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Top 10 Best Central Defenders in Premier League History

There have been many fine centre-backs to have played in the Premier League since it’s inception in 1992, but who is the best of them all? Drawing on my knowledge of English football, as well as making use of a well-known online video website to rein...

Feature 31 Mar 2012, 10:40 IST
There have been many fine centre-backs to have played in the Premier League since it’s inception in 1992, but who is the best of them all? Drawing on my knowledge of English football, as well as making use of a well-known online video website to reinforce my thoughts, I have managed to whittle a list down to a top 10.The criterion for this is slightly mixed. Obviously, sheer ability is a factor, but also the length of time that each one has spent in the Premier League, as well as medals accumulated – for example, the man at No. 7 would have certainly ranked higher if he’d spent more years playing in this era, even though he is rightly recognised by many as one of the best defenders of all time.

10. Sami Hyypia- Premier League club: Liverpool- Premier League apps: 318

Sami Hyypia completed a bargain £2.6m move to Liverpool in 1999, he went on to make more than 300 Premier League appearances since then. He was a key figure in the treble-winning side of 2001, and was given the Anfield captaincy 12 months later.

In 2004, upon the arrival of Rafael Benitez, Hyypia formed a successful centre-back partnership with Jamie Carragher, which was to last until the end of his Liverpool career in 2009, when he joined Bayer Leverkusen on a free transfer.

9. Jaap Stam- Premier League club: Man United- Premier League apps: 79                    

Dutch international Jaap Stam spent three seasons at Man United, from 1998 to 2001, winning the Premier League title in all of them. But after controversial comments, regarding manager Sir Alex Ferguson, were published in his autobiography, Stam was sold to Lazio in the early part of 2001/02.

Years later, Ferguson publicly admitted his regret for allowing him to leave.8. Gary Pallister- Premier League clubs: Man United, Middlesbrough- Premier League apps: 261

Gary Pallister completed a then record £2.3m move to Man United from Middlesbrough in 1989. His excellent displays, for the most part alongside Steve Bruce, helped United along to four Premier titles in the mid 1990’s, as well as three F.A Cup titles. In 1998, Pallister made a return to ‘Boro, where he stayed until his retirement in 2001.

7. Paul McGrath- Premier League clubs: Aston Villa, Derby County- Premier League apps: 166

After seven years at Manchester United, in which he had established himself as one of the finest defenders in the country, Paul McGrath signed for Aston Villa in the summer of 1989. In the first ever Premier League season (1992-93), the Irish international was an ever present figure as Villa finished runners up to United, his performances earning him the PFA Player of the Year award at the age of 33.

He subsequently went on to help the West Midlands side to two League Cup wins, prior to joining newly promoted Derby County in 1996, with whom he contributed to a mid-table position in their first ever Premier League season.

After a startling admission that he barely, if ever, trained whilst at Villa due to persistent injuries, it’s hard not to agree that a fully-fit McGrath would have scaled much greater heights in the game.

6. Jamie Carragher- Premier League club: Liverpool- Premier League apps: 479             

The no-nonsense Jamie Carragher has been a part of the Anfield furniture for over 15 years, yet it wasn’t until the arrival of Rafael Benitez in the summer of 2004 that he was exclusively used as a centre back. From that point on, ‘Carra’ became one of the best in the league, forming fine partnerships alongside the likes of Sami Hyypia and Daniel Agger.

A fine organiser at the back, he is yet to win a Premier League title, but was named in the EPL team of the season in 2005/06.

5. Steve Bruce- Premier League club: Man United- Premier League apps: 148

Often regarded as the best Englishman never to represent his country, Steve Bruce was a huge contributing factor to United’s early Premier League success. A rugged, old-fashioned defender, who was also comfortable in possession, his partnership with Gary Pallister laid the foundations for the three Premier League titles United won from 1992-1996.

In 2002, Bruce was named as one of the two best centre-backs of the first 10 Premier League years.

4. Rio Ferdinand- Premier League clubs: West Ham, Leeds, Man United- Premier League apps: 443

After progressing through West Ham’s famed academy, Rio Ferdinand made over 125 league appearances at Upton Park, before becoming the world’s most expensive defender (£18m) by signing for Leeds in November 2001. Technically gifted, as well as a fine defender, he spent two successful seasons at Leeds, before another British record £30m move to Manchester United.

Success came instantly for Ferdinand at Old Trafford with a Premier League title in 2002/03, though an eight month suspension for a missed drug test impacted on United’s hope of retaining it the following season.

Ferdinand was a key figure of United’s three successive titles from 2006-2009, and his fifth championship medal in 2011 was the joint most for any defender in Premier League history (Wes Brown and John O’Shea are the other two). He has also made the team of the season on five occasions.

3. John Terry- Premier League club: Chelsea- Premier League apps: 359

John Terry made his Chelsea debut in 1998, and went on to feature sporadically until becoming established in the 2000/2001 season. Terry’s leadership skills were evident early on, captaining the side on regular occasions in the absence of Marcel Desailly. After helping Chelsea to a 2nd place finish in 2003/04, Terry was then named full time skipper the following year under new boss Jose Mourinho, helping the Londoners to back to back Premier League titles.

Terry was part of a redoubtable defence, alongside Ricardo Carvalho, that conceded just 15 goals in 2004/05, his lionheart performances reflected by his peers in the shape of the PFA Player of the Year award.

Alongside a host of domestic cups, Terry won his third Premier League title in 2010, under Carlo Ancelotti. In the years from 2005-2008, there was probably no better centre-back in world football.

2. Nemanja Vidic- Premier League club: Man United- Premier League apps: 167               

Nemanja Vidic arrived at Manchester United during the early days of 2006, completing a £7m move from Russian side Spartak Moscow. The Serbian international has gone on to establish himself as the greatest centre half in modern Premier League history, forming an impenetrable partnership with Rio Ferdinand as United reclaimed the league championship in 2006/07.

Great in the air and superb in the tackle, Vidic has been a huge factor of the Red Devils’ recent domestic dominance, winning his fourth league title in just six seasons in 2011.

1. Tony Adams- Premier League club: Arsenal- Premier League apps: 255

Tony Adams made his debut for Arsenal in 1983. A true leader (he was made captain at the tender age of 21) and a fearless centre back, as well as a fine tackler with a great reading of the game, Adams formed part of a rock solid defence throughout his time at the Gunners, alongside the likes of Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon.

But off-field problems threatened to curtail his footballing career. In 1990, he was sentenced to four months in prison for drunk driving, and in September 1996, he made his long battle with alcoholism known to the public. Backed by new manager Arsene Wenger, Adams managed to turn his life around, his colossal performances helping the Londoners to two Premier League titles.

In the last game of 1997/98, Adams scored the final goal of a 4-0 victory over Everton to cap a memorable season, and was part of the side that won the title in 2001/02 at the ground of rivals Manchester United.

Adams was included in the team of the season on three occasions, as well as being named alongside Steve Bruce in the best XI of the opening 10 years of the Premier League in 2002. In 2011, he was granted with a commemorative statue, stationed outside the Emirates Stadium, to mark Arsenal’s 125th anniversary.

In my opinion, he’s the best defender to ever grace the Premier League.

Written by Nick Wall
Follow him on Twitter @NickWolf89

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