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20 Best defenders of all time

ANALYST
Modified 06 May 2020
Top 5 / Top 10
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#15 Fabio Cannavaro

Enter caption Italy v Cameroon - International Friendly
Enter caption Italy v Cameroon - International Friendly

To gather praise from avid fans is impressive, but to be vouched for by the legendary Diego Maradona is entirely another matter. Fabio Cannavaro started his youth career at Napoli and worked his way through the ranks for an opportunity to play alongside his childhood idols.

The first recipient of Cannavaro's trademark challenge was Maradona himself. The club's medical staff did not take kindly to a youngster throwing himself at a bonafide legend. However, Maradona was impressed.

Cannavaro went on to play for Parma, Inter Milan, Juventus, and Real Madrid. He served as the heart and soul of every team he played for. His leadership qualities were abundantly evident throughout his career and stood firmly in the spotlight when he led Italy to a 2006 FIFA World Cup triumph.

Cannavaro became the first defender since the turn of the century to win the prestigious Ballon d'Or and is one of the greatest captains Italy has ever produced.


#14 Philipp Lahm

Borussia Dortmund v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Final
Borussia Dortmund v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Final

Philipp Lahm is the physical manifestation of German efficiency. The German right-back was one of the most important figures at Bayern Munich after the turn of the century. Lahm pulled his club through a few rough patches to propel them to the pinnacle of German football. He also led Bayern Munich to a historic treble in 2013 and has enjoyed a great deal of success in the Bundesliga.

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While the German national team has always enjoyed success at the international level, they became a ruthless force to reckon with under Lahm's leadership. His crowning moment arrived in 2014 when the inspirational German lifted the World Cup for his country.

Described by Pep Guardiola as one of the best footballers in history and one of the smartest that he has worked with, Lahm's awareness, work ethic, and positional sense were immaculate.

The right-back understood the game better than anybody on the pitch and could also be used in a defensive midfield role. The fact that Lahm never received a single red card in his lengthy and high-profile career goes to show the ability and character of the pearl of modern German football.


#13 Giuseppe Bergomi

Giuseppe Bergomi and Andy Cole
Giuseppe Bergomi and Andy Cole
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Giuseppe Bergomi is one of the many one-club men in this list and a bonafide Inter Milan legend. The Italian defender ensured that Inter Milan was able to hold its own against arguably the best AC Milan side in history. Bergomi was a lynchpin in Inter Milan's defence for over 20 years and embodied the side's Calcio spirit.

Bergomi was primarily a right-back, but could also be used as a central defender or a sweeper if the need arose. He excelled in the man-marking defensive system used by Inter Milan in the 1980s. Bergomi was also famous for his ability to hold off the best dribblers in the league with consummate ease.

The Serie A of the late 20th century was a world of exceptional attacking talent only surpassed by even better defensive setups. However, the Nerazzurri's legendary veteran often stole the show against world-class opposition.


#12 Alessandro Costacurta

Alessandro Costacurta of AC Milan
Alessandro Costacurta of AC Milan

It is fairly evident from this list that AC Milan had a knack of fielding exceptional defenders. Alessandro Costacurta is not the first of those players on the list, and he certainly will not be the last.

The Italian centre-back was a crucial part of a defensive line that is widely regarded as the best in the history of football. The tactically versatile defender could be played anywhere across the back-line. Additionally, his passing and technical ability made him a complete player.

Costacurta was adept at setting up man-marking and zonal-marking systems as well as offside traps and high defensive lines. There was a lot of competition of places in Milan's starting eleven at the time. But Costacurta ensured that his place in a star-studded AC Milan line-up was never in question.

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Described by Fabio Cannavaro as the best defender that he had ever played with, Costacurta's greatest achievements came under the mentorship of Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello.

The defender was a part of seven successful Serie A campaigns and continued to play for AC Milan till the age of 41.


#11 Carles Puyol

Real Madrid v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Semi-Final
Real Madrid v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Semi-Final

To think that Carles Puyol nearly left FC Barcelona to join Malaga in 1998 makes every Barcelona fan shudder. Puyol embodied Barcelona's 'Mes Que Un Club' principle in more ways than one and led the club to periods of unprecedented success.

Puyol spent 15 years in Barcelona's first team and captained the team for over 10 years. He formed a magnificent partnership with a young Gerard Pique at the heart of Barcelona's defence. Puyol complemented all of Pique's technique and poise with equal measures of heart and steel.

Puyol's most important asset was his ability to inspire his teammates and lead by example. Unsurprisingly, most of Barcelona's silverware owes a part of its existence to the legendary Blaugrana captain.

Puyol was also a part of Spain's successful 2010 World Cup triumph, where he partnered and mentored the likes of Pique and Sergio Ramos. Puyol played the tournament like he played every game in his career - with his heart on his sleeve.

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He scored the only goal in the semi-final against Germany and played almost every single minute of the tournament.


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Published 06 May 2020, 04:14 IST
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