Top 10 Defensive Midfielders of All Time

Defensive Midfielders of All Time

Defensive Midfielders of all Time: Here Is our Top 10 Best Defensive Midfielders in History.

Defensive midfielders link defense to attack. They break the game of the opposition and serve as cover in front of their defense, but are also often the starting point for raises.

Usually in the shadow of more offensive or more creative players, they are nevertheless the engine of a team. Their work not only makes it possible to stop the progress of opponents, but also to create favorable counter situations.

Physical power, commitment, recovery, vision for the game and anticipation are the key elements of a good defensive midfielder. The players on this list are those who have best developed these skills to become real nightmares for opposing attackers.

Ranking of the Best Defensive Midfielders of all Time:

Discover without further delay our TOP 10 of the best defensive midfielders of all time.

10. Dunga:

Dunga was a powerful defensive midfielder, difficult to pass, with a good ability to read the game and anticipate the passes or movements of opponents. He did not have the technical quality of traditional Brazilian circles, but stood out for his determination and efficiency.

He was best known for his role as captain in the Brazilian team that won the 1994 World Cup. In club, Dunga went through different Brazilian teams, Fiorentina and Stuttgart, but never won a major title. The Brazilian player is one of the best number 6 in football history.




FIFA World Cup All-Star Team1994, 1998
League Most Valuable Player1997
J. League Best Eleven1997, 1998
FIFA XI1997, 1998, 1999, 2000
Golden Foot2010

9. Edgar Davids:

Edgar Davids was one of the most recognizable players of his generation. As much thanks to his protective glasses as to his very physical and creative game. He quickly gained a reputation as a typical defensive midfielder. His tenacity was such that he was nicknamed “The Pitbull” by Ajax manager Louis van Gaal.

During a career rich in trophies, Davids won three Eredivisie titles, two Dutch Cups, a Champions League with Ajax Amsterdam. With Juventus, he also won three Serie A titles and an Italian Cup. Internationally, he has 74 caps for the Netherlands.


Career GamesGoals


UEFA European Team of the Tournament2000
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team1998
FIFA 100

8. Patrick Viera:

Nicknamed “The Octopus” because of his size and his talents for recovery, Partick Viera was one of the best defensive midfielders of the 2000s. Very physical and never stingy with effort, he established himself as a true leader and carried the captain’s armband on almost every team he plays.

Viera is best known with Arsenal, with whom he won 4 FA Cups and 3 Premier League titles, including a season without a single defeat. In Italy, he won 3 Serie A with Inter Milan before ending his career at Manchester City. With the France team, he will participate in particular in victories at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.


Career GamesGoals


Division 1 Rookie of the Year1995
UEFA European Team of the Tournament2000
FIFA Confederations Cup Silver Ball2001
FIFA World Cup All-star team2006
Premier League Player of the Season2000–01
UEFA Team of the Year2001
French Player of the Year2001
FIFA 100
Sports Illustrated Team of the Decade2009
English Football Hall of Fame2014
Golden Foot Legends Award2019

7. Obdulio Varela:

Obdulio Varela is a true legend in Uruguay. He was the captain of the national team at the 1950 World Cup, where Uruguay surprised by winning the competition in the final at the Maracanã stadium against the great Brazil.

Varela was a tough, solid and very physical midfielder who could also dictate the game. He will spend his entire career with 2 clubs in the Uruguayan championship, Montevideo Wanderers and CA Peñarol. It was with Peñarol that he won the national championship 6 times, between 1944 and 1954.


Career GamesGoals


FIFA World Cup winner1950
Copa América winner1942
Copa Baron de Rio Branco winner1940, 1946, 1948
Copa Escobar Gerona winner1943

6. Didier Deschamp:

Didier Deschamps was nicknamed the “Water Carrier” by Cantona. Every team needs a player who does the dirty work of scavenging, and Deschamps knew how to do it perfectly. He was a player who never let go, always willful with a strong personality. This is precisely what led him to be captain of the France team.

Deschamps is one of the most capped French players of all time, with 103 caps. He added to his record a World Cup and a Euro with the blues. Didier Deschamps is also part of our Top 10 of the best French players in history . During his club career, he notably won two Ligue 1, three Serie A, and 2 Champions League, with Marseille and Juventus de Turin.


Career GamesGoals


Division 1 Rookie of the Year1989
French Player of the Year1996
UEFA European Team of the Tournament1996
FIFA 1002004
Golden Foot Award Legends2018

5. Johan Neeskens:

Neeskens played the supporting role for Johan Cruyff in the glorious Dutch teams of 1974 and 1978. He is considered one of the most complete defensive midfielders in history, his ability to recover balls and his stamina, while being very precise in his reminders.

At club level, he won two Eredivisie titles, three Dutch Cups and above all three consecutive Champions League with Ajax Amsterdam, which is one of the best European clubs in history . Then transferred to FC Barcelona, ​​he won a Copa Del Rey and a European Cup winners’ Cup with the Catalans.


Career GamesGoals


FIFA World Cup Silver Boot1974
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team1974
IOC European Footballer of the Season1971/72
FIFA 1001997, 1998, 1999, 2000
Ballon d’Or Dream Team (Bronze)2020

4. Roy Keane:

Known for being a little too aggressive at times, Roy Keane was nonetheless an exceptional player. His extraordinary rage to win, his murderous tackles and his legendary duels with Patrick Viera have made him a true legend at Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson even acknowledging him as the best player he has ever coached.

Roy Keane will spend the majority of his career with Le Mans, much of it as Captain. With Manchester, he won 7 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cup titles and a Champions League in 1999. Under the Irish colors, he played 67 matches and scored 9 goals. All of this makes Roy Keane one of the best defensive midfielders in history.


Career GamesGoals


PFA Team of the Century1907–2007
Team of the Century1997–2007
Premier League Player of the Month1998, 1999
Overall Team of the Century
RTÉ Sports Person of the Year1999
FWA Footballer of the Year2000
PFA Players’ Player of the Year2000
ESM Team of the Year1999–2000
Premier League 10 Seasons Awards1992–93 to 2001–02
Overseas Team of the Decade
English Football Hall of Fame2004
Premier League 20 Seasons Awards1992–93 to 2011–12
Premier League Hall of Fame2021

3. Claude Makélélé:

The third Frenchman on this list, Claude Makélélé, has long been underestimated. Extremely secure for the defenses, he was a master in the art of recovery and interceptions. No extraordinary or superfluous technical gesture, but it was remarkably efficient.

It was at Chelsea that everyone saw what a quality player he was. In many ways, he was the perfect defensive midfielder, simply winning the ball and making a short pass to keep possession. He was so successful in this position that it is now known as “Makélélé Role”.

During his career, Makélélé won a Ligue 1 title with Nantes, two La Liga titles and a Champions League with Real, and two Premier League titles and an FA Cup with Chelsea. He played 71 matches for France, including the 2006 World Cup final.


Career GamesGoals


FIFPro World XI2005
Chelsea Players’ Player of the Year2006
ESPN World Team of the Decade2009
UNFP Trophée d’honneur2010

2. Frank Rijkaard:

Frank Rijkaard is without a doubt one of the best defensive midfielders of all time. Physically powerful and very good recuperator, he did not hesitate to participate in the offensive game of his team. He was also included on Pelé’s FIFA 100 list.

Rijkaard helped the Dutch win the Euro 88 title, the country’s first and only major title, after all the disappointing results they have had in the past. Together with Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten, he formed a trio that dominated European football of the late 80s. Rijkaard is also part of our ranking of the best Dutch players of all time .

In Club, he mainly plays for Ajax Amsterdam and AC Milan and has an impressive track record. At AC Milan, he won 2 Serie A titles and 2 times the Champions League. With Ajax, he is 5 times champion of the Netherlands, 3 National Cups and a Champions League, won in the final against… AC Milan.


Career GamesGoals


Dutch Golden Shoe1994, 1998
UEFA European Team of the Tournament1997
Ballon d’Or – Third place1997, 1998
Serie A Best foreign player1997, 1998, 1999, 2000
Serie A Footballer of the Year2010
ESM Team of the Year1994–95
FIFA 100
UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll
UEFA President’s Award2005
A.C. Milan Hall of Fame
World Soccer100 Greatest Footballers of All Time
Ballon d’Or Dream Team (Silver)2020

1. Lothar Matthäus:

Lothar Matthäus is arguably the best defensive midfielder in football history. He is a real leader of a man, physically powerful with a good vision of the game and an iron will. Matthäus also stands out for his powerful ball strike and set-piece skills.

He played a record number of 5 World Cups, and helped the German team to win Euro 1980 and especially the 1990 World Cup as captain. Lothas Matthäus also received the Golden Ball the same year. Matthäus played most of his career as a defensive midfielder, but he could also be a libero. He is also part of our TOP 10 of the best central defenders.

Legend of both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, he won 7 Bundesliga and 3 German Cups with the Bavarians, as well as a Serie A with Inter. He added 2 UEFA Cups to his record, one with each club, but failed twice in the Champions League final, the only trophy that escaped him.


Career GamesGoals


Ballon d’Or1990
IFFHS World’s Best Player1990
World Soccer Awards Player of the Year1990
FIFA World Player of the Year1991
FIFA World Cup Silver Ball1990
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team1990
UEFA European of the Tournament1988
Onze d’Or1990
Onze de bronze1991
Footballer of the Year (Germany)1990, 1999
Goal of the Year (Germany)1990, 1992
Pirata d’Oro1991
FIFA XI1996, 1997, 2001
FIFA 100
Golden Foot legends award2012
IFFHS Legends
Inter Milan Hall of Fame2018
Ballon d’Or Dream Team2020

Honorable Mentions:

  • Fernando Redondo: Redondo could also have been part of this ranking of the best defensive midfielders in history. He is a player with incredible technical ease, also known for his quality of recovery. Fernando Redondo was especially noticed during his time at Real Madrid, the club with which he won the Champions League twice.
  • Sergio Busquets: Busquets is one of the most talented players of his generation. It is a very calm environment and precise in his passes thanks to his excellent vision of the game. The Catalan has won everything with FC Barcelona, ​​including 8 times in La Liga and 3 times in the Champions League. Sergio Busquets was also crowned world champion with Spain, before winning the Euro two years later.
  • Graeme Souness: Souness is certainly one of the best Scottish players in history. Very combative and physical, he was a tough player, but also very talented. Graeme went through many European clubs, including Tottenham and Glasgow Rangers, but it was with Liverpool that he had his greatest success. In 6 seasons with the Reds, he won the championship 5 times and the Champions League 3 times.


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