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The 10 Best Defenders In Premier League History, Ranked​

Colin Hubbuck

| Last updated 

The 10 Best Defenders In Premier League History, Ranked​

As the months tick down on the 29th Premier League season, it’s time to celebrate the greatest ever defenders the league has ever seen. The best stoppers possess a range of different qualities, including toughness, leadership, anticipation and, when necessary, intimidation. The players on the list below have faced all-comers in the world’s most competitive league and emerged on the other side.

Here we pick our top 10 Premier League defenders of all time. We've used a number of stats from last season 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 and are correct as of the publish date.

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10) Nemanja Vidic

Premier League clubs: Manchester United

  • 211 appearances
  • 15 goals
  • 95 clean sheets

Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic won Premier League titles in five of his nine seasons in England, but that was by no means a foregone conclusion when he arrived at Old Trafford in 2005 from Spartak Moscow. “He was skinny and relatively easy to push off the ball,” said former teammate Paul Scholes. “He took a battering in his first few weeks at the club – in training as well as matches. He turned himself into a big, strong centre-half who was capable of knocking strikers out of the way. He always had a great ability to head the ball but allied with his strength he became unbeatable in the air.”

9) Lee Dixon

Premier League clubs: Arsenal

  • 305 appearances
  • 9 goals
  • 114 clean sheets

Lee Dixon was part of a back four that excelled when managed by George Graham and as part of Arsene Wenger’s Premier League revolution. In 10 seasons with Lee Dixon on the right of defence, the Gunners conceded more than 38 goals only twice. During the 1998/99 season, Dixon, Tony Adams Martin Keown, Nigel Winterburn, and David Seaman between the posts, let in a record-low 17 goals. That mark has only been surpassed once since, by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2004/05 (15 goals).

8) Gary Neville

Premier League clubs: Manchester United

  • 400 appearances
  • 5 goals
  • 148 clean sheets

Right-back Gary Neville kept 148 clean sheets during his Premier League career, winning eight Premiership titles. “Gary was the best English right-back of his generation,” said his former boss Sir Alex Ferguson. “He is an example to any young professional; hard-working, loyal and intelligent.” According to opposing striker and England teammate, Alan Shearer: “He didn’t mind getting forward but he enjoyed defending and was very good at it. He was a very good defender and an organiser.”

7) Vincent Kompany

Premier League clubs: Manchester City

  • 265 appearances
  • 18 goals
  • 94 clean sheets

A colossal influence and leader during his career at Manchester City, which yielded four Premier League titles under three managers, Vincent Kompany is among the finest investments the Sky Blues have made. Sky Sports pundit Micah Richards, who played alongside the Belgian for seven seasons, calls Kompany “one of City’s best ever defenders”. 

6) Ashley Cole

Premier League clubs: Arsenal, Chelsea

  • 385 appearances
  • 15 goals
  • 148 clean sheets

The sixth-highest capped England player, Ashley Cole (107) ended his career one behind England legend Bobby Moore and one ahead of England legend Bobby Charlton but also won Premier League titles with two teams. Said Frank Lampard, his international and club teammate at Chelsea: “Two games stick out for me: one was against Ronaldo for England – Ash didn’t give him a kick – and against Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League when we got to the final. In the first leg particularly, no-one could get past Ash.”

5) Virgil van Dijk

Premier League clubs: Southampton, Liverpool

  • 177 appearances
  • 15 goals
  • 70 clean sheets

The rock upon which Liverpool’s resurgence was built, after Virgil van Dijk’s arrival, the Reds reached consecutive Champions League finals, winning one, and lifted their first top-division title for 30 years. Former Anfield defender and Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher said: “I think van Dijk has got the potential to go down alongside Alan Hansen if you’re talking about Liverpool’s best ever teams, that’s how big a difference that player has made.”

4) Sol Campbell

Premier League clubs: Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Portsmouth, Newcastle United

  • 503 appearances
  • 20 goals
  • 154 clean sheets

Six feet and two inches of solid granite, Sol Campbell was a brick wall for four Premier League clubs and England. "Sol had an absolute physical presence,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger of the player who was part of the Frenchman’s 2003/04 Invincibles. “He is monstrous." Campbell captained his country three times and played in more Premiership matches than all defenders but Jamie Carragher (508) and Rio Ferdinand (504). 

3) Tony Adams

Premier League clubs: Arsenal

  • 255 appearances
  • 12 goals
  • 115 clean sheets

“If a young Tony Adams were to come on the scene now, any club in the Premier League would be happy to pay tens of millions for him,” said the late Jimmy Greaves, a few years ago, of the long-time Arsenal captain. “Adams was the best purely defensive defender England have ever produced – an absolute rock for the Gunners and the only player to captain a title-winning team across three different decades.”

2) Rio Ferdinand

Premier League clubs: West Ham United, Leeds United, Manchester United, Queens Park Rangers

  • 504 appearances
  • 11 goals
  • 189 clean sheets

A much-loved servant of club (wherever he played) and country, Rio Ferdinand has appeared in more Premier League games than any defender other than Jamie Carragher and more England matches than Stuart Pearce, John Terry and Terry Butcher. The winner of six Premier League titles with Manchester United was, according to his Old Trafford boss Sir Alex Ferguson “the best defender in the country if not Europe for a couple of years. His maturity and leadership have been key factors in the team’s success”.

1) John Terry

Premier League clubs: Chelsea

  • 492 appearances
  • 41 goals
  • 214 clean sheets

With five Premier League titles to his name and 34 of his 78 England caps as captain, John Terry ranks as one of the great defenders of his generation. Named to the UEFA Team of the Year on four occasions, he draws comparisons to the very best from one of the very best: “The toughest opponents for me are the defenders who are tough in the way they play, where you can’t see a way through,” said Brazil great Ronaldinho. “Paolo Maldini and John Terry are two of the toughest men I have met on the field.”

Featured Image Credit: PA Images

Topics: John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Virgil Van Dijk, Ashley Cole, Gary Neville

Colin Hubbuck
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