10 greatest Italian defenders of the last 50 years

UEFA Champions League Final: Liverpool v AC Milan
UEFA Champions League Final: Liverpool vs AC Milan

A lot of the Azzurri's success has been founded on a resilient and strong defensive unit, as the emphasis is placed more on a solid backline than aesthetic football.

With four World Cups and one European Championship under their belts, the Italian national football team is one of the most successful sides in history.

The Italians popularized the 'catenaccio' (door bolt) brand of football through Helenio Herrera's legendary Inter side of the 1960's, and though Italy has produced iconic attacking players such as Paulo Rossi, Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti and Roberto Baggio, it is for their legendary defenders that they are most famed.

There have been exceptional Italian teams ditto defenders throughout history, including the back-to-back World Cup-winning sides of 1934 and 1938 and the mythical 'Grande Torino' team who won five consecutive Scudetti in the 1940s, (but lost most of its members tragically in the 1949 Superga air disaster).

However, for a more objective breakdown, due to limited in-depth access to abilities and statistics of those players, this list is consigned to just the last 50 years. Here are the ten greatest Italian defenders of the last 50 years.

Honorable mentions: Cesare Maldini, Giorgio Chiellini, Christian Panucci, Fulvio Collovatti, Aristide Guarnieri, Alessandro Costacurta, Gianluca Zambrotta, Mauro Tasotti

#10 Antonio Cabrini

Cabrini in action for Italy

The first of a trio of defenders who formed the backbone of the formidable defence of the Juventus and Italian sides of the 1970s and 80s to feature in this list, Cabrini was voted as the best young player at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. At that tournament, he helped Italy to a third-place finish, before contributing to their triumph in Spain four years later.

A left-back in his heyday, Bell'Antonio ("beautiful Antonio'') made his name at Juventus after his transfer from Atalanta in 1976. He went on to spend 13 highly successful years in Turin with the Bianconerri, winning the Serie A six times, the Coppa Italia (Italian Cup), one UEFA Super Cup, one UEFA Champions League, one UEFA Cup and one Intercontinental Cup.

With the Italian national team, Cabrini made 73 appearances in 9 years between 1978 to 1987 and played in every single one of Italy's World Cup matches between 1978 and 1986.

Playing a leading role in their 1982 triumph, he delivered the pin-point cross for Paulo Rossi's 2nd-minute opener in their quarter-final 3-2 surprise win over Brazil. He also became the first player in history to miss a penalty in a World Cup final after his 25th-minute attempt from the spot was blasted wide off the goal in the 3-1 win over West Germany.

He is one of only six players to have won all UEFA and FIFA club competitions during his time; European Cup, European Cup Winners Cup, UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup (all achieved with Juventus).

#9 Tarcisio Burgnich

Italy Qualify
Tarcisio Burgnich (bottom right) was a mainstay of the Italian team of the 1960s

Burgnich began his club career at Udinese and Juventus with relatively little success (making few appearances but winning a Serie A title at Juventus) in his three-year stay at both clubs. He transferred to Palermo in 1961 and became a regular, but it was his transfer to Inter Milan a year later that cemented his legacy as one of the greatest defenders of all time.

A core member of Helenio Herrera's legendary 'Grande Inter' side of the 1960s, Burgnich's pace, stamina, offensive and defensive efficiency were crucial to the immense success of the catenaccio system under Herrera, where he won four Serie A titles, two European Cup and one Coppa Italia before his departure to Napoli in 1974 where he added the Coppa Italia of 1974 to his trophy collection.

With Italy, Tarcisio Burgnich was an important member of the national setup in the 60s, participating at three FIFA World Cups, including the side that finished as runners-up in the 1970 World Cup. He won a total of 66 caps for the Azzurri between 1963 and 1974 and was a part of the team that won Italy its first and till date only European Championship on home soil in 1968.

Nicknamed "La Roccia" (The Rock) due to his imposing style of play, Burgnich was a versatile defender who was capable of playing anywhere across the back as his technique and physique meant he was suited to playing as a right-back, centre-back or a sweeper.

He put up one of his best international performance at the 1970 World Cup, scoring a goal in (what has been dubbed "The Game of the Century') semi-final clash between Italy and Germany which Italy won 4-3 (after five goals had remarkably been scored in extra time).

His superb defending skills meant he was an efficient man marker and he was assigned the task of man-marking Pele in the 1970 World Cup final and was beaten by the Brazilian to a header in Italy's 4-1 loss. He famously quipped after the match, "I told myself before the game, 'he's made of skin and bones just like everyone else' — but I was wrong."

Burgnich is rightly regarded as one of the greatest Italian left-backs of all time and his partnership across from Giacinto Facchetti is considered one of the best full-back partnerships in footballing history, as Burgnich complemented Facchetti's attacking forays with an old-fashioned, hard tackling defensive style.

#8 Guiseppe Bergomi

Guiseppe Bergomi in action for Inter as captain in the UEFA Cup

The first of four one-club men to feature on the list, Bergomi played for only Internazionale throughout his career and held the record of most appearances for Inter Milan for many years until he was surpassed by Javier Zanetti in September of 2011.

'Lo Zio' or 'The Uncle' as he was fondly called (due to the moustache he wore as a young player) made his debut for Inter Milan in 1979 aged only 16 and won the Coppa Italia just a season later.

He would go on to spend the next twenty seasons in Serie A with Inter, although he won just one Scudetto (as his Inter side played second fiddle to the great Milan teams of Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello).

He later became captain of Internazionale and won the UEFA Cup on three occasions, holding the record for most appearances in the tournament's history (96).

With the Italian national team, Bergomi made 81 appearances in a 16-year spell between 1982 to 1998 and made his debut in 1982 aged just 18 years and 3 months (the youngest player to represent Italy post-World War 2).

He was a member of the victorious World Cup squad in 1982, making three appearances including the full 120 minutes in the final. He also participated at the 1986, 1990 and 1998 tournaments, captaining his country to a third-place finish on home soil in 1990.

Tough tackling, quick, strong and agile, Bergomi was a versatile defender capable of playing anywhere across the back line, although he was primarily a right-back where his impressive technique going forward aided in his team's attacks.

He was an excellent man-marker and distinguished himself in zonal marking systems. His professionalism and silent leadership earned him the admiration of both teammates and opponents and he was named by Pele in the FIFA 100 list of greatest living footballers in 2004 as well as being inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

#7 Claudio Gentile

Gentile during training
Gentile during training

A tough, strong, tenacious, ruthless, and uncompromising defender, Gentile was the hard man in the Italian and Juventus watertight defences of the 1970s and 1980s, capable of playing at centre-back and full-back.

Gentile started his professional career at Arona and Varese, spending a season at each club before his transfer to Juventus in 1973, where he went on to spend 13 highly successful and prominent seasons.

With the Bianconerri, Gentile won a plethora of club honors including six Serie A titles, two Coppa Italias, one UEFA Cup and one UEFA Cup Winner's Cup. He then transferred to Fiorentina in 1984 where he spent the next three seasons before his retirement at Piacenza a year later in 1988.

On the international scene, Gentile played 71 times for the Azzurri between 1975 and 1984, playing a leading role at the 1980 European Championship. He was named into the team of the tournament and went on to play in two World Cups in 1978 and the victory of 1982 where Gentile was again named in the team of the tournament.

A hard tackler and physical defender, Gentile was well-known for his aggressive man-marking and infamously marked out a young Diego Maradona in the 1982 World Cup, fouling the Argentine 11 times in the first half alone. He was also assigned to man-mark another genius in Zico and efficiently nullified the Brazilian's threat, earning a yellow card for his efforts which ruled him out for the semi-final victory over Poland, but he returned for the final against West Germany and was voted into the team of the tournament for his impressive efforts.

#6 Alessandro Nesta

Juventus FC v AC Milan - Serie A
Juventus FC v AC Milan - Serie A

Combining Italian ruthlessness with German efficiency and Brazilian flair, Alessandro Nesta was unarguably one of the finest defenders of the late 20th and early 21st century, and indeed one of the greatest of all time.

In a career which spanned over two decades, Nesta distinguished himself with his superb positioning, ability to read a game, excellent tackling and elegance on the ball.

Making his debut for the Lazio senior team in 1993, Nesta spent the next nine seasons with his hometown club, becoming team captain of Lazio in 1997 aged just 21. He captained his side to victory in the Coppa Italia final a year later against Milan (where he scored the winning goal with a header).

He continued to churn out impressive performances for Lazio and was named Serie A Young Footballer of the Year in 1998 and led his club in a dogged Serie A title race which they narrowly lost by a point to AC Milan on the final day of the 1999 season. They, however, triumphed in that season's UEFA Cup and beat Manchester United in the following season's UEFA Super Cup.

A year later, Nesta captained SS Lazio to the Serie A and Coppa Italia double of 2000 as well as the Coppa Italia of 2001. His impressive performances in the colors of Lazio led to him being named Serie A Defender of the Year three consecutive times between 2000 and 2002 (an impressive feat considering the array of defenders plying their trade in the Serie A at that time). He left Lazio for AC Milan in 2002 owing to financial issues in the Rome club, ending his stay there with six trophies.

With the Rossoneri, Nesta continued from where he left off at Lazio, forming an impressive defensive partnership with Maldini, Cafu and Stam, winning the Champions League in his debut season with Milan in addition to the Coppa Italia. He was again named Serie A defender of the Year and was voted into the UEFA Team of the Year.

He spent ten successful seasons in Milan, and further enhanced his reputation as one of the world's greatest defenders, putting up impressive performances and winning numerous personal and team accolades although injury derailed the later years of his career.

Nesta ended his stay at AC Milan in 2012 with his transfer to the MLS for Montreal Impact and won 10 trophies with the Rossoneri. He added the Canadian Championship to his burgeoning trophy collection in 2013.

A full international for over a decade, Nesta won the first of his 78 caps in 1996 and went on to play leading roles in all Italy's international tournament appearances over the next decade. He started all three of Italy's group stage games at the 1998 World Cup before injury ruled him out of the rest of the tournament (a recurring theme in his career). He was also a starter as Italy conceded just two goals en route their final run at EURO 2000, where they led France for most of the second half until a Sylvian Wiltord stoppage-time equalizer and David Trezeguet extra time golden goal handed the French the title, being named in the team of the tournament for his performance.

He also played in all of Italy's 2002 World Cup group stage matches until a repeat scenario of four years earlier ruled him out of Italy's controversial second-round elimination to co-hosts South Korea. Nesta featured in all of Italy's matches in their EURO 2004 group stage elimination.

Italy finally won the World Cup in 2006 after 34 years of heartbreak, but the tournament was a bittersweet one for Nesta, not getting to play a huge part in the victory as his tournament was again ended in the group stage after injuring himself against the Czech Republic in Italy's third group stage match.

A highly technical and efficient man marker, Nesta was a complete defender who was capable of playing anywhere across the back and particularly adept at playing the ball out from defense to initiate attacks. He also possessed exceptional passing abilities and was very dominant in the air. In 2004, he was named into Pele's FIFA 100 list of greatest living footballers and was voted into the UEFA Team of the Year on four occasions and FIFPRO World XI on two occasions.

#5 Giacinto Facchetti

Fachetti's Clearance
Facchetti clearing the ball away

'Mr Inter Milan', Facchetti was the quintessential one-club man, and set the template for future Italian club-loyal players likes Guiseppe Bergomi, Franco Baresi, Paulo Maldini, Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero to follow.

Facchetti was handed his Inter Milan debut in 1961 by the legendary Helenio Herrera and later as captain of the side was extremely influential in the achievements of the 'Grande Inter' side of the 1960s.

Facchetti was one of the first attacking full-backs in Europe, and his hard defending combined with his innovative prowess going forward was crucial in the success of the 'catenaccio' system deployed by Herrera which focused on defensive solidity together with efficient counter-attacking.

Strong, adept at reading the game, and a solid defender, Facchetti formed one of the greatest full-back partnerships with Tarcisio Burgnich. His explosive forays down the Inter Milan left-flank was important in helping Inter conquer Italy, Europe and the rest of the world during those glory years and he scored 10 goals in Serie A season of 1966 (which was the record number for most goals scored by a defender for almost 40 years until it was broken by Materazzi in 2001).

He retired from football with his beloved Inter Milan at the end of the 1977/1978 season with 679 appearances across all competitions, scoring 75 goals and winning a total of nine trophies.

On the international scene, Facchetti represented Italy for 14 years between 1963 and 1977, appearing at three FIFA World Cups. He captained the Azzurri for many years, including to their EURO triumph in 1968 on home soil and their runners-up finish at the World Cup two years later in Mexico, being elected into the All-Star teams of both tournaments. He made a total of 94 caps for Italy, which was a national record until it was overtaken by legendary goalkeeper Dino Zoff.

Facchetti was an exemplary footballer despite his tough tackling on the pitch and was incredibly sent off just once in his career (for sarcastically clapping at the referee) and earned the respect of both teammates and opponents. He narrowly missed out on becoming the first defender to win the Ballon d'Or in 1965, finishing second to Eusebio as he almost guided Inter to a then-unprecedented treble (only losing out in the final of the Coppa Italia to Juventus). He was elected by Pele as part of the FIFA 100 list of greatest living players in 2004.

His dedication and service to Inter Milan will forever be remembered, and he had his jersey number 3 retired forever on his passing away in 2006 (the only Inter player accorded this honor). He also has numerous monuments in Milanese football and streets named after him and was posthumously inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

#4 Fabio Cannavaro

Final Italy v France - World Cup 2006
Cannavaro lifts the 2006 World Cup as captain of Italy

Starting out in the Pertenopei's youth set-up, Cannavaro's brilliance caught the eyes of the first team coaches and he was invited to train together with his idols in the first team. The only defender to have won the FIFA World Best award and the third to win the Ballon d'or (after Franz Beckenbauer and Mathias Sammer) having captained Italy to World Cup glory, Cannavaro is one of the greatest defenders in history.

Nicknamed "Il Muro di Berlino" ("The Berlin Wall'') due to his defensive performances, Fabio Cannavaro began his professional career with his hometown and favorite childhood club Napoli in 1992.

He came to prominence during one of the training sessions when he won the ball off Diego Maradona who was the team's star player in a sliding tackle much to the consternation of the coaches and players, but Maradona encouraged him to continue playing aggressively and gave the youngster his boot as a souvenir.

Cannavaro became a regular in the Napoli defense at the start of the 1993/1994 season as his brilliant anticipation and tackling made him excel in defense for Napoli. However, despite his promising performances, Cannavaro was sold to Parma in 1995 due to the club's financial difficulties.

At Parma, Fabio went on to cement his reputation as one of the best defenders in a very defensive Serie A. He became team captain of the club and led it to numerous titles and achievements during this glorious period of the club's history.

Alongside other star players like Hernan Crespo, Gianluigi Buffon and Lilian Thuram, Cannavaro helped Parma become an Italian football force, constantly challenging for domestic and continental honors.

He left Parma in 2002 for Internazionale, having played over 250 goals in all competitions, scoring 5 goals and winning multiple personal accolades.

His two season stay at Inter was not too successful, as the club were trying to rebuild following Ronaldo's sale to Real Madrid and despite challenging for honors, the club failed to win any title during his stay there. Cannavaro left Inter for Juventus in 2004 after just 50 appearances for the Nerrazzurri.

At Juventus, Cannavaro won the first Scudetto of his career in back to back league triumphs in 2005 and 2006, although the latter one was revoked and Juventus demoted to Serie B due to their involvement in the Calciopolli scandal of 2006.

He transferred to Real Madrid as a result of the demotion and was a starter in consecutive league victories in 2007 and 2008, although he lost his starting place in the team as age began to catch up with him, leading to his loss of pace.

He returned to Juventus in 2009, but left just a season later for Saudi Arabia where injuries ended his career at Al Ain.

On the international scene, Cannavaro represented the Azurri for 13 years between 1997 and 2010 and is the second highest appearance maker in his country's history (136 caps), behind only Gianluigi Buffon on 176 caps. He also captained his country for eight years following Paulo Maldini's international retirement after the 2002 World Cup.

He became an international regular in the build up to the 1998 World Cup and put up impressive performances in the tournament itself alongside veterans like Guisseppe Bergomi and Paulo Maldini.

He partnered Nesta together with either Maldini or Mark Luliano in the centre of Italy's 3-man defense at EURO 2000 as the Azurri put up a defensive masterclass en route their final defeat to France. Cannavaro was selected in the team of the tournament for his performances.

At the 2002 World Cup, he was equally impressive but missed the second-round controversial elimination to South Korea due to suspension. He was also a part of the team that disappointingly exited EURO 2004 at the group stage.

His finest moment as a footballer came when he led his team to World Cup glory on his 100th cap in 2006, earning plaudits for successfully marshalling the defense in Nesta's absence as Italy conceded just two goals (and none from open play) to lift her fourth World Cup title in Germany.

Cannavaro alongside Buffon were the only two Italian players to feature in all minutes of every match during the 2006 World Cup, and his performances led to him being named in the team of the tournament as well as finishing as runner-up behind Zidane in the award of the World Cup Golden Ball (given to the tournament's best player).

He was also awarded the Ballon d'or and FIFA World Best Player of 2006 on the back of his World Cup performance, in addition to being voted into the UEFA and FIFPRO Teams of the Year.

Extremely versatile and dominant in the air(despite his small stature for a defender), Cannavaro was capable of playing across the defense and earned widespread acclaim for his man-marking, reading of the game and anticipation. He was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

#3 Franco Baresi

Franco Baresi of AC Milan and Maurizio Ganz of Inter Milan
Franco Baresi of AC Milan and Maurizio Ganz of Inter Milan

Another one-club man, Franco Baresi made his AC Milan debut in 1977 and went on to spend the next hugely successful 20 years at his beloved hometown club.

He started his career with the Milan youth team but had a chance to join Inter professionally with the club rejecting him, choosing his brother Guisseppe instead, Baresi then joined Milan and became one of the greatest players in the history of the game.

'Kaizer Franz' (in reference to legendary sweeper Franz Beckenbauer) was appointed club captain in 1982 aged just 22 and led the club during a dark period in its history which yielded little success on the pitch and involved two relegations to Serie B (once in 1980 for match-fixing and another in 1983 after a poor league performance).

Despite being a prominent member of the Italian national team, Baresi chose to stay with the club despite their relegations, and his loyalty was soon rewarded as Milan became a global force towards the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s.

Franco Baresi was at the heart of the defence in Milan's all-conquering team of this period, forming notable partnerships with all-Italian defenders which included Mauro Tasotti, Christian Panucci, Alessandro Costacurta and a young Paulo Maldini. This Milan side went on to dominate Europe and the rest of the world under Ariggo Sacchi and later Fabio Capello.

Under his defensive guidance and captainship, Milan had a rock solid defence, winning the 1988 Serie A title, conceding just 14 goals. He was also instrumental as the club won three consecutive Scudetti and Super Coppa Italia between 1992 and 1994 (winning the 1992 Serie A title undefeated in an eventual Italian league record run of 58 consecutive games unbeaten).

They also won consecutive European Cups in 1989 and 1990 (the last club to do so until Real Madrid in 2017) and participated in three consecutive Champions League finals between 1993 and 1994, winning the 1994 tournament.

Despite not being the tallest of players (standing at just 5 feet and 9 inches), Baresi was an extremely imposing and physical defender. Adept at man-marking and interceptions, he was primarily a centre-back, although his brilliant reading of the game and accurate passing meant he was also deployed as a sweeper. His vision and ability to play out from the back sometimes saw Baresi pushed up into midfield to initiate attacks.

He retired from Milan at the end of the 1996-1997 season, having amassed a total of 719 appearances in all competitions for Milan, scoring 33 goals. His time at Lombardy was hugely successful, as he won a total of 17 trophies.

On his retirement, AC Milan retired his jersey number 6 in honor of his outstanding contributions to the club and he was voted AC Milan's Player of the Century in 1999 on the occasion of the club's 100th anniversary.

With Italy, Baresi made a total of 81 appearances from 1982 to 1994, and was an unused member of the 1982 World Cup winning team, he was controversially left out of the World Cup squad in 1986, as the coach saw him as more of a midfielder than a defender, but became a mainstay in the national team at EURO 1988 and the 1990 World Cup on home soil, where he was named in the team of the tournament as Italy finished in third place, by going five matches and a World Cup record of 518 minutes without conceding a goal until Argentina's equalizer in the semi-final.

He captained his country to a runners-up finish at the 1994 World Cup, injuring himself in the group stage and missing action for 25 days until the final where he returned to help Italy keep a clean sheet against Brazil despite notable absences in defence. He missed a penalty in the subsequent shoot-out and is one of only seven players to have won Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at the World Cup.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest defenders in history, Baresi was selected as part of Pele's FIFA 100 list in 2004, finished as runner-up to teammate Marco Van Basten in the 1990 Ballon d'Or, was voted as Serie A Player of the Year in 1990 and inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2013.

#2 Paolo Maldini

AC Milan v AS Roma - Serie A
AC Milan v AS Roma - Serie A

AC Milan's answer to Giacinto Facchetti, Maldini was the ultimate professional throughout his career which lasted a quarter of a century, and would surely have been atop this list but for the unfortunate fact that he did not get to win a title in the colours of Italy.

Maldini made his AC Milan debut in 1985 at the tender age of 17 and went on performing at a world-class level until his retirement at the age of 41.

'Il Capitano' (The Captain) broke into a Milan team which had world class players across all ranks, including Marco Van Basten, Franco Baresi, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Carlo Ancelotti, Mauro Tasotti etc, but the teenaged Maldini was unfazed and held his own. He cemented his place in the starting line up and was an instrumental part in all Milan's success.

Primarily deployed as a left-back, Maldini was a part of an All-Italian defensive set up, forming one of the greatest defensive units in footballing history. Alongside greats like Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Mauro Tassotti, Maldini helped AC Milan conquer Europe and Italy under Arrigo Sacchi.

Success continued for Maldini and Milan under Sacchi's replacement; Fabio Capello, winning numerous league and continental titles, including going a league record 58 games unbeaten and appearing in three consecutive Champions League finals.

Maldini was named AC Milan's captain in 1997 upon Franco Baresi's retirement and he led the club for the next decade into more success and glory.

After the retirements of Baresi and Tassotti, Maldini formed a new defensive partnership with Alessandro Nesta, and along with Cafu and Costacurtta, he captained Milan to victory in the 2003 Champions League final over Juventus exactly 40 years after his father Cesare Maldini had captained the Rossoneri to its first European crown in 1963.

He retired from AC Milan in 2007, at the age of 41 after 25 years of elite performance at the top-level and had his jersey number 3 retired in honor of all his accomplishments with the club (to be brought out of retirement only in the eventuality of one of his sons playing for the Milan first team).

His 25-year career with AC Milan brought about 25 trophies, including 7 Serie A titles and 5 Champions League crowns.

Maldini made his Italian national team debut in 1988 aged 19 and went on to become a mainstay in the Azzurri for the next 14 years, making a total of 126 caps (which was the national record at the time of his retirement, since overtaken by only Cannavaro and Buffon).

He represented Italy at all seven international tournaments between 1988 and 2002 bar EURO 1992 (which Italy did not qualify for) and was voted into the teams of the tournament at the World Cups of 1990 and 1994 as well as the EURO Championships of 1988, 1996 and 2000.

Maldini particularly put in a strong performance at the 1990 World Cup held on home soil. There, he together with club teammate Franco Baresi and Guiseppe Bergomi, kept a World Cup record of five consecutive matches and 518 minutes without conceding a goal in Italy's eventual third place finish.

He deputized impressively as captain in place of the injured Baresi four years later at the 1994 World Cup, marshalling the Italian defence in the absence of key defenders Tassotti, Costacurta and Baresi, all the way to the final where they lost to Brazil on penalties.

Maldini was appointed Italy captain in 1994 following Franco Baresi's international retirement in 1994 and went on to skipper his country for the next 8 years a total of 74 times (which was a record until it was overtaken by Cannavaro and later Buffon).

Famed for his strength, efficiency, game reading, anticipation and dominance in the air, Paolo was an extremely versatile defender who could play anywhere across the back. He was regularly played as a left-back, despite being naturally right-footed due to his tactical versatility and ability with both feet. He was also adept at ball recovery and playing out from the back and was often deployed as a sweeper.

His longevity at the highest level of football marked him apart for greatness and he is one of only 18 players to have made over 1,000 career appearances. His extreme professionalism and a strong sense of leadership also earned him the trust and respect of opposing players and fans.

Maldini won numerous personal accolades over his career, including being named into Pele's FIFA 100 in 2004, finishing second in the FIFA World Best award in 1995 and third at the Ballon d'Ors of 1994 and 2003. He was voted into the World Cup and EURO All-Time greatest teams, as well as numerous other awards during his distinguished career.

He was elected into the Italian Hall of Fame in 2012 and is also a member of the AC Milan Hall of Fame. He set and holds numerous records, including: Most appearances in European competition (168), Most total minutes in World Cup history (2216), most Serie A appearances (647), Fastest Champions League final goal (50 seconds), oldest player to score in a Champions League final and the highest number of appearances in AC Milan's history (902) among others.

#1 Gaetano Scirea

Dino Zoff and Scirea
Gaetano Scirea lifting the World Cup in 1982

Unarguably one of the finest defenders in history. Gaetano Scirea was the emblem of the legendary Juventus and Italy defence of the 1970s and 1980s.

Along with Antonio Cabrini and Claudio Gentile, with Dino Zoff behind them, Scirea led Juventus and Italy to numerous successes in that golden period of Italian football.

He was a departure from the archetypal stereotype of Italian defenders (particularly his centre-back partner Gentile) of being aggressive and physical, instead, he defended with a finesse and innate ability to read the game which ensured he rarely had to make a rash tackle.

He started his professional career with Atalanta in 1972, spending two years there before transferring to Juventus in 1974 where he went on to achieve immortality and greatness with his performances over the next 14 years.

Scirea was the consummate professional, a highly talented defender who played through his whole 16-year career without ever receiving a red card and also went 8 consecutive seasons in Serie A without getting booked (a remarkable feat considering how ultra defensive and negative Serie A was in those days).

He is one of only six players who won all UEFA/FIFA recognized competitions as well as one of only nine to have won all three UEFA Club competitions (all achieved with Juventus). He retired from football after the 1988 season, and his stay at Juventus brought about 14 trophies viz; 7 Serie A titles, 2 Coppa Italia and one each of the European Cup, UEFA Cup Winners Cup, UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup

He made his national team debut in 1975, and became an undisputed starter for the next 11 years, famously keeping the legendary Franco Baresi out of the starting line-up until his retirement in 1986 after winning 78 caps.

With the Azzurri, he participated at four tournaments, the European Championship on home soil in 1980 (where he helped Italy to a fourth-place finish), being elected into the team of the tournament as well as three World Cups in 1978, 1982 and 1986.

Scirea was an integral member of the World Cup winning squad in 1982 and was voted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2011 and the greatest Juventus XI of All Time in 2017.

His composure and ability to read games meant Scirea excelled as a sweeper, and his leadership skills were widely acclaimed, captaining his club and country for many years. His immense sportsmanship also showed the world that it was possible to be a top quality defender without resorting to harsh tackles and aggressive tactics.

He tragically passed on in 1989 aged just 36 years in a car crash, after watching a European match involving his darling Juventus. He had his name immortalized forever in Turin and Italy, with numerous football monuments, awards and tournaments named after him.

Though he rarely gets the recognition his immense talent and career achievements deserve, Gaetano Scirea was a defensive masterclass, a priceless jewel whose legacy as one of the finest defenders to grace a football pitch will live on forever in the hearts of Italians and football lovers.

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Edited by Anirban Banerjee
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