnership with his brother. Bernd Förster earns a well-deserved spot on our list of the greatest football defenders of all time.
62. Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck – Germany
Hans-Georg “Katsche” Schwarzenbeck is a retired German professional football defender. From 1966 to 1981, he was a member of Bayern Munich’s first team, featuring in 416 games. He won six German league titles, three German Cups, one European Cup Winners’ Cup (beating Rangers F.C. in the final), and three European Cups in a row.
The legendary defender won numerous titles with Bayern Munich and is a legend for the German club. Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck is one of the top 100 defenders in football.
61. Manuel Sanchís Martínez – Spain
Manuel Sanchís Martínez was a defender for the Spanish national team. Manolo Sanchis, like his father, played for Real Madrid and Spain. They were one of only four father-son teams to win the European Cup/Champions League (the others being Cesare and Paolo Maldini, Carles and Sergio Busquets, and Zinedine and Luca Zidane), and he appeared in 213 La Liga games in 10 seasons.
Sanchis, an offensive-minded defender who began his career as a striker, was noted for his remarkable physical abilities, notably power, as well as his class and defense skills. Manuel Sanchís Martínez is among the best 100 defenders in football history.
60. Lothar Matthäus – Germany
Lothar Herbert Matthäus is a former player and manager in German football. He was voted European Footballer of the Year after leading West Germany to victory in the 1990 FIFA World Cup. He is the only German to have won the FIFA World Player of the Year title, which he received in 1991. In 2020, he was also included in the Ballon d’Or Dream Team.
Matthäus has the most caps of any German footballer, with 150 appearances to his name. Lothar Matthäus is included in Pele’s FIFA 100 list of the best living football players.
Matthäus was a dynamic and complete player who was known for his intuitive passing, positional awareness, well-timed tackles, and powerful shooting. He was recognized as one of the finest defenders of all time. Lothar Matthäus is without a doubt one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
59. Vicente Lucas – Portugal
Vicente da Fonseca Lucas is a retired Portuguese footballer who mostly played as a central defender in his career. He was a fine defender and a great passer of the ball and certainly, one of the best defenders Portugal has ever produced.
Vicente retired from football at the age of 31, following the World Cup because of major eye damage sustained when a piece of glass struck the organ during a vehicle accident. He was noted for numerous flawless marks of the best players of his period without committing a foul, and Pelé referred to him as the finest defender he had ever faced.
58. Edmílson – Brazil
José Edmílson Gomes de Moraes, often known as Edmílson, is a retired Brazilian footballer. In his professional career, he represented three countries as a defensive midfielder or a central defender, with a team and individual success in each. He represented Sao Paulo, Barcelona, and Lyon.
Edmílson represented Brazil in the 2002 World Cup, winning 39 caps and helping the country win the tournament. He is among the list of best 100 defenders in football history.
57. Giacinto Facchetti – Italy
Giacinto Facchetti was a defender for the Italian national team. He was chairman of Inter Milan from January 2004 until his death, a club for which he played during his whole career in the 1960s and 1970s. He appeared in 634 official games for the club, scoring 75 goals, and was a member of the “Grande Inter” team that won four Serie A titles, a Coppa Italia, two European Cups, and two Intercontinental Cups under manager Helenio Herrera. In 1965, he finished second in the Ballon d’Or voting.
He was praised for his ability to play with either foot, as well as his distribution and ball skills; he also excelled defensively, playing as a sweeper as his speed faded later in his career, due to his technical skills, distribution, intelligence, anticipation, and tackling. He was noted for his leadership and right behavior on the field, as well as his football ability. Facchetti was only sent off once in his whole career, for sarcastically thanking the referee.
Giacinto Facchetti is one of the greatest football defenders of all time.
56. Aldo Maldera – Italy
Aldo Maldera was an Italian footballer who played as a fullback or a wide midfielder on the left-wing. Maldera, a left-footed player, was a contemporary full-back with a precise and powerful shot, earning him the moniker “Aldo-gol” for his prolific goal-scoring abilities.
Between 1974 and 1980, Maldera made ten appearances for Italy. He competed in the 1978 FIFA World Cup and Euro 1980 on home turf for his nation. Aldo Maldera is among the top 100 defenders in football.
55. Sol Campbell – England
Sulzeer Jeremiah Campbell is an English professional football manager and former player who most recently served as the manager of Southend United in the National League. From November 2018 to August 2019, he was the manager of Macclesfield Town. He had a 20-year Premier League career and an 11-year international career with the England national team as a central defender.
Sol Campbell is one of the top 60 football defenders of all time. Campbell was a powerful, athletic, and intimidating defender with superb positional knowledge and a hard tackler, and was regarded as one of the finest English center-backs of his period. He excelled in the air, both offensively and defensively, due to his height and physical strength.
54. Frank Rijkaard – Netherlands
Franklin Edmundo Rijkaard is a retired Dutch footballer and manager who played as a midfielder or defender. He was born on September 30, 1962. Rijkaard has 73 caps for the Netherlands national team and has played for Ajax, Real Zaragoza, and Milan.
Rijkaard was a swift, powerful, complete, and tenacious defensive midfielder who was hailed by analysts throughout his career for his physical and athletic abilities. He was regarded as one of the best players in his position.
53. Luis Galván – Argentina
Luis Adolfo Galván is an Argentine footballer who played as a centre defender. He is most known for being a member of the 1978 World Cup-winning team. His football career reached its pinnacle in 1978 when he was picked to represent Argentina in the Argentina 78 competition. He and captain Daniel Passarella played every game in the tournament, including the World Cup Final in the Monumental when Argentina defeated the Netherlands 3-1 after extra time to win their first-ever World Cup in history.
Luis Galván was an exceptional athlete with a great physique and defensive capabilities, making him one of the top 60 football defenders of all time.
52. Massimo Oddo – Italy
Massimo Oddo is a former Italian footballer who played as a central defender for his teams. Oddo’s career spanned various Italian teams, but he is most recognized for his time at Lazio, where he won the Coppa Italia, and Milan, where he won multiple trophies, including the UEFA Champions League and the Scudetto.
Massimo Oddo is among the top 60 football defenders in history. Due to his endurance, work rate, defensive consistency, attacking drive, positional awareness, and crossing ability, Oddo was mostly used on the right side as an offensive full-back or wing-back.
51. Horst-Dieter Höttges – Germany
Horst-Dieter Höttges is a former defender for the German national team. He began his career at Borussia Mönchengladbach but spent the majority of his time with Werder Bremen. From 1965 until 1974, he was a member of the West German national team, winning 66 caps.
Höttges was a colossus of a defender. His tenacity in duels earned him the nickname “Eisenfuß” (iron foot). Horst-Dieter Höttges is among the best 100 defenders in football history.
50. Jerzy Gorgoń – Poland
Jerzy Pawe Gorgon was a Polish football player best known for his appearance in the 1972 Summer Olympics. He was a 6’4″ tall defender who made a name for himself while playing for Górnik Zabrze in 1967. In 1968-72, he helped Zabrze win five Polish cups in a row.
In 1978, Gorgo relocated to Argentina. In 1980, he returned to Switzerland to play for FC Gallen after a fairly unproductive stint there. Later, he coached the Blau-Weiss St. Gallen reserve and youth teams, as well as the Gossau football academy.
49. Francesco Morini – Italy
Francesco Morini is a retired Italian football defender. He was a member of the Italian national team in the 1974 FIFA World Cup, earning 11 caps. He played for several clubs, including U.C. Sampdoria and, most famously, Juventus, where he had a huge success.
Despite his tough style of play, he was recognized for his right behavior on the field, and he seldom made aggressive challenges. He was given the nickname “Morgan the Pirate” because he excelled as a forceful ball-winner. Francesco Morini certainly deserves a spot on our list of the best 500 defenders in football history.
48. Eric Gerets – Belgium
Eric Gerets is one of the greatest football defenders of all time. Eric Maria Gerets is a former footballer and manager in Belgium. He began his career as an amateur for his hometown team, AA Rekem, before going on to play for Standard Liège and PSV. He was regarded as one of Europe’s best right-backs at the time of his prime and is recognized as one of Belgian football’s finest players. He is most known for leading PSV to their first and only European Cup victory in 1988.
Gerets was a right back with an offensive mindset who was recognized for his stamina, tactical discipline, tenacity, and mental toughness. Long-distance throw-ins were also a specialty of his. Eric Gerets is a legend in football and is one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
With a goal by Erwin Vandenbergh and an excellent defensive display to hold off a young Diego Maradona in the 1982 World Cup, Belgium, captained by Gerets, recorded one of their most famous victories with a 1–0 win over defending champions Argentina in the first game of the tournament held at Camp Nou.
47. David Alaba – Austria
David Olatukunbo Alaba is an Austrian professional footballer who leads the Austrian national team and plays as a central midfielder, left winger, left-back, or center-back for Real Madrid in La Liga. Alaba is largely considered as one of his generation’s top defenders, and he is one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
Alaba played almost 400 matches for Bayern Munich, earning 27 trophies, including 10 Bundesliga titles and two UEFA Champions League wins, both as part of trebles, in 2013 and 2020.
David Alaba is easily one of the top 50 football defenders in football history.
46. Laurent Blanc – France
Laurent Blanc is among the best 100 defenders in football history. According to a survey conducted by France Football, Laurent Blanc was chosen the fourth-best French footballer of all time. With three appearances on the European Championship Team of Tournament, he retains the record for most appearances.
Blanc began his career with Montpellier as an attacking midfielder. He became a defender just a few years later. He played for nine different clubs during his career and was a member of several of them. Blanc was the first player to score a golden goal in World Cup history.
He had a reputation for being a surprise high-scoring defender with superb anticipation and an exquisite on-the-ball skill style. From the air or on the ground, he posed a threat to the opposition’s goal.
Blanc was nominated for the Ballon’Dor four times and came in 14th place in 1998.
45. Gabriel Heinze – Argentina
Vélez Sarsfield manager Gabriel Iván Heinze is an Argentine professional footballer who played as a left-back or central defender. He earned the nickname Gringo (“Blonde” in Argentine–Spanish slang) when playing for Paris Saint-Germain before going to Manchester United and then Real Madrid in 2004, winning three trophies with the two teams.
Gabriel Heinze was a solid defender with great tackling abilities. Attackers usually found it hard to get behind him. Gabriel Heinze is without a doubt one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
44. Diego Godín – Uruguay
Diego Roberto Godin Lealis an Uruguayan professional footballer who captains the Uruguay national team and plays as a center-back for Brazilian club Atlético Mineiro. He began his professional career with Cerro and was transferred to Primera División side Nacional three years later.
He is widely considered one of the top 40 football defenders in the world. He spent most of his professional career in Spain, playing for Villarreal and Atlético Madrid, where he won eight trophies, including the La Liga title in 2013–14. He also played for Inter Milan and Cagliari in Italy, as well as Atlético Mineiro in Brazil.
Godín was recognized as one of the greatest and most consistent defenders in the world, as well as one of the best center-backs of his time, despite his lack of speed and athleticism. Diego Godin is certainly among the best 100 defenders in football history.
43. Marcel Desailly – France
Marcel Desailly is a former French professional footballer who played as a center-back or defensive midfielder for the France national teams that won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.
Desailly had a great club career that lasted from 1986 to 2006, winning multiple trophies, including UEFA Champions League medals with both Marseille and AC Milan, as well as playing for Nantes and Chelsea.
Desailly was known as “The Rock” because of his consistency, strength, and hard-tackling playing style. He is regarded as one of the best French defenders of all time and was known for his charismatic leadership and ability to organize his team’s back-line and break down opposition plays throughout his career.
42. Marcelo Viera – Brazil
Marcelo Vieira da Silva Junior is a Brazilian professional footballer who plays as a left defender for Real Madrid and is the club’s captain. Marcelo established himself with Real Madrid, winning 23 trophies in all, including four UEFA Champions Leagues (three times being named to the Squad of the Season) and five La Liga trophies. Marcelo is among the best 100 defenders in football history.
Marcelo is one of the most decorated players in the history of football, having won just about every title in football. Marcelo Viera is considered one of the best full-backs of the modern generation and is easily among the top 40 football defenders of all time.
41. Alessandro Costacurta – Italy
Alessandro Costacurta makes it to the list of the top 40 football defenders of all time. Alessandro “Billy” Costacurta is an Italian football manager and former professional defender. Costacurta spent most of his professional career with Milan, spending nearly two decades with the club between 1986 and 2007. He is well remembered for building one of the strongest defenses in Serie A and European football throughout the late 1980s and 1990s with Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, and Mauro Tassotti.
He mostly played as a central defender and was a top exponent of the position, earning seven Serie A titles and five Champions League/European Cup medals throughout his career, in addition to several other honors.
Costacurta was a complete, hardworking, and experienced defender with good distribution and crossing ability, as well as a solid technique and first touch, which he improved as his career progressed despite not being the most naturally skilled player on the ball.
40. Luís Pereira – Brazil
Luís Edmundo Pereira is a former Brazilian professional footballer who spent time with S.E. Palmeiras, Atlético Madrid, and the Brazilian national team as a central defender. Beyond UEFA and the Intercontinental Cup, he won national titles in both Brazil and Spain. Pereira scored 34 goals in 562 games for Palmeiras and 171 games for Atlético Madrid (17 goals). Luís Pereira definitely deserves a spot on our list of best 100 defenders in football history.
Known for his speed and strength, as well as his marking and defensive leadership, Luís Pereira was once regarded as one of Europe’s top defenders when with Atlético Madrid. While his defending approach is “traditional,” he is also regarded as the first and finest of Brazil’s “modern” center-backs.
39. Nilton Santos – Brazil
Nilton dos Santos was a Brazilian footballer well known for his wingback play. On the international stage, he was a part of the Brazil teams that won the World Cups in 1958 and 1962. Nilton Santos is a member of the World Team of the 20th Century and was voted one of the top 125 best living players by Pelé at the FIFA Awards presentation in 2004.
Regarded as one of the top 30 football defenders, Nilton Santos was a trailblazing attacking left-back, one of the first fullbacks to make wing runs and engage in the offensive game. Once he said: “I have never envied today’s players the money but the freedom they have, to go forward.”
Nilton played almost 700 games as a left-wing-back for his local club Botafogo, and many believe him to be the finest left-wing-back in the history of football.
38. Jack Charlton – England
John Charlton, also known as Jack Charlton was an English professional footballer and manager. He played as a defender in his football career. He was a member of the 1966 England World Cup-winning squad. He is the older brother of Bobby Charlton, a former Manchester United forward who also played in England’s World Cup final triumph.
Charlton spent his club career with Leeds United from 1950 to 1973. Leeds United fans selected Jack Charlton into the club’s best XI in 2006.
For the 1967–68 season, Charlton devised a novel strategy of standing near to the goalie on corners to prevent him from going out to collect the ball; this caused chaos for opposing defenses and is still employed today. Jack Charlton is a legend of the beautiful game and is among the top 30 football defenders.
37. Karl-Heinz Schnellinger – Germany
Karl-Heinz Schnellinger is a former defender for the German national team. He was born in the city of Düren (then in Rhine Province, Prussia, today North Rhine-Westphalia).
He was most commonly used as a full-back, but he could also play as a center-back, sweeper, or defensive midfielder. In his time, he was regarded as one of the best and most complete left-backs in the world, with only Giacinto Facchetti and Nilton Santos coming close.
Schnellinger was dubbed the “Volkswagen” for his consistency of performance, both in quantity and quality, as well as his versatility. He was an athletic and hard-tackling player with a buffed body. Karl-Heinz Schnellinger is among the best 100 defenders in football history.
36. Djalma Santos – Brazil
Djalma Pereira Dias dos Santos, popularly known as Djalma Santos, was a Brazilian footballer who played in four World Cups, winning two of them in 1958 and 1962.
Santos was a speedy and physically powerful defender recognized for his endurance, marking, and tackling abilities, as well as his ability to play in the air.
Djalma Santos is regarded as one of the top 30 football defenders in history. While he was best recognized for his defensive abilities, he also showed off some outstanding technical and offensive abilities. He is one of just three players, along with Franz Beckenbauer and Philipp Lahm, to have been named to three FIFA World Cup All-Star teams (in 1954, 1958, and 1962).
35. Carlos Alberto Torres – Brazil
Carlos Alberto “Capita” Torres, better known as “O Capito do Tri,” was a Brazilian football player and manager who played as an offensive right-sided full-back or wing-back.
Carlos Alberto was a member of the World Team of the Twentieth Century and was nominated to Pelé’s FIFA 100 list of the finest living players in the world in 2004.
He was a right-sided attacking full-back or wing-back. He is widely considered one of the best 100 defenders in football history. He is a technically adept defender with exceptional ball-handling and defensive ability. He was also known for his leadership and was a fantastic penalty taker. Carlos Alberto Torres is easily one of the top 30 football defenders in the history of the beautiful game.
34. Billy McNeill – Scotland
William McNeill MBE was a Scottish football player and manager. As a player, manager, and club ambassador, he had a long affiliation with Celtic, lasting more than sixty years.
Billy McNeill, a colossus of a defender, spent his entire professional career with Celtic and holds the club record for most appearances with 822 in 18 seasons. During their most successful period, the 1960s and 1970s, he was the captain of the club. During this time, the team won nine consecutive Scottish league titles and thirteen other major domestic trophies, as well as being the first British club to win the European Cup in 1967.
McNeill had a powerful physical presence and an almost unstoppable jump that made him a menace in the air. Billy McNeill deserves a spot on the list of one of the top 30 football defenders.
33. Jose Antonio Camacho – Spain
José Antonio Camacho Alfaro is a former left defender and manager in Spanish football. He played with Real Madrid for 15 years, participating in almost 500 official matches and helping the side win 19 major honors, including nine La Liga crowns. The Merengue fans remember him as a sturdy defender in the 1970s and 1980s.
Camacho won almost 80 caps for Spain, appearing in two World Cups and as many European Championships as he could. Jose Antonio Camacho is among the best 100 defenders in football history.
32. Ronald Koeman – Netherlands
Ronald Koeman is a former player and manager in the Dutch professional football league. He was most recently the manager of Barcelona. Koeman is easily one of the top 30 football defenders.
In 1989, Koeman joined Barcelona and became a member of Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team,” helping the team win La Liga four years in a row from 1991 to 1994, as well as the European Cup in 1991–92 when he scored the game-winning goal against Sampdoria.
Koeman was not just a tough and often nasty defender, but he also had a knack for scoring goals. He amassed a record of over 200 professional goals, the bulk of which were magnificent strikes, thanks to his incredibly strong shot.
31. Fernando Hierro – Spain
Fernando Ruiz Hierro is a former center-back and current football manager in Spain. After joining Real Madrid from Valladolid, he won five La Liga and three Champions League medals in a career that spanned more than 500 official matches. Professionally, he also competed in Qatar and England.
On the International stage, Fernando Hierro represented Spain in 90 matches. He also appeared in four World Cups and two European Championships.
At his height, Hierro was able to combine good defensive play with a near-unlimited passing range and remarkable goalscoring ability, making him one of the most sought-after players in the world. Fernando Hierro is a legend of the beautiful game and is easily one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
30. Alan Hansen – Scotland
Alan David Hansen is a former Scottish center-back and BBC television football analyst. Hansen is a Liverpool legend who helped the team embrace the European royalty. Hansen won eight league titles, three European Cups, two FA Cups, and four League Cups throughout his Liverpool career.
Hansen has every right to be regarded as one of the best and most incredible defenders to come from the British Isles. Alan Hansen deserves to be on the list of the best 100 defenders in football history.
29. Ruud Krol – Netherlands
Ruud (“Ruud” or “Rudi”) Jozef Krol is a former professional footballer from the Netherlands who appeared 83 times for his country. He spent the majority of his career at Ajax, his hometown club, and after retiring, he became a coach.
Due to his range of passing with both feet, temperament, tactical intelligence, and ability to start attacking plays after winning back the ball, Krol was regarded as one of the greatest defenders of all time. He primarily played as a sweeper or left-back, but he could play anywhere across the backline. Ruud Krol is one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
28. Jurgen Kohler – Germany
Jürgen Kohler is a German footballer and manager who won the World Cup as a center-back. Kohler had a successful career at the highest level, playing predominantly as a central defender in the German Bundesliga and the Italian Serie A, and enjoying noteworthy success both domestically and internationally with FC Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and Juventus.
He was recognized for his serenity and finesse in possession, as well as his ability to play the ball out of defense, which he was able to enhance as his career advanced. His mindset, professionalism, and leadership characteristics also made him stand out. Jurgen Kohler is considered one of the top 30 football defenders of all time.
27. Gaetano Scirea – Italy
Gaetano Scirea was an Italian professional footballer who is regarded as one of the all-time great defenders. Scirea is one of just six players in football history to have won all international titles for UEFA and FIFA-recognized clubs. He is also one of just nine players in European football history to have won all three main UEFA tournaments, a record he accomplished while at Juventus.
Scirea is up there with the likes of Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi as the greatest defender in Italian football history. Gaetano Scirea won an amazing 14 top-level trophies throughout his 16-year career with Juve and Italy, and unlike many other center-backs of the era, he played with exemplary sportsmanship, never receiving a red card.
26. Roberto Carlos – Brazil
Roberto Carlos Rocha is a former professional footballer from Brazil who currently works as a football ambassador. With one of the most incredible free-kicks in football history, a swerving effort against France that left Fabian Barthez speechless, the former Real Madrid great blasted his way into football folklore. Roberto Carlos is easily one of the top 30 football defenders in history.
The majority of Roberto Carlos’ career was spent as a defender, mainly as a left-sided full-back or wing-back. John Carlin of The New York Times called him the “greatest offensive-minded left-back in the history of the game” in 2006. Throughout his career, Carlos was known as El Hombre Bala (“The Bullet Man”) for his powerful bending shots and free kicks, which have been clocked at over 105 miles per hour (169 km/h).
25. Matthias Sammer – Germany
Matthias Sammer is a former central defender in the German professional football league. Sammer won the UEFA Euro 1996 with Germany when he was crowned the tournament’s best player and went on to win the Ballon d’Or later that year. Matthias Sammer is regarded as one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
Matthias Sammer, dubbed “The Prince of East Germany,” is one of just three defenders in history to win European Footballer of the Year. He was also likened to Franz Beckenbauer in the same clip. Unfortunately, Sammer suffered a serious injury, forcing him to retire early in his career.
24. Lilian Thuram – France
Ruddy Lilian Thuram-Ulien is a former French defender. With 142 games for France between 1994 and 2008, Thuram is the most capped player in the country’s history. Thuram was a powerful, consistent, athletic, and observant footballer who, in his peak, was regarded as one of the finest defenders in the world by experts.
Thuram was noted for his power, pace, stamina, and exceptional physical, tactical, and technical skills as a defender, as well as his grace, intellect, and ability to read the game. His retirement created a big void in the French national team’s defense. Lilian Thuram is easily one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
23. Jose Leandro Andrade – Uruguay
José Leandro Andrade was a Uruguayan footballer who played on the flank. “The Black Marvel” was his nickname. He was recognized as one of the best footballers in the world at his time.
Andrade was praised for being a smart and honest player who never brags about his accomplishments. He was a dynamic, quick, and technically gifted athlete who could dominate the game without the physicality that many of his teammates had.
Despite not being at his best, Andrade was one of Uruguay’s greatest players during their 1930 World Cup victory. He was named to the All-Star squad at the conclusion of the tournament. In 1994, he was ranked number ten in France Football’s World Cup Top-100. Jose Leandro Andrade is easily among the top 30 football defenders of all time.
22. Jaap Stam – Netherlands
Jakob “Jaap” Stam is a former professional footballer who played as a defender and is now a manager and former head coach in the Netherlands. Before retiring in October 2007, Stam played for various European teams, including PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, Lazio, Milan, and Ajax. Stam was mostly used as a center-back.
He was recognized for having “a unique blend of speed, strength, and ball-handling talent.” In his heyday, he was also capable of playing as a full-back on the right side due to his diverse skill set. Jaap Stam is considered one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
21. Alessandro Nesta – Italy
Alessandro Nesta is an Italian football manager and former player who spent his career as a center-back. In a 20-year career spanning Lazio and AC Milan, Nesta made over 400 Serie A appearances, winning domestic and European titles with both teams. He was also a part of the Italian squad that won the 2006 World Cup, as well as the Italian team that advanced to the Euro 2000 final.
Nesta is widely regarded as one of the best 100 defenders in football history. His speed, artful tackles, grace on the ball, distribution, and tight marking of opponents made him a fan favorite. Nesta has a strong strategic and tactical awareness, as well as an acute capacity to read the game, which helped him to anticipate and close down opponents in one-on-one scenarios, in addition to his class, technical and physical qualities.
20. Thiago Silva – Brazil
Thiago Silva is a Brazilian professional footballer who captains the Brazil national team and plays as a center-back for Premier League side Chelsea. Silva is regarded as one of the top 20 football defenders of all time due to his discipline, defensive talents, and leadership qualities.
By his colleagues and critics, Thiago Silva is regarded as a complete defender. He’s been hailed as a reliable defender with no weaknesses and the ability to command any defense. Silva, who plays as a leader from the back, has been likened to famous Italian defender Franco Baresi. Silva has been regarded as a robust defender with exceptional aerial skills, and as one of the quickest defenders in European football.
Even at 37 years of age, Thiago Silva’s consistency is unreal and he is aging like a fine wine. Thiago Silva is easily one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
19. Rio Ferdinand – England
Rio Gavin Ferdinand is a former English professional footballer who played as a center-back and is currently a BT Sport television analyst. Between 1997 and 2011, he appeared 81 times for England and was a member of three FIFA World Cup squads.
Ferdinand’s potential as a defender peaked during his time at Manchester United where he retired as a club legend. He ended his career at Manchester United with 6 Premier Titles and 14 other trophies, making him one of the most decorated defenders in Premier League history.
Throughout his career, he was frequently partnered with a more muscular center-back, such as Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidi or England’s John Terry, due to his agility and ball-playing abilities. Ferdinand is recognized as one of the finest defenders of his generation, as well as one of England’s, Manchester United’s, and the Premier League’s best ever center-backs. Ferdinand was a world-class defender who was rated one of the best stoppers in the world at his peak.
18. Philippe Lahm – Germany
Philipp Lahm is a retired German professional footballer who spent most of his career as a full-back. Bayern Munich captain Philipp Lahm guided his team to multiple victories, including the 2013 UEFA Champions League as part of the Treble. Before retiring from international football, he was the captain of his country’s national team, which he guided to victory in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Lahm is considered one of the top 30 football defenders by many pundits around the world. Due to his tactical knowledge and mobility, Lahm was able to play on both sides of the pitch despite being right-footed. He would frequently cut in from the flank to the inside of the pitch to shoot or pass. He was known for his speed, skill, stamina, and accurate tackling ability, as well as his little height, earning him the moniker “Magic Dwarf.” Phillipe Lahm is easily one of the greatest defenders of all time.
17. Fabio Cannavaro – Italy
Fabio Cannavaro is a former central defender and current coach in the Italian professional football league. He was a difficult opponent for any attacker, whether he was playing for the Azzurri or for his team. Fabio Cannavaro is regarded as one of the top 20 football defenders of all time.
Cannavaro built a reputation as a dynamic, consistent, tenacious, and complete defender throughout his career, noted for his acceleration, speed, responses, and agility, as well as his tackling abilities and, in particular, his accurate slide challenges.
Fabio Cannavaro was voted FIFA World Player of the Year in 2006, making him the first and only defender to win the title. In 2006, he also won the Ballon d’Or, making him the first defender to do so in a decade and only the third defender in history after Franz Beckenbauer and Matthias Sammer. Fabio Cannavaro is among the best 100 defenders in football history.
16. Dani Alves – Brazil
Dani Alves is a Brazilian right-back who currently plays for Barcelona. When he joined Barcelona in 2008, Dani Alves became the third most expensive defender in the history of football.
Alves is an offensive right-back or wing-back who is recognized for his pace, stamina, and overlapping attacking runs. Despite his lack of physical strength, he shows great tenacity, which, combined with his energy, anticipation, and work rate, allows him to intercept passes or chase down and gegenpress when not in possession. He is regarded as one of the best top 20 football defenders of all time. With 46 senior titles and 47 recognized titles total, Dani Alves is the most decorated player in football folklore.
15. Mauro Tassotti – Italy
Mauro Tassotti is an Italian manager and former footballer who mostly played in the right-back position. He played for AC Milan for 17 years after making his Serie A debut with Lazio.
With Milan, Tassotti won 17 major honors, including five Serie A crowns and three UEFA Champions League events, as well as reaching five finals. He is most known for his position in the Milan backline with renowned defenders Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, and Alessandro Costacurta. Mauro Tassotti is easily one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
Tassotti was mostly deployed as a right-back, but he could also play as a central defender and did so frequently earlier in his career. Tassotti was a fierce defensive-minded full-back recognized for his power, anticipation, and defensive awareness, as well as his marking skills, positional sense, and tactical intelligence; these qualities allowed him to read the game exceedingly effectively.
14. Javier Zanetti – Italy
Javier Adelmar Zanetti is a retired professional footballer from Argentina who played as a right-back. Zanetti is widely considered one of the best top 100 defenders in football.
For his energy and constant energetic sprints up and down the wings to help both attack and defense, Zanetti acquired the moniker El Tractor. His colleagues admired him for his constancy and fitness regimen, which he credits with extending his career. Zanetti was recognized for his versatility and ability to play on both the left and right-wing, having previously played as a full defender on both sides.
El Pupi’s international success evaded him, but a magnificent career as a full-back at Inter places him in the Olympus of defenders.
13. Berti Vogts – Germany
Hans-Hubert “Berti” Vogts is a retired professional football defender from Germany. He spent his whole professional career with Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga, winning the FIFA World Cup with West Germany in 1974. He was selected German defender of the year five times and ten times in the Bundesliga team of the season, according to German Footballer of the Year voting.
Vogts was a popular favorite with his home audience, earning the nickname “Der Terrier” for always fighting for every ball as if it were his last. In the 1974 World Cup final in Munich, West Germany, when West Germany triumphed 2–1, Vogts memorably tagged and controlled the legendary Johan Cruyff.
Berti Vogts is a legend and deserves a spot on our list of top 20 football defenders of all time.
12. Nemanja Vidić – Serbia
Nemanja Vidić is a retired professional footballer from Serbia who played as a center-back. He was a member of the Serbian national team and is widely regarded as one of the greatest defenders of his period. Along with Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo, he is one of only three players to win the Premier League Player of the Season title twice.
In his heyday, he was regarded as one of the finest center-backs in the world, thanks to his defensive consistency and awareness, as well as his power, leadership, and aerial ability, which made him a goal threat on set pieces. His Manchester United teammates lauded him for his tough defensive approach, and he was well-known in the media for his on-field courage throughout his career. Nemanja Vidić is, without a doubt, among the best 100 defenders in football history.
11. John Terry – England
John George Terry is a former English center-back who is now a professional football coach. He has previously served as captain of Chelsea FC, England, and Aston Villa. At his prime, John Terry was regarded as one of the best 100 defenders in football history, as well as one of the greatest central defenders of his time and one of the greatest English and Premier League defenders ever.
From 2005 through 2009, John Terry was named to the FIFPro World XI five times in a row. In 2005, 2008, and 2009, Terry was awarded UEFA Club Defender of the Year.
Terry was a fierce, persistent, and muscular defender who was noted for his tough, no-nonsense approach to the game. Despite his defensive role, he was a tall defender who excelled in the air, allowing him to efficiently defend crosses and high balls, as well as making him a goal threat for his side in the opposing penalty area. Terry was the world’s third greatest passer among players with over 1,000 passes in 2011, with a pass accuracy percentage of 91.6 percent. Only Xavi (93.0 percent) of Barcelona and Leon Britton (93.3 percent) of Swansea City were better.
Without a doubt, John Terry is one of the best top 20 football defenders of all time.
10. Júlio César – Brazil
Júlio César da Silva, better known by his nickname Júlio César, is a retired Brazilian professional footballer who played as a center-back. He played for a variety of teams in Brazil and Europe throughout his career, and he also represented Brazil at the 1986 FIFA World Cup and the 1987 Copa América.
Júlio César was recognized for his physical strength, speed, and aerial abilities, as well as his positioning, tackling, and ability to read the game. He was widely regarded as one of Brazil’s finest center-backs. He was a speedy, versatile, and powerful defender with good feet, vision, and passing range who could also play sweeper, allowing him to contribute to his team’s attacks and make runs into the opposition’s half, where he could exploit his aerial abilities. Júlio César is among the best 100 defenders in football history.
9. Cafu – Brazil
Now we have reached the list of the top ten greatest football defenders of all time. Marcos Cafu is most known for being the first player in World Cup history to appear in three final matches, setting a record. Since his early career with Sao Paulo, where he won South American Footballer of the Year, he has been a superstar. He made his debut in 1994 but was thankfully replaced by Jorginho in the 22nd minute due to an injury. Following that, in 1998, Cafu competed in the second, in which Brazil came in second place. Third, he was named captain of Brazil in the 2002 World Cup, and he led the team to victory.
Cafu was a right-winger with exceptional speed, skill, and defensive and offensive power. He is recognized as one of the greatest full-backs of all time, one of the finest defenders ever to play in the Italian Serie A, and one of the greatest Brazilian and South American players of his generation, because of his speed and intense attacking runs down the right-wing. Cafu is certainly among the list of the top 10 best football defenders of all time.
8. Carles Puyol – Spain
Carles Puyol Saforcada is a retired professional footballer from Spain who spent his whole career with the Barcelona club. He mostly played as a central defender, although he could also play as a right-back or in either full-back position. He is widely considered as one of the best 100 defenders in football history, praised for his defensive abilities and leadership.
From August 2004 until his retirement in 2014, Puyol served as Barcelona’s captain, appearing in 593 competitive appearances for the club. He was the winner of 18 major club titles, including six La Liga crowns and three Champions League medals. Carles Puyol certainly deserves a shout on our list of the top 10 best football defenders of all time.
Puyol was recognized for his imposing presence in the air despite his small size, as well as his ability to read the game and his tremendous devotion and roughness as a defender, especially while pushing for the ball. He had good technique and was recognized for his calmness on the ball as well as his passing abilities while preferring safer or easier passes over riskier ones when playing out of the back.
7. Virgil van Dijk – Netherlands
Virgil van Dijk is a Dutch footballer who plays as a center-back for Liverpool in the Premier League and for the Netherlands national team. Van Dijk is regarded as one of the best central defenders in football history, with a reputation for power, leadership, and aerial prowess.
Let me tell you about an insane stat that proves that Virgil van Dijk is the best defender in the world right now and his defending abilities are second to none. Virgil van Dijk has been playing for almost FOUR entire years at Liverpool, and he’s NEVER lost a single Premier League match at Anfield since. 𝗡𝗘𝗩𝗘𝗥! The fact that the Dutchman has yet to lose in the Premier League at Anfield clearly distinguishes him as one of the top football defenders of all time.
In 2019, the world saw the tightest Balon d’Or winning margin. Virgil van Dijk came second in the Balon d’Or award race when he was beaten by the great Lionel Messi by just 7 points. It was the tightest Balon d’Or winning margin we have seen in a century. In France Football’s annual poll for the best player on the globe, Lionel Messi received 686 points, edging out Virgil van Dijk’s 679 points. Van Dijk is also the only defender ever to win the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year award.
With Liverpool, Virgil van Dijk has won numerous trophies including the Premier League and Champions League.
Van Dijk is a physically powerful right-footed center-back who normally plays on the left side of the central defense, though he can also play on the right. He has ridiculous speed, solid skill, and a terrific eye for goal, and he is an exceptional set-piece taker.
When Lionel Messi was asked why Van Dijk was impossible to beat in a 2019 interview with Marca, he replied:
“He is a defender who knows how to judge his timing and wait for the right moment to challenge or jockey [the attacker]. He is very fast and big, but he has a lot of agility for his height. He is fast because of its great stride, and he is impressive both in defense and attack because he scores lots of goals.”
So the question was, who is the best football defender in the world right now? It’s Virgil van Dijk.
6. Sergio Ramos – Spain
Sergio Ramos García is a Spanish footballer who now plays for Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain as well as the Spanish national team. He spent 16 years as a center-back at Real Madrid, which he captained for six of those years. He is widely considered as one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
Ramos has been nominated to the FIFPro World11 eleven times, which is a record for a defender and third all-time. He’s also been named to the UEFA Team of the Year nine times, the most by a defender and the third-most by any player. Ramos has also been chosen to the La Liga Team of the Season in 2015–16 and has been awarded La Liga’s Best Defender a record five times.
Sergio Ramos is the most capped player in the history of the Spanish national team and the eighth-highest goal scorer in the country’s history. With 131 wins for Spain, he also holds the record for most international victories.
Ramos is a physically powerful player who thrives in the air thanks to his height, eye for goal, and heading accuracy, giving him a set-piece danger. In addition, he is a capable and forceful tackler. He is blessed with pace and is comfortable on the ball, with high technical ability, as well as good distribution, passing, and crossing ability, in addition to his defensive talents and goal-scoring ability.
Regardless of his abilities, Ramos has certainly faced a disciplinary problem throughout his career. With 191 cards, Ramos holds the record for most cards in La Liga. His 171 yellow cards are more than Alberto Lopo, who previously held the record for most yellow cards in La Liga. The remaining 20 are red cards, making Ramos the league’s most sent-off player. His card total in La Liga exceeds that of any other player in the major European leagues, making him the most booked player in all of Europe’s top divisions.
5. Cesare Maldini – Italy
Cesare Maldini was a defender and manager in the Italian professional football league. Paolo Maldini is his son, and Daniel Maldini is his grandson. During his twelve seasons with AC Milan, he captained the team to four Serie A league titles and one European Cup. He was also a member of the Italian national team, gaining 14 caps and playing in the 1962 World Cup. He was the captain of both Milan and Italy’s teams.
Cesare Maldini is regarded as one of the best defenders of his generation, and he is certainly among the best 100 defenders in football history, as well as one of Italy’s all-time greats. He was also known for his leadership and consistency, as well as his discipline and class, both on and off the field; he earned just five yellow cards and was only sent off once during his career. Cesare Maldini is also among the top 10 best football defenders in the world.
4. Bobby Moore – England
Robert Frederick Chelsea Moore OBE, also known as Bobby Moore, was a former English football player who played as a central defender. He was the captain of England’s 1966 FIFA World Cup-winning squad and played for West Ham United for over 10 years. Moore is a member of the 20th Century World Team. Bobby Moore is a national team icon, and a bronze monument of him sits near Wembley Stadium’s entrance.
Bobby Moore is widely considered as one of the greatest defenders in football history, and Pelé referred to him as the best defender he had ever faced.
He took over as captain of the England national team at the age of 23 and excelled at it. In 1966, Moore led the squad to their first World Cup victory, maintaining clean sheets in all of their group games and defeating Eusebio’s Portugal in the semi-finals.
Moore was a calm center defender who distinguished himself from the stereotype of the hard-tackling, high-jumping defender by his ability to analyze the game and anticipate opponent movements. Being a legend of this game, Bobby Moore is one of the best 100 defenders in football history.
3. Franco Baresi – Italy
Franchino Baresi is a former player and manager who now coaches the Italian junior national team. He spent his whole 20-year career with Serie A club AC Milan, captaining the team for 15 seasons. He mostly played as a central defender in his career.
Three UEFA Champions League championships, six Serie A titles, four Supercoppa Italiana titles, two European Super Cups, and two Intercontinental Cups were all won by Franco Baresi with Milan.
Franco Baresi was named Milan’s Player of the Century in 1999. Baresi’s number 6 shirt was retired by Milan after his final season in 1997. At the FIFA centenary awards event in 2004, Pelé named him one of the 125 Greatest Living Footballers. Franco Baresi is recognized as one of the best 100 defenders in football history and he is also among the top 10 best football defenders of all time.
With Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, and Mauro Tassotti, Franco Baresi established one of the most powerful defensive groups in history at AC Milan. Despite his lack of significant height for a center-back, he was a complete and consistent defender who combined force with grace and was blessed with great physical and mental traits such as pace, strength, persistence, focus, and endurance, which made him efficient in the air.
2. Franz Beckenbauer – Germany
Franz Anton Beckenbauer is a retired German footballer who mostly played as a central defender. He is largely considered as one of the best players in the sport’s folklore and is among the best 100 defenders in football history.
Beckenbauer was voted European Footballer of the Year twice and participated in three FIFA World Cups and two European Championships for West Germany. He is one of only three persons, along with Mário Zagallo of Brazil and Didier Deschamps of France, to have won the World Cup both as a player and as a manager; he won it as captain in 1974 and again as a manager in 1990.
At club level, Beckenbauer won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1967 and three successive European Cups with Bayern Munich from 1974 to 1976. With the latter achievement, he became the first player in club history to win three European Cups as captain.
Because of his exquisite manner, domination, and leadership on the field, and partly because his first name “Franz” is reminiscent of Austrian rulers, he was dubbed Der Kaiser (“The Emperor”) throughout his playing career. Beckenbauer and his army of defenders played out of their skins to neutralize Cruyff’s ‘Total Football’ and emerge triumphant against one of the greatest Dutch onslaughts in history. They took home the prized title and cemented their place in football history. Franz Beckenbauer is a true legend of football and is among the greatest football defenders of all time.
1. Paolo Maldini – Italy
Paolo Cesare Maldini is a former Italian professional footballer who played for AC Milan and the Italy national team, principally as a left-back and center-back. He is widely recognized as one of the best defenders of all time, as well as one of the best football players of all time.
Paolo Maldini was nicknamed “Il Capitano” (“The Captain”) during his time at AC Milan. With 647 appearances in Serie A, Maldini maintained the record of having the most appearances in Serie A until 2020, when Gianluigi Buffon surpassed him. With 902 appearances in all competitions, he holds the record for most appearances for Milan and is one of just thirty-two players to have made over 1,000 appearances in his career.
With Milan, Paolo Maldini won five European Cups/UEFA Champions Leagues, seven Serie A championships, one Coppa Italia, five Supercoppa Italiana titles, four European/UEFA Super Cups, two Intercontinental Cups, and one FIFA Club World Cup. At the age of 39, Maldini received the UEFA Club Football Awards’ Best Defender award, as well as the Serie A Defender of the Year award in 2004. Milan retired Maldini’s number 3 shirt upon his retirement after the 2008–09 season.
In 1995, Paolo Maldini came as a runner-up to George Weah for FIFA World Player of the Year. In 1994 and 2003, he finished third in the Ballon d’Or. He was named in the FIFA World Cup Dream Team as a defender in 2002, and Pelé named him to the FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living players in 2004. In 2020, he was also included in the Ballon d’Or Dream Team. Maldini was also inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in December 2012.
As a left-back or wing-back, Paolo Maldini was known for his technical abilities, agility, sliding tackles, stamina, calmness, and rapid, energetic forward runs. He was a great crosser of the ball and a dangerous offensive threat throughout his career, scoring and assisting on multiple goals. As he lost speed in his later years, he was transferred to a center-back position, where he excelled at winning the ball using his experience, tactical abilities, positioning, and timing. Maldini was known for his marking, alertness, and ability to anticipate a threat from the opponent as a center-back.
With all that being said, we will answer the question of who is the best defender in football history? Paolo Maldini is the best defender in football history, due to his accomplishments and abilities to defend as an individual player.