Football as a sport has evolved a lot over the last century. No one has had to adapt to the huge array of changes in the game compared to defenders. While the demands of the modern game requires outfield players to be all-round ones, defenders are required to traverse the entirety of the pitch.
Apart from their regular duties of breaking up attacks and shielding the goalkeeper, defenders are also expected to create chances, put in crosses and pop up in the box to score.
Defenders now assist more often than ever before
While the nature of the game has allowed speedy full-backs to be involved in setting up goals, scoring is still considered a rarity for defenders. That's why it is always a special moment when a player operating in the defensive third gets on the scoresheet.
On that note, here's a look at the five highest-scoring defenders this century:
Note: Ashley Young has 52 goals while Juan Cuadrado has 42, but most of their strikes came when they played as wingers. So they have been excluded from this list.
#5 Raphael Guerreiro - 36 goals
We kick off our list with French-born Portuguese left-back Raphael Guerreiro. The Borussia Dortmund defender has scored a lot of goals since making his debut in Ligue 2 with Caen in 2010.
He made his debut in the French top flight with Lorient in 2013. Interestingly, he has gone goalless through a campaign just once since then. His career-best output came during the 2019-20 campaign, where he scored eight goals for Dortmund.
The bulk of the EURO 2016 winner's goals have come in trademark fashion. His runs down the left flank are often spotted by a teammate, who tees him up near the box with a through ball. Guerreiro then unleashes a shot from his preferred left foot.
#4 Daniel Van Buyten - 39 goals
No wonder former Bayern Munich star Daniel Van Buyten finds a place on this list, as the Belgian defender started out as a striker at Charleroi. While he successfully transitioned to a central defender, his goalscoring instincts remained with him throughout his career.
Popularly known as Big Dan, he first shot to fame with Marseille in the 2002-03 campaign, where he scored eight league goals. He was named in the Ligue 1 team of the year and ESM Team of the year as well that year.
Van Buyten was the archetypical centre-back known for his strength and aerial prowess. That made him one of the most dangerous players in the opposition box in set-piece situations. He also has ten goals for the Belgium national team.
#3 John Terry - 41 goals
John Terry is one of the most decorated English defenders of his generation, winning 17 titles with Chelsea. While he is widely remembered for his no-nonsense defending and aerial abilities, his leadership skills were his greatest strength as a player.
He scored at least once in his last 17 seasons at Chelsea, and also has six goals with the England national team. He featured in all 38 Premier League games in the 2014-15 campaign, scoring five goals and captaining the Blues to the league title.
It was his second-best attacking output in a single campaign. He scored a career-best six goals in the 2011-12 season.
#2 Naldo - 46 goals
Naldo is probably a lesser-known name on our list, but he is a familiar name for devout Bundesliga fans. He spent 14 years in the German top flight. with three clubs.
The Brazilian, like most central defenders, possessed good strength and aerial ability. Standing at 1.98 meters, he was a menace in the box from set-pieces, and he also possessed the ability to score from direct free kicks.
He holds the record for most appearances in the Bundesliga by a Brazilian player (358). In those games, he scored 21 headed goals. Though roughly half of his goals were headers, his most memorable strike has to be the stunning right-footed screamer against Borussia Dortmund in the Ruhr Derby.
#1 Sergio Ramos - 75 goals
Sergio Ramos is in a league of his own when it comes to goals. He is comfortably the highest-scoring defender of the century, with more goals expected from the Spaniard.
Though it took him roughly 207 days to open his account with his new club PSG, he has struggled with injuries recently. With his strike against Reims in Ligue 1, he has now found the back of the net in each of the last 17 seasons.
Ramos enjoyed a record-breaking 2019-20 campaign, scoring 11 goals (most by a defender in a La Liga campaign). Most of the strikes were crucial in the club's title run, as Madrid finished five points ahead of Barcelona.
With 23 goals, he is the eighth-highest goalscorer for Spain, alongside Alvaro Morata and the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano.