Greatest Ever: Football: The Top 10 Central Midfielders of All Time

Barney Corkhill@@BarneyCorkhillSenior Writer IMarch 9, 2009

The 23rd installment of Barney Corkhill's Greatest Ever series is here!

In this series, I will look at the greatest talents to grace various sports. Here, I continue to look at football, this time counting down the top 10 central midfielders of all time.

Again, to avoid confusion, I have included defensive midfielders and attacking midfielders in this countdown.

I can safely say that this was the hardest out of any of my Greatest Ever countdowns so far.


10. Ruud Gullit (NED)

Narrowly beating countless other legends onto this list is Ruud Gullit. Gullit was part of the famed Dutch trio who played for AC Milan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, along with Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten.

This combination helped Milan to unparalleled success, winning three Serie A titles and two European Cups. He won yet more silverware at his other clubs, including three Dutch league titles, a Dutch Cup, an Italian Cup, and an FA Cup.

For Holland, he played a huge part in the rebirth of "Total Football", helping them to success in Euro '88. He went on to win 66 caps for the Netherlands. In 1987, Gullit was named the European and World Footballer of the Year, the latter of which he would win again two years later.

9. Lothar Matthaus (GER)

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No player has played in more World Cup matches than Lothar Matthaus. He has appeared in 25, spanning five World Cups, another record for an outfield player. His commanding presence in the middle of the park made him the perfect candidate for captaincy, and he became one of the best skippers in German football history.

During his club career, he won seven Bundesliga titles, three German Cups, a Serie A title and two UEFA Cups, while at international level, he won the 1980 European Championships, and added a World Cup winners medal a decade later.

Individually, he was awarded the Ballon d'Or in 1990, and became the first ever winner of the World Player of the Year award a year later. His haul of 150 caps for Germany is the highest in the country's history.

8. Zico (BRA)

Few, if any, players have been able to hit a free-kick like Zico, and his game in open play was just as impressive. He was often called "the White Pele", and the real Pele once said that Zico was the one player that came closest to him.

His finishing was almost as clinical as Pele's, as his goalscoring record clearly shows. He won seven Rio State Championships and four Brazilian Championships in his club career, but never managed to capture the World Cup with Brazil, despite being part of the great 1982 side.

He won 88 caps for Brazil, scoring a remarkable 66 goals from attacking midfield.

7. Raymond Kopa (FRA)

Equally adept at playing up front as he was in attacking midfield, Raymond Kopa was part of the great Real Madrid side of the late 1950s. After helping Stade de Reims to the 1956 European Cup final, in which they lost to Madrid, he was quickly snapped up by the Spanish giants.

In his career, Kopa won a whole host of silverware, including four French League titles, two Spanish League titles and three consecutive European Cups. He was also part of the French squad for the 1954 World Cup, in which he was named Young Player of the Tournament, and the 1958 World Cup, where he was named Player of the Tournament, becoming the only player to win both awards.

He went on to win 45 caps for France in his 10-year international career.

6. Michael Laudrup (DEN)

Michael Laudrup is one of very few players to have played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona. His elegant style made him a favourite with the fans, and his magnificent passing made him a favourite with his team-mates.

Raul has said that Laudrup is the best player he has ever played with while Romario agreed, going on to say that Laudrup was the fourth best player in the history of the game, level with Zinedine Zidane.

Unfortunately for Laudrup, however, he missed out on Denmark's greatest triumph, the 1992 European Championships, after a dispute with the coach. Despite this, his trophy cabinet wasn't exactly empty. He won a Serie A title, five La Liga titles, a Spanish Cup, a Dutch League title, a Dutch Cup, and a European Cup during his illustrious career.

5. Bobby Charlton (ENG)

Widely regarded as England's greatest ever player, Bobby Charlton experienced the highs and lows of football to the extreme. One of the few survivors of the Munich air tragedy, Charlton went on to become Manchester United's highest ever goalscorer and, until recently, their highest appearance maker as well.

10 years after the tragedy, he lifted the European Cup for United, two years after helping England to their one and only World Cup success. He also won three First Division titles and an FA Cup.

In 1966, along with the World Cup, he was honoured individually, being named the FWA Footballer of the Year and the European Player of the Year. He won 106 caps for England overall, a record at the time, scoring 49 goals, a tally which is still the highest of all time.

4. Michel Platini (FRA)

Long before he was making headlines for the wrong reasons, Michel Platini established himself as one of the greatest players of the modern era. His pin-point passing and dead ball delivery were among the best of all time.

During his club career, Platini won the French League, the French Cup, two Serie A titles, the Italian Cup, the Cup Winners' Cup, and the European Cup, although the latter was overshadowed by the Heysel disaster.

It was on the international stage that he impressed most, however, particularly in the 1984 European Championships, in which he was sensational. France won that tournament, and his performances led to him being named the European Player of the Year.

It was the second consecutive time he had won the award, and he made it a unique hat-trick a year later.

3. Zinedine Zidane (FRA)

Yes, the maestro only makes it to third, which gives you some idea how special the top two are. The greatest player of a hugely talented generation, Zinedine Zidane ruled world football for years.

In his club career, he won two Serie A titles, a La Liga title and a Champions League, but his greatest success came for France. In the 1998 World Cup final, he became a hero by scoring two headed goals to help France on their way to a historic victory over Brazil.

Eight years later and Zidane's actions with his head in a World Cup final again made the news, but this time he wasn't connecting with a ball, as a headbutt on Marco Materazzi saw him red carded in his last ever match.

He was also part of the France side that won Euro 2000. Individually, Zidane won the Ballon d'Or in 1998, and was named the World Player of the Year on three occasions, a record matched only by Ronaldo.

2. Johan Cruyff (NED)

Johan Cruyff epitomised the "Total Football" the Dutch played in the 1970s. His elegance and poise on the ball made it look as though the seemingly impossible things he was capable of came as naturally to him as breathing.

During his club career, Cruyff won nine Dutch League titles, six Dutch Cups, a La Liga title, a Spanish Cup, and three consecutive European Cups. For Holland, he was the vital cog in the great 1974 side who got to the World Cup final, only to fall at the last hurdle.

He was named European Footballer of the Year three times, a feat only van Basten and Platini can match, and was voted the European Player of the Century in an International Federation of Football History and Statistics poll. He finished second in the World Player of the Century poll, behind only Pele.

1. Alfredo Di Stefano (SPA)

Regarded by some to be the greatest all-round footballer ever, Alfredo Di Stefano was still regarded as the main man at Real Madrid despite playing alongside the likes of Ferenc Puskas, Francisco Gento, and Raymond Kopa.

Di Stefano makes this list rather than the one for strikers because of the way he controlled the game. Even though he was often said to be playing up front, he would collect the ball from his goalkeeper on the edge of his own box as often as he would pop up on the edge of his opponent's.

In his club career, he won two Argentinian League titles, four Columbian league titles, eight La Liga titles, a Spanish Cup, and five consecutive European Cups. He played for three different international teams, but, amazingly, never played in a World Cup.

His goalscoring return of 431 goals in 587 matches is a remarkable one, and led to him breaking countless goalscoring records, many of which still stand. In 1957 and 1959, Di Stefano was awarded the Ballon d'Or. He was voted fourth in IFFHS's World Player of the Century poll.

Alfredo Di Stefano—the greatest central midfielder of all time!

Other articles from this series include:

Top 10 Goalkeepers of All Time

Top 10 Right-Backs of All Time

Top 10 Centre-Backs of All Time

Top 10 Left-Backs of All Time

Top 10 Right Midfielders of All Time

Top Ten Left Midfielders of All Time

Top Ten Strikers of All Time

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