Best defenders of all-time: A look at footballing rocks at the back

Let us take a look at impenetrable defenders who shielded their backline admirably for years from opposition’s attacks.

Paolo Maldini and Andriy Shevcheknko in a file photo. (Image: Twitter)
By Shayne Dias | Mar 17, 2021 | 3 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

Goal scorers have dominated football to such an extent that they have taken the spotlight away from their defensive stalwarts. Defenders are the silent warriors in the last line of defence, but hardly are they credited for their contributions to the team. A striker can get away with a poor day but a defender’s bad day might cost the team dearly. Forming the foundation to a team’s success, defenders play a huge role to a team’s success.

Let us go through the memory lane to check out the best defenders of all-time:

Franz Beckenbauer

Nicknamed “The Emperor”, Beckenbauer was one of the best defenders to ever take the field. Started as a midfielder, he achieved his fame in defence and was widely praised for mastering the “sweeper” role with the German national team. To put things into better perspective, Beckenbauer is the only defender in football history to win the Ballon d’Or twice.

He is one of three men to have lifted the World Cup as a player and as a manager. In 1974 he won the World Cup as their captain and 16 years later he repeated the same as a manager in 1990. Beckenbauer notably won three consecutive European Cups from 1974 to 1976 with Bayern Munich and went on to win several other accolades in his illustrious career.

Paolo Maldini

Maldini’s achievements for AC Milan and Italy will be difficult to sum up in words. The near flawless defender, who can also play as a left-back, was a commanding presence at the back. He was instrumental in Italy reaching the final of 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000. At the age of 39, Maldini won the Best Defender trophy at the UEFA Club Football Awards.

He came close to winning the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1995 only to finish it second. He was third in the Ballon d’Or list for 1994 and 2003. He spent all 25 seasons of his playing career in the Serie A with Milan and finally retired at the age of 41. His incredible 25 trophies with Milan include five European Cup/UEFA Champions League and seven Serie A titles. After he hung up his boots, Milan retired his famous No.3 shirt.

Fabio Cannavaro

Maldini would not have dreamt for a better heir to take over the national reigns from him than Cannavaro. He did what Maldini could not achieve – win the 2006 World Cup with Italy. They kept five clean sheets and conceded just two goals in the tournament and none was from open play. He was given the nickname “The Berlin Wall” by his supporters after their resounding victory.

Cannavaro became the only defender in history to have won the 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year award. He was also the last defender to win the Ballon d’Or award in 2006. Having played for several Italian clubs like Inter Milan, Juventus, Napoli and Parma, he has also had a three-year stint with Real Madrid. The defensive leader will etch his name in the history books as one of the greatest centre backs of his time.

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