In football, it is often the attackers that are glorified and celebrated. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo fight for the title of the greatest player of all-time, with the likes of Diego Maradona and Pele thrown into the discussion.
Defending is an art. From crunching tackles to timely interceptions, it is not an easy task. While it is harder to judge a defender, as unlike forwards, there are no straight metrics like goals and assists to ascertain the player's performance, there is no denying that defending is an equally important task in football.
While there have been some defenders in the past who have challenged the monopoly of attackers (Franz Beckenbauer, Paolo Maldini, Fabio Cannavaro, Sergio Ramos), no defender has genuinely managed to usurp an attacker to become the best player in the world.
Having said that, some defenders have managed to make a name for themselves with their quality and longevity in the modern game.
On that note, here are the ten greatest defenders of the 21st century.
#10 Ashley Cole
Regarded by many as one of the best left-backs to have played the game, Ashley Cole enjoyed a good career with both club and country.
A product of the Arsenal academy, Cole went on to make more than 200 appearances in all competitions for the Gunners, also playing an important role in their Invincibles season. However, a controversial move to Chelsea followed, and it was with the Blues that Cole cemented his legacy as one of the greats of the game.
The England international won everything with Chelsea, adding to the seven trophies he won with Arsenal. A solid defender who was excellent in attack, the 39-year old had stints with Roma, LA Galaxy, and Derby County before retiring in 2019.
#9 Giorgio Chiellini
Captain of both Juventus and the Italy national team, Giorgio Chiellini has quietly made his name as one of the best centre-backs of his generation.
In an era where defenders are asked to be elegant and skillful with the ball, Chiellini is a throwback to an older generation. A no-nonsense centre-back well-renowned for his aggression and physicality, the Italy international combines intelligence with courage.
A competent passer from the back, the 36-year old has often been utilised as a ball-winner, with his maturity and leadership resulting in him being given the armband for both club and country.
#8 Dani Alves
When Barcelona splurged €35 million for Dani Alves in 2008, it raised plenty of eyebrows.
The right-back had been an integral part of a good Sevilla side, but he reached another level under the guidance of Pep Guardiola at Barcelona. An extremely creative, attacking full-back, the Brazil international formed an exciting partnership on the right with Lionel Messi, causing havoc to opposition defences.
A dynamic right-back with good energy and match intelligence, Alves made nearly 400 appearances in all competitions for Barcelona, winning every trophy possible. The 37-year old went on to make appearances for Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain and now plays for Sao Paulo in Brazil.
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