Defenders do not do the most glamorous job on a football pitch. They do the dirty work. Defenders clatter into opponents, jostle them off the ball, overpower them in the air, make tackles and block dangerous shots. When we say defenders, we refer to both centre-backs and full-backs.
The latter is involved a lot more on the attacking side of things, although they are primarily tasked with holding down the fort at the back. Having a solid defensive line is a pre-requisite for any ambitious football team. If a team has dependable defenders, half the job is already done.
A defender's consistency is key to his greatness
The players we'll be looking at today have all achieved plenty of accolades through years of consistency at the highest level. They have been able to maintain high performance levels over an extended period of time and have left an indelible mark on the game.
Without further ado, let's take a look at 10 of the greatest defenders of all time.
#10 Gaetano Scirea
Gaetano Scirea is one of the greatest 'liberos' of all time. A 'libero' is a player who plays right behind the rest of the defensive line. His job is to intervene when the backline is breached. Scirea was the best in the business in the early 1980s.
He has the distinction of having won every continental club trophy recognized by FIFA and UEFA. Scirea played a starring role in Italy's 1982 FIFA World Cup triumph. The Italian spent 14 years at Juventus between 1974 and 1988.
During that spell, he won seven Serie A titles, two Coppa Italias, one European Cup, one UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, one UEFA Super Cup and one Intercontinental Cup.
He died at the young age of 36 but will go down in history as one of the GOATS and will always be remembered for his belligerent defending and sportsmanship.
#9 Alessandro Nesta
Alessandro Nesta was the best defender in the world in the early 2000s. He was part of the AC Milan backline that was incredibly difficult to find a way past. Nesta was not just a strong and athletic presence at the back but he was also a technically proficient player.
He showcased excellent control over the ball, could play neat passes and was thus crucial to his teams playing out from the back. Nesta also had great positional awareness and tactical intelligence and this helped him greatly during his latter years after he had lost a yard of pace.
Some severe injury issues stopped Nesta from truly maximizing his potential. But he still achieved more than most footballers dream of. Nesta was named Serie A defender of the year for four years in a row from 2000 to 2003.
He has three Serie A titles, two Champions League titles, one FIFA Club World Cup and three Coppa Italias to his name.
#8 Philipp Lahm
Philipp Lahm is one of those rare 'one-club' players of the modern era. The German international spent his entire club football career at Bayern Munich, save for a loan spell with Vfb Stuttgart. Lahm could play on either flank and was even deployed as a defensive midfielder towards the end of his career.
He captained Bayern Munich to a continental treble in 2013. He was part of the German side that made it to the semi-finals of the 2006 and 2010 World Cup before eventually winning it in 2014.
Lahm won eight Bundesliga titles, six DFB Pokals, one Champions League and one FIFA Club World Cup with the Bavarians. He is one of the most technically adept defenders of all time and is regarded as one of the greatest full-backs in the history of the beautiful game.
#7 Sergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos is arguably the greatest centre-back of the 21st century. The Spanish international has had an illustrious career and is the most decorated defender in the history of the game.
In addition to being an absolute colossus at the back, Ramos contributes plentifully on the opposite side of the pitch as well. He is a very accurate header of the ball and is excellent at aerial duels. Ramos has scored 105 goals in 721 club appearances in his career and those numbers are outstanding for a centre-back.
Ramos was part of the extremely dominant Spanish side that won back-to-back European Championships in 2008 and 2010. He was also an important member of the 2010 FIFA World Cup winning side as well.
Ramos has won five La Liga titles, four Champions League titles, four FIFA Club World Cups, two Copa del Reys and three UEFA Super Cups in his club career.
#6 Giacinto Facchetti
Giacinto Facchetti is one of the greatest goalscoring defenders of all time. Facchetti was part of the 'Grande Inter' side that dominated the Italian top-flight in the 1960s. He is considered to be one of the greatest attacking full-backs of all time.
Having started out as an attacker, Facchetti used all of his early learnings to become a menacing presence on the flanks. His pace, intelligence, movement, physicality and stamina enabled him to shine for both club and country.
Facchetti captained Italy to success at the 1968 European Championship. He was also part of the Italian side that finished as runner-up in the 1970 FIFA World Cup.
In his club career, Facchetti won four Serie A titles, two European Cups, two Intercontinental Cups and one Coppa Italia. He also finished as the runner-up in the 1965 Ballon d'Or race.
#5 Daniel Passarella
Like Facchetti and Ramos, Daniel Passarella too was a defender who had an eye for goal. In 556 appearances, Passarella scored 182 goals and was the highest scoring defender until a certain Ronald Koeman came around.
The Argentinian was a leader of men. He won the Argentinian Premier League four times. But the centre-back's greatest achievement was captaining La Albiceleste to a World Cup triumph in 1978.
The Times ranked him at 36 in a list of the hardest footballers of all time. He had a public falling out with Diego Maradona and coach Carlos Bilardo and accused them of sidelining him at the 1986 World Cup. But Passarella holds the distinction of being the only player to feature for Argentina in both their World Cup triumphs.
#4 Bobby Moore
Bobby Moore is an English hero. He was the captain of the England team that won the FIFA World Cup in 1966. Moore is widely regarded as the greatest West Ham United player of all time. The legendary Pele once said that Moore is the greatest defender that he has come up against.
Moore is such an iconic figure in English football that they erected a bronze statue of him outside Wembley. He was an incredibly talented centre-back who possessed incredible game intelligence and a great reading of the game.
Moore's game was mostly about cutting passing lanes and making interceptions. At the time, it was quite a departure from the tough-tackling and belligerent nature usually associated with defending. Moore finished as the runner-up in the race for the 1970 Ballon d'Or.
#3 Franco Baresi
There was a period in history when Italian defenders were simply unstoppable. Franco Baresi is an AC Milan legend. He captained the club for 15 years and is widely considered to be one of the greatest centre-backs of all time.
He only played for AC Milan in his 20-year long club career. During that time he won six Serie A titles, three UEFA Champions League titles, four Supercoppa Italiana titles, two European Super Cups and two Intercontinental Cups.
Baresi also won the 1982 FIFA World Cup with the Italian national team. He captained Italy in their run to the final of the 1994 FIFA World Cup final which they lost against Italy. Baresi unfortunately missed his penalty in the shootout on the historic night.
Baresi was voted Milan's Player of the Century in 1999. He was one of the most well-rounded defenders of all time. He was a powerful presence at the back and was also excellent in a technical sense. Baresi's reading of the game and anticipation were both exemplary.
In addition to all that, his passing range and vision made him an excellent distributor of the ball. This had a lot to do with elevating Baresi to the status of one of the greatest sweepers the game has ever seen.
#2 Franz Beckenbauer
Franz Beckenbauer was simply the most dominant defender of the 1970s. He was a commanding figure in defence for both club and country and the German international won the Ballon d'Or twice in his career.
His dominance, elegant playing style and leadership qualities earned him the nickname Der Kaiser meaning "The Emperor". Beckenbauer started out as a midfielder before making the transition to centre-back. He achieved greatness in his new position and is credited with inventing the role of the 'libero' or sweeper.
He was the captain of West Germany as they won the European championship in 1972. Beckenbauer then led his national team to World Cup glory two years later. He also won three back-to-back European Cups with Bayern Munich between 1974 and 1976.
Beckenbauer is one of only three men to have won the World Cup as a player and as a coach. He was the manager of West Germany when they won the World Cup in 1990. Beckenbauer was named the German Footballer of the Year four times.
#1 Paolo Maldini
Paolo Maldini enjoyed a 25-year long career, all of which was spent with AC Milan. He played a total of 902 games for AC Milan. He also made 126 appearances for Italy and is at the top of the list for the sheer consistency he showcased over two and a half decades.
"Il Capitano" was nothing short of a phenomenon on the pitch and inspired a generation of footballers to become defenders. He was a technically gifted player who could use both feet to the same effect. Maldini started out as a right-back but was shifted to the other flank to accommodate Mauro Tassotti at AC Milan.
In fact, Maldini could play anywhere in defence. His awareness, tactical intelligence, anticipation and extremely precise tackling made him a nightmare to go up against. He was just as menacing on the attacking side of things as well.
Maldini could whip in excellent crosses and score goals as well. He made the transition to centre-back in the latter stages of his career and was exemplary at the heart of defence. In addition to being a brickwall in defence, Maldini was also great at passing the ball out from the back.
He won seven Serie A titles, five European Cups/Champions League titles, one Coppa Italia, four UEFA Super Cups and one FIFA Club World Cup. Maldini was part of the Italian side that finished as runners-up in the 1994 FIFA World Cup and the 2000 Euros.
Poll : Who will top Group B in FIFA World Cup 2022?