To make sure you never miss out on your favourite NEW stories, we're happy to send you some reminders

Click 'OK' then 'Allow' to enable notifications

Not now
OK
Advert

The 10 Best Defenders In History, Ranked​

Published 
| Last updated 

The 10 Best Defenders In History, Ranked​

As the great philosopher Dwayne Johnson once said: “Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.” The men on this list followed that approach and reached the very pinnacle of their sport, winning a combined eight World Cups and 14 Champions League titles.

Here we pick our top 10 defenders of all time. We've used a number of achievements to quantify our rankings, as well as a player's overall contribution to the game in history. So who makes it into our top 10?

All stats come from www.transfermarkt.co.uk and are correct as of the publish date.

Other articles in this series:

Advert

10) Ruud Krol

Country: The Netherlands

Clubs: Ajax, Vancouver Whitecaps, Napoli, AS Cannes

Advert
  • 6 domestic titles
  • 3 Champions League titles (European Cup)
  • 0 European Championships
  • 0 World Cups

One of Dutch football’s all-time greats, Ruud Krol’s education in Ajax’s free-flowing system ensured he was versatile at the back and also able to push up into midfield when called for. Finished as a World Cup runner-up to the home side in both West Germany in 1974 and Argentina in 1978.

9) Javier Zanetti

Country: Argentina

Advert

Clubs: Talleres RE, CA Banfield, Inter Milan

  • 5 domestic titles
  • 1 Champions League title (European Cup)
  • 0 World Cups

Like the man at the top of this list, Argentinian Javier Zanetti arrived in Milan as a young man and stayed. And stayed. Then he retired and came back. Across town from Paolo Maldini, Zanetti is now vice president at Inter Milan but it was as Inter and Argentian’s right-back that he made his reputation. Holds the Champions League record for captain’s appearances (82) and is one of only 35 footballers to achieve 1,000-plus appearances for club and country.

8) Gaetano Scirea

Advert

Country: Italy

Clubs: Atalanta, Juventus

  • 7 domestic titles
  • 1 Champions League title (European Cup)
  • 0 European Championships
  • 1 World Cup

Winner of every UEFA club and domestic competition while at Juventus, Gaetano Scirea was the centre-back for Italy on their way to their World Cup victory at Espana 82. And the defender, who sadly died at the tender age of 36, inspired future generations. “When I broke the record for most appearances at Juve, it was only important for me because it was attached to Gaetano,” said Alessandro Del Piero.

Advert

7) Philipp Lahm

Country: Germany

Clubs: Bayern Munich

  • 8 domestic titles
  • 1 Champions League title (European Cup)
  • 0 European Championship
  • 1 World Cup

Equally adept on the left, Philipp Lahm is a rare modern-era one-club player, winning the Bundesliga eight times with Bayern Munich and achieving Champions League glory in 2012/13. With the national side, he was ever-present. “He has performed outstandingly in three World Cups – 2006, 2010 and 2014 – where he twice helped Germany to the semi-finals, then [in 2014] he lifted the trophy,” said German manager Joachim Low in 2015. “For me, he is the best player of the past decade.”

6) Paul Breitner

Country: Germany

Clubs: Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Eintracht Branschweig

  • 7 domestic titles
  • 1 Champions League titles (European Cup)
  • 1 European Championship
  • 1 World Cup

One of football’s great mavericks, Paul Breitner’s off-the-wall dress and ‘tache sense hid a bright footballing brain. That combined with his physicality and an eye for goal ensured he was a member of the formidable West Germany defence of the ’70s that won the 1974 World Cup and finished as runners-up eight years later. Only Breitner, Pelé, Vavá and Zinedine Zidane have ever scored in multiple World Cup finals. 

5) Franco Baresi

Country: Italy

Clubs: AC Milan

  • 6 domestic titles
  • 1 Champions League title (European Cup)
  • 0 European Championships
  • 1 World Cup

“He was special,” said Paolo Maldini about countryman Franco Baresi, who won the World Cup in 1982. “He was a short, skinny guy but so strong. Let me tell you – when he hit you with a tackle… He wasn’t a big speaker, the way he played, the way he trained was an example. For me, he was the role model. He was a reference. He was also very good with the ball.”

4) Cafu

Country: Brazil

Clubs: Sao Paulo, Real Zaragoza, Juventude, Palmeiras, AS Roma, AC Milan, Garforth Town

  • 5 domestic titles
  • 1 Champions League titles (European Cup)
  • 2 Copa Americas
  • 2 World Cups

Two-time World Cup-winner Cafu was a dynamic right-back as comfortable on the ball going forward as he was in reverse in defence. He was also as great a man as he was a footballer, just ask Luiz Felipe Scolari: “If there is one man who has made sacrifices and lent himself to the cause of the Brazil team, this man is Cafu. He has been my commander on the field. He is a great example of dedication and humility.”

3) Bobby Moore

Country: England

Clubs: West Ham United, Fulham, Herning Fremad, Seattle Sounders

  • 0 domestic titles
  • 0 Champions League titles (European Cup)
  • 0 European Championships
  • 1 World Cup

The late Celtic and Scotland manager Jock Stein once said of the World Cup-winning England captain: "There should be a law against him. He knows what's happening 20 minutes before everyone else." That anticipation saw him excel as a defender for West Ham for 16 seasons and 544 appearances as well as 108 England caps, including that historic day at Wembley on 30 July 1966. 

2) Franz Beckenbauer

Country: Germany

Clubs: Bayern Munich, NY Cosmos, Hamburg

  • 8 domestic titles
  • 0 Champions League titles (European Cup)
  • 1 European Championship
  • 1 World Cup

Franz Beckenbauer became the first defender to ever win the Ballon D’or in 1972, then promptly became the second four years later. “Class personified. Calmness, pace and the ability to effortlessly move into midfield and attack,” said Glenn Hoddle, of Der Kaiser. “He had a picture of every player on the pitch. He inspired me as a kid, when I saw him play a pass with the inside or then the outside of his foot. The mark of a great player is the ability to be just as effective playing through different eras.”

1) Paolo Maldini

Country: Italy

Clubs: AC Milan

  • 7 domestic titles
  • 5 Champions League titles (European Cup)
  • 0 European Championships
  • 0 World Cups

Left-back, sweeper, centre-back… Paolo Maldini did it with Italian style <i>and</i> substance at all the positions he played for club and country. And he did it all with a strut that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Milan catwalks. He spent a quarter of a century starring for AC Milan and now serves as technical director for his former club, where he’s charged with finding the next generation of greats.

Featured Image Credit: PA Images

Topics: Paolo Maldini, Franz Beckenbauer, Cafu

Colin Hubbuck
More like this
Advert
Advert
Advert

Chosen for YouChosen for You

Boxing

Deontay Wilder set for comeback fight in New York in October, one year after his trilogy defeat to Tyson Fury

20 minutes ago

Most Read StoriesMost Read

Gabby Agbonlahor claims he would rather have Marko Arnautovic at Manchester United than Jadon Sancho

5 hours ago