Despite having great players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or Neymar Jr., who are always on everyone’s lips due to their skills and crazy dribbling, football has always had other players who are still spectacular even though they aren’t in the offense of their teams; instead, they are on the opposite side of the field.
Yes, we’re talking about defenders and all the good stuff we can see from them in the game. Defense is very important in football nowadays, as you can tell by clubs like Liverpool spending almost €80 million in a center-back.
Throughout history we have witnessed very good defenders, some of them matching up with other great assets, creating an impenetrable wall that led teams to a lot of championships. Right now we have several good prospects that look set to take the spotlight, but those youngsters wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the legends we saw play in the past.
Many people might wonder who is the GOAT when it comes to defenders, but don’t worry, we got you covered. Here are the ten best football defenders in history.
Honorable Mention: Mauro Ramos
The late Brazilian defender is considered one of the greatest in history despite having played for the last time over 50 years ago. Ramos always showed his talents on the pitch ever since he was a youngster. He won several trophies during his career, including two World Cups with Brazil (1958, 1962) and a South American Championship in 1949.
Ramos used to play with a clean and elegant style, is considered a classic defender in South American football. He was captain of that famous Pele’s Santos and Brazil national team, succeeding long-time idol Bellini.
10. Carles Puyol
This one might be easier to remember for most people since Carles Puyol has been one of the best defenders of our times. The Catalan is an institution in Barcelona, as he was the leader of the team for a long time, teaching everybody how to play good defense and be a marvelous leader both inside and outside the pitch.
I’m not wrong if I say Puyol served as an inspiration for players like Mathijs de Ligt and all the good young defenders we can see at this moment. He wasn’t exactly the most skilled player in the world, but Carles always managed to give it all on the field, playing every ball like it was the last and even appearing the right moments at the offense –proof of that is the goal that sent Spain to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
9. Roberto Carlos
Even if you don’t know much about football, you have to know who this man is. Roberto Carlos is a former Brazilian left-back who played at a great level always; albeit he was more skillful at the offense, he was pretty decent in the defense. Having incredible speed and power, he could go from coast to coast in just a matter of seconds with the ball in his feet. Roberto Carlos also had a very powerful left leg that shock the world more than once, even defying laws of physics. There is no doubt that this is one of the most talented defenders that football has seen.
The Roberto Carlos racked up a lot of good teams to his curriculum, including Brazilian giants Palmeiras, Internazionale Milan and Real Madrid, as well as several individual awards like UEFA Club Defender of the year (2002, 2003), UEFA Team of the Year (2002, 2003) and he was even able to be a runner-up for the Ballon d'Or back in 2002.
8. Giacinto Facchetti
You are about to see plenty of Italian names in this list and what better way to start than with the man who served as inspiration for the other defenders to come. Giacinto Facchetti is without any hesitation one of the best defenders not only in Europe but in the world. The technique, pace, intelligence, and endurance are just a couple of reasons why this guy was such a big deal during his playing days.
He had an extremely easy to go from defense to attack, getting praised for those feats and the similarities with the “Kaiser” Franz Beckenbauer. Facchetti, alongside with fellow center-back Tarcisio Burgnich created one of the best duos of defenders in Inter and Italian national team’s catenaccio system.
7. Bobby Moore
Bobby Moore, still one of the best defenders in England and Europe until today, despite not being the fastest or most skillful. Moore had a terrific intelligence on the field, he knew where to be and at what time besides of having a perfect vision of the game.
He always had an advantage over their rivals by using his virtues to the fullest, making history that lasts until today. Curiously, he never played for one of England’s top six clubs; nevertheless, he was able to win the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup Winner’s cup with West Ham United as well as the FIFA World Cup with England national side in 1966.
6. Djalma Santos
If you’re looking for a good full-back, Brazil is your place. The South American country has delivered plenty of these players with great quality. Proof of that is Djalma Santos, a right-wing with extreme ease to go and play attack every time he had the chance. Santos played in four World Cups, winning two of them.
He is one of only three players in history to be included in three FIFA World Cup All-Star teams between 1954, 1958 and 1962 alongside with German legends Franz Beckenbauer and Phillip Lahm. Santos is the perfect definition of what a right-wing is supposed to be: great at defense and a good supporter to the attack.
Remember what we said about Brazil and its wing-backs? Well, Cafu is here to confirm that. Marcos Evangelista de Morais, a.k.a. Cafu, is a former Brazilian right-wing who racked up plenty of awards both collectively and individually speaking. For instance, Cafu is the most internationally capped in Brazilian national team history with 142 international appearances. He is also the only player in history to ever play in three consecutive World Cup finals (1994, 1998 and 2002), winning the first and the third ones.
Cafu is considered one of the best full-backs in history and one of the best Brazilian footballers of all time. He was more offensive-minded than anything, with great stamina, ultra-fast, and provider of great crosses; Cafu could brag about his technique, intelligence and more attributes that made him a very successful player and one of the most-fun-to-watch during his glory days.
4. Alessandro Nesta
If Brazil is great giving wing-backs to the world, Italia is wonderful in delivering center-backs. Here comes Alessandro Nesta, a defender who could play very elegant and fancy but didn’t hesitate to go fight for a ball against any rival. Nesta formed one of the best center-backs duos in recent history with another great defender that took Milan to play several Champions League finals, win league trophies and destroy rivals week after week.
As stated before, Nesta was known for his elegance and prolixity at the time of stealing and distributing the ball but at the same time, he could cover rival forwards as the fiercest animal, not letting them take a breath and becoming the worst nightmare for any striker. Throughout his career, he was awarded as Serie A Defender of the Year, selected into UEFA Team of the Year and FIFPro World XI more than once.
3. Franz Beckenbauer
Franz Beckenbauer is undoubtedly one of the best and most important players in football history. He is the only defender in the Fantastic Four club –Diego Maradona, Pele and Johann Cruyff-, as he caused a revolution during his days as a footballer. Der Kaiser (The Emperor) started his career as a defensive midfielder, but due to his facility to move all around the field, he could be used almost anywhere. Thanks to that he created the sweeper position, the one that is so famous nowadays.
Beckenbauer has been rewarded several times, even making it to the top 3 of best footballers in history. He is one of two defenders to win the Ballon D’Or, winning the prize twice. During that time he won European Cups three times in a row, being a leader and an idol for Bayern Munich and his national team.
2. Franco Baresi
Franco Baresi is the best definition of defending for anybody who knows about football. Imagine how good he was that even today he’s still considered one of the greatest in his position. Starting his career as a young prospect in AC Milan academy, Baresi made his professional debut with only 17 years.
Ever since that, Franco lived the best of his life, playing his entire 20-year career with the Rossoneri, being the captain of the Italian side for 15 years. With Milan, he won more than 15 titles, earning the right to be nominated for the Ballon D’Or (1989), winning the Serie A Player of the Year (1989-90) among other prizes. Baresi didn’t make history in football; he IS a history of football and will always be remembered as one of the greatest.
1. Paolo Maldini
We’re finally here, in front of the best defender of all times. Italian legend Paolo Maldini is considered by many as the best in his position thanks to his performances throughout 24 years of career with Milan. This is the biggest reference when you talk about centre-backs, leadership, and respect. During his tenure with Milan, Paolo got to win 26 titles, including the Champions League, Serie A and more.
Maldini was elegant, classy and could overtake any rival anytime. He was able to play with several players in this list such as Cafu, Nesta, and Baresi, creating great associations during all these eras. He began to play as a wing-back, becoming a huge threat for any rival thanks to his crosses, his speed, and ability. Despite losing some of his speed as the years came by, he was moved to the center-back position, where he demonstrated that quality doesn’t know about age. Paolo Maldini proved why he is the greatest defender of all time.