Ranking the 20 Best Central Defenders in World Football

Ollie Scrimgeour@olliescrimContributor IIJuly 24, 2014

Ranking the 20 Best Central Defenders in World Football

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    Where does David Luiz rank after his World Cup trauma?
    Where does David Luiz rank after his World Cup trauma?Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Most of Europe's top clubs are in need of investment in the defensive area. There is a real shortage of genuinely world-class central defenders in world football at present and with the World Cup highlighting a number of those talents, they are a sought-after breed.

    Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United—to name but a few—are in the market.

    So who are the best central defenders in world football currently?

    Here we analyse the 20 strongest defensive anchors in the game, based on a criteria of current form and potential ability. There will also be reference to their availability and which clubs are looking at them in the transfer window.

Honourable Mentions

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    Pepe's temperament often overshadows his defensive capability
    Pepe's temperament often overshadows his defensive capabilityPaulo Duarte/Associated Press


    The young Brazilian will perhaps consider himself unlucky not to have made Brazil's World Cup squad, particularly given David Luiz's catastrophic displays in the latter stages of the tournament. Indeed, Dante hardly covered himself in glory for Brazil when called upon in the semi-final against Germany, making Marquinhos' absence all the more mystifying.

    Nevertheless, Marquinhos appears to have the technical and physical capacity to be the future of PSG's defence, nurtured by compatriots Thiago Silva and David Luiz, he could very well step into their boots for the national team too.

    Nemanja Vidic

    A fearless, powerful leader, three years ago Nemanja Vidic was probably the finest central defender in the world. Following a string of serious knee injuries, which began in December 2011, the Serbian international had little success in relation to his first five years at United, in which he had won four Premier League titles and a Champions League. It might be no coincidence that Manchester United's capitulation has occurred at the same time as Vidic's fall from grace.

    Despite a final triumph in the Premier League in 2013, lifting the trophy as captain, he decided to leave United in February 2014 to join Internazionale. Inter and Serie A now form the platform from which he can re-establish his position as one of the best in his position.


    An exceptionally controversial figure, the Portuguese combatant has every attribute to be a world-class player. Inevitably, Pepe's showings of senseless rage at the World Cup underlined once again why he will never be among the world's best central defenders.

    The Brazilian-born 31-year-old ought to be in the prime of his career—his role in Real Madrid's 10th Champions League success last year evidence of such. However, Los Blancos might be looking to replace the temperamental defender with a younger and classier character. Raphael Varane looks raring to go.

    Mamadou Sakho

    Sakho was made temporary captain of Paris Saint-Germain at the age of 17 and went on to take the honour full-time at the start of the 2011-12 season. His maturity as a leader has rarely been called into question, as shown by the trust shown in him by Didier Deschamps in France's World Cup opener.

    With pace and strength, Sakho is something of a man mountain and his stature ought to strike fear into the hearts of opposing strikers. However, a lack of maturity on the pitch frequently creeps into his game. His rash approach and occasional poor positioning are aspects that he must attend to if he is to become a top-class central defender.

    Stefan de Vrij

    Another young player, De Vrij was given his first cap by Louis van Gaal at the age of 20 and has since become a regular fixture alongside Ron Vlaar in the Dutch back line. With more than 135 appearances notched for Feyenoord, De Vrij continues to grow into one of the most exciting prospects in his position.

    After a phenomenal World Cup performance, in which he scored against Spain, helped Holland to a third place finish and formed part of the most fascinating defensive formation in Brazi, De Vrij is hot property. It would be no surprise should a titanic club come in for him. No doubt Van Gaal will have his eye on him from Old Trafford.

20. Laurent Koscielny

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    Koscielny has become a vital component for Arsenal
    Koscielny has become a vital component for ArsenalAlastair Grant/Associated Press

    The Arsenal man is quick, strong and fully committed in every challenge he makes—aerially or otherwise. Unfortunately, he has a tendency to overcommit and can be rather rash at times, though it would appear he is learning to iron out such issues.

    A regular with the French national team, Koscielny will be one of the more veteran star defenders when his country hosts Euro 2016 in two years. In the meantime, he continues to dominate in the Premier League, and at the age of 28, he must now be considered a real leader at the heart of the Gunners' defence alongside Per Mertesacker.

    There is no chance of Arsene Wenger letting Koscielny go, such is his importance to the club's upcoming season.

19. Jan Vertonghen

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    Vertonghen is key to Spurs' defensive setup
    Vertonghen is key to Spurs' defensive setupSang Tan/Associated Press

    Jan Vertonghen was played out of position for Belgium at the World Cup in Brazil but still performed admirably. He is undoubtedly at his best in the centre of the defence and has become something of a fans' favourite at White Hart Lane.

    His technical ability is probably the most important part of his game, such is the ease that he shows when on the ball. Vertonghen's solid defending is complimented by his leadership qualities, conducting the Tottenham defence alongside Michael Dawson.

    Vertonghen is unlikely to be available to any potential suitors this summer, but for the right price, it's possible to prise anyone away.

18. David Luiz

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    David Luiz will benefit from his move to PSG
    David Luiz will benefit from his move to PSGFelipe Dana/Associated Press

    The outrage is audible from here. Jokes about PSG losing their £50 million receipt for Luiz are lurking around the corner. Nevertheless, David Luiz is one of the best central defenders in world football.

    David Luiz's inclusion in this list might come as a surprise after his showing at the World Cup, and there is no doubting that his performance in the semi-final will go down as one of the worst of all time. However, it would be unfair to place all of the blame on his shoulders and to entirely disregard the qualities that he does possess.

    For many years, there have been reasonable arguments that Luiz is in fact not a central defender but a more attacking player. That said, he has all the attributes of a top-class centre-back, with his speed, strength and aggression. That isn't to mention his occasional ferocious free-kick ability.

    If he could just reduce his aggression and become more disciplined with his positioning, which Laurent Blanc could be the perfect man to instil, Luiz and Silva will form the strongest centre-back pairing in world football at Paris Saint-Germain.

17. Andrea Barzagli

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    Barzagli's ability to read the game is commendable
    Barzagli's ability to read the game is commendableMatthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Andrea Barzagli is almost a stereotype. The Italian central defender reads the game brilliantly, with majestic positioning and a physical presence similar to that of Fabio Cannavaro.

    His record with Juventus speaks for itself, and in spite of a difficult World Cup campaign for the hot and cold Italians, he will be looking to further his club success next campaign.

16. Ron Vlaar

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    Aston Villa must keep hold of Ron Vlaar
    Aston Villa must keep hold of Ron VlaarKirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    Aston Villa manager, Paul Lambert, was apparently in no rush to offer his captain, Ron Vlaar, a new contract before the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It looks like a considerable miscalculation now after what was a sensational tournament for "Roncrete" and his Netherlands team, who finished third in Brazil.

    Vlaar has propelled himself into a position among the finest central defenders in football. Now he is rather sought-after property and Villa will seemingly do well to hold onto him, with the likes of Southampton trailing his signature, according to The Mirror.

    Villa might be forced to let him go, given that the owner is selling the club and would rather earn some money from the sale than let him leave for free when his contract expires at the end of this coming season.

15. Gerard Pique

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    Pique remains a class act despite drop in form
    Pique remains a class act despite drop in formManu Fernandez/Associated Press

    After a shock exit in Brazil, most of Spain's players are reeling.

    Gerard Pique's form has been on the wane for some time now, but he still remains a class talent. This coming season will be especially telling for him and for Barcelona, particularly following Spain's failure.

    Barcelona announced the purchase of Jeremy Mathieu to partner Pique on Wednesday, so his departure from Camp Nou is highly unlikely.

14. Gary Cahill

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    Cahill has grown into one of Europe's finest
    Cahill has grown into one of Europe's finestMartin Mejia/Associated Press

    Since joining Chelsea in 2012, Gary Cahill has gone from strength to strength and is now the complete package at centre-back.

    Alongside John Terry, Cahill was a member of the strongest defence in the Premier League last term and will look to perpetuate such form next season. Despite a characteristically poor English display at the World Cup, Cahill will be expected to bounce back under the guidance of Jose Mourinho and lead Chelsea to a Premier League title.

    Perhaps the only thing lacking from Cahill's game is a sense of leadership, which is not required when playing with Terry but quite apparent when he pulls on the England shirt.

13. Ezequiel Garay

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    Garay was the star of Argentina's almost impenetrable defence
    Garay was the star of Argentina's almost impenetrable defenceNatacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    With a World Cup runners-up medal in his back pocket, Ezequiel Garay has this summer proven himself as one of the true defensive brick walls in world football.

    Argentina, as a whole, were rather impressive in defence and were tipped to beat Germany in the final, only for Mario Goetze to break their hearts.

    Garay was the best performer in the Argentinian defence, and after garnering a lot of interest from Europe's finest clubs, he signed for Zenit St Petersburg during the tournament.

12. Branislav Ivanovic

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    Versatile Ivanovic is always dominant for Chelsea
    Versatile Ivanovic is always dominant for ChelseaClint Hughes/Associated Press

    Branislav Ivanovic is often played at right-back for Chelsea and very rarely puts in a poor performance.

    Ivanovic is not only versatile and consistently impressive but incredibly strong, technically gifted and capable of beating even the most ferocious of strikers to the ball.

    What's more, Ivanovic has a knack for contributing goals from set pieces, such is his aerial threat.

    Mourinho will not be selling this classy Serbian.

11. Mehdi Benatia

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    Benatia provides the power to Roma's defence
    Benatia provides the power to Roma's defenceGregorio Borgia/Associated Press

    Mehdi Benatia has an excellent capacity to read the game; his concentration making him a great leader at the heart of the Roma defence and his interceptions vital to launching attacks.

    At the age of 27, Benatia has grown into a fine central defender and is highly sought-after by a number of England's biggest clubs, including Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs. However, Roma manager Rudi Garcia has stated in no uncertain terms that he is not for sale, via The Express.

10. Jerome Boateng

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    World Cup champion Boateng should play centrally for Bayern
    World Cup champion Boateng should play centrally for BayernAssociated Press

    Having now won the World Cup, Jerome Boateng has won almost everything there is to win and will undoubtedly play a key part in Germany's Euro 2016 campaign.

    Another one who can and does play at full-back, Boateng is at his best when positioned at centre-back. With his powerful build, Boateng's athleticism makes him an exceptional defensive talent, and he is expected to continue improving.

    Bayern are another side that need defensive investment, but with Boateng finding sublime form in Brazil, perhaps the gap at the back has diminished somewhat.

9. Neven Subotic

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    Dortmund will be delighted to welcome Subotic back from injury
    Dortmund will be delighted to welcome Subotic back from injuryFrank Augstein/Associated Press

    Since signing for Borussia Dortmund in 2008, Neven Subotic's defensive performances have captured a lot of attention. Alongside Mats Hummels, he has established one of Europe's most fearsome centre-back duos.

    At the age of just 25, Subotic plays with the composure of a much older and more experienced player. His levels of concentration are commendable, and he is equally skilled on the ball—his passing is one of his best attributes.

    In December 2013, Subotic tore his knee ligaments and has only just returned to action, much to the delight of Dortmund's players, staff and fans.

8. Raphael Varane

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    Raphael Varane is destined to rise to the very top
    Raphael Varane is destined to rise to the very topManu Fernandez/Associated Press

    One of the brightest prospects in world football, let alone in his position, Raphael Varane already has a wealth of experience of which most 21 year olds could only dream.

    Having already won the Champions League with Real Madrid, Varane will now look to establish his position alongside Sergio Ramos in central defence at the Bernabeu. With Pepe seemingly unreliable, this is the perfect opportunity for the young Frenchman.

    Varane was given plenty of responsibility at the World Cup, starting alongside Mamadou Sakho in France's opener. A future French captain and certainly one to watch for many years to come.

7. John Terry

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    Terry will hope to continue last season's form at Chelsea
    Terry will hope to continue last season's form at ChelseaBogdan Maran/Associated Press

    Most England fans were wishing for some sort of miraculous announcement that Terry was coming out of international retirement before the World Cup, with his 2013-14 season representing something of a return to his best.

    A true leader on the pitch, John Terry remains one of the strongest central defenders in world football. With an unrivalled capacity to make last-ditch interceptions and bravery that would make Terry Butcher proud, the former England skipper is still very much at the top of his game.

    With Frank Lampard heading to New York to start afresh, there were suggestions that Terry would be following him out of the door. Having more than proved his worth last season, Terry earned himself a one-year extension on his contract at Stamford Bridge.

    Jose Mourinho's return to Chelsea has coincided with the club captain's spectacular return to form, reinforcing Chelsea's considerable chances of lifting the Premier League trophy in what will most likely be Terry's final year with the Blues.

6. Diego Godin

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    Godin had a huge season for Spanish champions Atletico Madrid last term
    Godin had a huge season for Spanish champions Atletico Madrid last termPaulo Duarte/Associated Press

    Following a quite remarkable season with Atletico Madrid, winning La Liga after an incredibly close title race with Barcelona and local rivals Real Madrid, Diego Godin went into the World Cup as Uruguay captain and one of the most in-form defenders on the planet.

    With an aerial ability that makes him not only solid at the back but a genuine attacking threat from set pieces, Godin notched some really important goals for Atleti, including the title-clincher against Barcelona and the opening goal in the Champions League final.

    Godin has established himself as a real force at centre-back and is an asset Atletico Madrid will look to for years to come.

5. Giorgio Chiellini

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    Chiellini is a constant rock at the back of the Juventus team
    Chiellini is a constant rock at the back of the Juventus teamMassimo Pinca/Associated Press

    Having escaped from the jaws of Luis Suarez, Giorgio Chiellini will be determined to make the upcoming season with Juventus far more fruitful than Italy's World Cup campaign in Brazil.

    Chiellini has been a consistently solid performer at the heart of The Old Lady's defence since becoming a regular under Fabio Capello during the 2005-06 season. The 29-year-old has been a loyal servant to Juventus, and he is the natural successor to Gianluigi Buffon as captain when the 'keeper finally hangs up his gloves.

    A vital fixture in the Italian champions' team, Chiellini has been a highly dedicated and dependable leader for the club, and his unerring command of the defensive line has been imperative to ensuring three consecutive Serie A titles.

4. Vincent Kompany

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    Kompany is captain fantastic at City
    Kompany is captain fantastic at CityRui Vieira/Associated Press

    Despite a slightly off-colour season for the Belgium and City captain last term, due to injury interruptions throughout the campaign, Vincent Kompany remains the finest defender in the Premier League.

    Towering at 6'4" and powerfully built, Kompany is a leader of men and has written himself into City folklore since his arrival in 2008. Player of the Season and title-winning captain in the most exciting season in Premier League history, you only need to watch that incredible finale against QPR to appreciate how much the club means to Kompany.

    Aside from all of his outstanding attributes, which make him one of the best in world football, it is his fire and strength of character that make him the player he is today.

    The ideal captain: Vincent Kompany is the embodiment of Manchester City.

3. Sergio Ramos

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    Sergio Ramos is the ultimate warrior in central defence
    Sergio Ramos is the ultimate warrior in central defenceManu Fernandez/Associated Press

    Almost as rash as Pepe at times but with a level of quality that is almost unrivalled throughout world football, Sergio Ramos is the definition of a striker's nightmare.

    Strong, fast and very aggressive, Ramos is the most athletic central defender on the list. Not only is he a world-class defender, but he can dictate the tempo of a game; his passing range and technique surpassing that of most central midfielders.

    A regular in the Real Madrid defence from the age of 19, Ramos is a hero at the Bernabeu and is captain when Iker Casillas doesn't play. The key man in Real Madrid's Champions League triumph in May, scoring the vital equalising goal late on, Ramos was able to add the only trophy to have eluded his collection so far.

    Naturally a member of the hugely successful Spanish national team, he had a sour taste of disappointment in Brazil and will be looking to bounce back and lead Real Madrid back to the top of Spanish and European football.

2. Thiago Silva

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    Thiago Silva will be central to PSG's European conquest
    Thiago Silva will be central to PSG's European conquestMichel Euler/Associated Press

    Although he didn't play in the 7-1 humiliation at the hands of Germany, the Brazil captain will have to shoulder some blame for the host nation's poor defensive display against the Netherlands in the play-off for third place.

    A real wake-up call, the World Cup served to highlight the many frailties in the new Paris Saint-Germain back line. In the long term, though, it could be a blessing in disguise for Thiago Silva, whose highly professional attitude and technical superiority ought to be ameliorated, as he is made aware of where to improve.

    Diligence is key for PSG next season, and under disciplinarian Laurent Blanc, captain Silva will be the key to unlocking David Luiz's potential and keeping a firm grip on his wandering tendencies.

    PSG will challenge for Europe's top prize with Thiago Silva on form.

1. Mats Hummels

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    Hummels was one of Germany's biggest World Cup heroes
    Hummels was one of Germany's biggest World Cup heroesThanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press

    One of the real stars of the tournament, Mats Hummels took the World Cup finals in Brazil by the scruff of the neck and demonstrated why he is currently the best central defender in the game.

    His titanic build aside, Hummels has everything—strength, athleticism, composure and anticipation. The World Cup winner kept some of the most deadly strikers at the tournament quiet and even contributed significantly to the German goals tally, heading in critical goals against Portugal and France.

    Perhaps the greatest compliment to Hummels would be to underline how he rarely appears troubled by any threat. At the age of just 25, he will no doubt continue to improve as well, as he learns to position himself a little better in certain circumstances and becomes a true leader on the pitch.

    Borussia Dortmund are full to the brim with young, German talent, and Hummels is certainly one of their most valuable assets. However, Manchester United are showing a keen interest in the centre-back, and it would appear he is close to completing a move to Old Trafford, according to The Mirror.

    Jurgen Klopp will do everything he can to hold onto Hummels, but he will have a real fight on his hands, given the special talent that the World Cup winner possesses.