The 10 Best Central Defenders in Football History

Best Central Defenders in Football History

Best Central Defenders In Football History: Here are the Top 10 Best Center-Backs in history.

In a game that revolves around goals, it is often the attackers who monopolize the attention, eclipsing the efforts of their defensive counterparts. Victories are often awarded to a team for their offensive efforts, ignoring the importance of players doing the dirty work defensively.

Center-backs are often underestimated in football, especially in the eyes of supporters. But for coaches, they are as essential as their offensive options. They are also often given the captain’s armband because they have the maturity that their teammates lack.

The 10 Best Central Defenders in Football History:

Here is our list of the best center-backs of all time. A list that includes players from different eras, all legends for their clubs or their countries.

10. Carles Puyol:

The Spaniard is one of the greatest players to ever wear the FC Barcelona shirt. Within the team led by Pep Guardiola, Puyol quickly rose to the challenge. He has established himself as an essential player, both for his club and for his country. The defender is also part of our ranking of the best Spanish players of all time.

With a constant aerial presence and an impressive tackling and recovery ability, Puyol is considered one of the smartest and most astute players of his generation. Rightly named captain of FC Barcelona, ​​he has played 589 club and national matches.




UEFA Team of the Year2002-05-06-08-09-10
UEFA Club Best Defender2006
FIFA/FIFPro World XI2007-08-10
UEFA European Team of the Tournament2008
FIFA World Cup Dream Team2010
BBVA Fair Play award2011–12
UEFA Ultimate Team of the Year2015
World XI21st Century
UEFA Euro All-time XI2016
Golden Foot2016,
One Club Man Award2018

9. Ronald Koeman:

Ronald Koeman enjoyed an illustrious playing career in the 80s and 90s. He is one of the key elements of an extremely strong Dutch team. He can also be found in our ranking of the best Dutch players in history. He is also a legend of Ajax Amsterdam and FC Barcelona.

If you don’t equate scoring exploits with a defender, Koeman has proven that the role of a center-back is not just to help defense, but also to bring change in the final third. He scored 239 goals in 685 games during his club career, making him one of the most prolific center-backs in history.




Dutch Footballer of the Year1987, 1988
UEFA European Team of the Tournament1988
UEFA Champions League top scorer1993–94
UEFA Golden Jubilee PollNo. 26

8. Lothar Matthäus:

Lothar Matthäus is a legend of Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. In 1990, he won the World Cup with Germany and received the Golden Ball the same year. Only the Champions League escaped him twice in the final (1987, 1999).

He is also part of a select group of players who have participated in five World Cups, from 1982 to 1998. In his autobiography, Diego Maradona defined Matthäus as the best rival he has ever had, especially for his athleticism. and his will.




Ballon d’Or Dream Team2020
Bayern Munich All-time XI
Inter Milan Hall of Fame2018
IFFHS Legends
Golden Foot legends award2012
FIFA 100
FIFA XI1996, 1997, 2001
Onze de bronze1991
Onze d’Or2016
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team2016, as football legend
FIFA World Cup Silver Ball2018
FIFA World Player of the Year
IFFHS World’s Best Player
Ballon d’Or1990

7. Fabio Cannavaro:

Fabio Cannavaro was not only an exceptional defender, but also an equally formidable leader. He has always been a source of inspiration for the young people who admired him. His quality on the ball and his willingness to be one step ahead of the opponent made up for his small size.

The Italian defender has gone through several of the best European clubs in history , including Inter, Juventus and Real Madrid. He greatly contributed to Italy’s victory at the 2006 World Cup. Cannavaro will also be rewarded with the title of world and European player of the season, but above all by receiving the Golden Ball the same year.




UEFA Euro Team of the Tournament2000
FIFA World Player of the Year2006
Ballon d’Or2006
FIFA World Cup Silver Ball2006
FIFA World Cup Team of the Tournament2006
World Soccer Player of the Year2006
Serie A Footballer of the Year2006
Serie A Italian Footballer of the Year2006
Serie A Defender of the Year2005
UEFA Team of the Year2006
ESM Team of the Year2004–05
FIFPro World XI2006, 2007
ESPN World Team of the Decade2009
Italian Football Hall of Fame2014
Juventus Greatest XI of All Time2017

6. Daniel Passarella:

Argentina legend Daniel Passarella, like Ronald Koeman, was a defender who loved to score. In 556 games throughout his illustrious career, the former Argentina international has scored 165 goals. Always dangerous in the air and unwavering on the pitch, Passarella possessed all the attributes of a top center-back.

After winning numerous titles with River Plate, Passarella chose to try her luck on the European stage. He will play 6 seasons in Italy for Fiorentina and Inter Milan, before returning to Argentina. Passarella is also part of our ranking of the best Argentinian players in history.




Footballer of the Year of Argentina1976
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team1978
FIFA 1002004
Golden Foot Legends Award2015
AFA Team of All Time2015
World Soccer100 Greatest Footballers
Fiorentina All-time XI

5. Gaetano Scirea:

Gaetano Scirea was part of the Juventus squad in the 1980s. Even today, purists consider him one of the greatest center-backs Italy has ever produced. He leads the rankings with legendary figures like Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini.

The Juventus legend was a very elegant defender, who rarely made mistakes. A true professional in every sense of the word, Scirea has risen from Juventus academy to legendary status at his club. He also did a phenomenal job for the national team, winning the World Cup in 1982.




UEFA European Team of the Tournament1980
Italian Football Hall of Fame2011
Juventus Greatest XI of All Time2017

4. Franco Baresi:

At the top of the list of the greatest center-backs in history, the legendary Franco Baresi. Leading AC Milan for several years alongside Paolo Maldini, Baresi quickly established himself as a world-class center-back.

Despite the loss of both his parents at the age of 16, Baresi’s unwavering love for football drove him to pursue his dreams and become a professional footballer for the Rossoneri. Until the end of his career, he was the man of one club and he never dreamed of moving away from the team that was so close to his heart.

With a World Cup won in 1982, Baresi is one of the best Italian players of all time . To pay tribute to him for his phenomenal career at the San Siro, AC Milan have decided to retire the number 6 shirt he made famous by wearing it for nearly two decades.




Ballon d’Or1989
Coppa Italia top scorer1989–90
Guerin d’Oro1989–90
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team1990
A.C. Milan Player of the Century1999
AIC Serie A Player of the Century2000
FIFA 1002004
Golden Foot2012
Italian Football Hall of Fame2013
Ballon d’Or Dream Team2020

3. Bobby Moore:

The former West Ham United defender appears to have a special connection to English football fans. Bobby Moore is, in fact, the only person in history to have been England captain in a 1966 World Cup triumph.

Before he got his hands on the trophy, Moore had already started to get his hands on it. recognized on the national circuit, having been named Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association for his fantastic achievements with West Ham in 1964. He went on to become one of the best English players in history .

Despite being diagnosed with cancer two years before winning the World Cup, Moore never let his game take a hit. He took care of a lot of personal issues off the pitch, but once he got past them there were no obstacles in the way of the greatest defender in English history.




FWA Footballer of the Year1964
West Ham Player of the Year1961, 1963, 1968, 1970
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team1966
BBC Sports Personality of the Year1966
UEFA Euro Team of the Tournament1968
World Soccer World XI1968, 1969
FIFA World Cup All-Time Team1994
World Team of the 20th Century1998
PFA Player of the Century2007
PFA Team of the Century1907 to 2007
Team of the Century1907–1976
World Soccer Greatest XI of All Time2013
100 Greatest Britons2002

2. Paolo Maldini:

In a nation renowned for its defensive skills, very few defenders have managed to match the undisputed talent of Paolo Maldini. The Italian has been one of the pillars of AC Milan and has achieved great things in his professional career.

Maldini has represented Milan 902 times, an all-time high. He won 24 titles or cups with his club, including 5 Champions Leagues and 7 Championships. Which makes it an exceptionally rich career in terms of trophies.

The former AC Milan defender was extremely versatile and his timing on his tackles was impeccable. With a good sense of position and a good vision for the game, Maldini could play in his usual position as a center-back, but he was also one of the best full-backs of all time . For many, he is the greatest defender in football history.




Bravo Award1989
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team1990, 1994
World Soccer Player of the Year1994
UNICEF European Footballer of the Season1993–94
ESM Team of the Year1994–95, 1995–96, 1999–00, 2002–03
FIFA World Player of the Year1995
FIFA World Cup Dream Team2002
UEFA Team of the Year2003, 2005
UEFA President’s Award2003
Serie A Defender of the Year2004
UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll
FIFA FIFPro World XI2005
UEFA Club Defender of the Year2007
FIFA Order of Merit2008
Marca Leyenda2009
ESPN World Team of the Decade2009
Italian Football Hall of Fame2012
World Soccer Greatest XI of all time2013
One Club Man Award2016
A.C. Milan Hall of Fame
Ballon d’Or Dream Team2020

1. Franz Beckenbauer:

If it wasn’t for Maldini, no other defender in history deserves the title of greatest center-back of all time more than Franz Beckenbauer. The Bayern Munich legend was a leader, a role model, and above all a complete footballer.

Initially a midfielder due to his composure and his ability to dictate the game in depth, Beckenbauer has gradually converted into Libero. This gave birth to a new kind of defense in the world of football.

Twice Golden Ball in 1972 and 1976, Beckenbauer played 103 appearances for West Germany. He is one of the best German players in history and has taken part in three World Cups. He was also instrumental in his team’s triumph at the 1974 World Cup and achieved the same feat as a coach sixteen years later.

If his reputation has been tarnished in recent times due to allegations of corruption, the fact remains that “Der Kaiser” is a player whose abilities are not in question. He has already made history as the greatest center-back of all time.




Ballon d’Or1972, 1976
Footballer of the Year (Germany)1966, 1968, 1974, 1976
FIFA World Cup Best Young Player Award1966
FIFA World Cup Bronze Boot1966
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team1966, 1970, 1974
FIFA World Cup Silver Ball1974
NASL Most Valuable Player Award1977
FIFA Order of Merit1984
FIFA World Cup All-Time Team1994
UEFA Euro Team of the Tournament1972, 1976
World Team of the 20th Century1998
FIFA World Cup Dream Team2002
FIFA 1002004
Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award2007
IFFHS Universal Genius of World Football2007
Golden Foot2010
Marca Leyenda2012
FIFA Presidential Award2012
UEFA President’s Award2012
World Soccer Greatest XI of all time2013
UEFA Euro All-time XI2016
IFFHS Best European Player1956–1990
IFFHS Legends
Bayern Munich All-time XI
Ballon d’Or Dream Team2020
11Leyendas Jornal AS2021

Honorable Mentions:

  • Sergio Ramos: A true legend of Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos is the only player on this list to be still active. Leader and boss of Madrid’s defense, he is one of the best central defenders of our time. His record is impressive, including a World Cup and 2 Euros with Spain, as well as 4 Champions League and 5 La Liga titles with Real.
  • Alessandro Nesta: Nesta is one of those great Italian defenders who have marked the history of football. He was a physical and powerful defender, but also very agile on the ball and very good on the restart. Passed by Lazio and AC Milan, he won Serie A 3 times and the Champion’s League twice with the Lombard club. Called 78 times for the national team, he was also world champion in 2006 with Italy.
  • José Santamaría: Santamaría is often considered the best Uruguayan defender in history. After having shone in his native country with the Nacional, he joined Real Madrid under Di Stéfano. With the Casa Blanca, he won 6 championships but above all 4 times the Champions League, including 3 in a row between 1958 and 1960.


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