20 Best Liverpool Central Defenders

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistOctober 11, 2013

20 Best Liverpool Central Defenders

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    These days when talk about Liverpool isn't concerning their two in-form forwards, it usually centres on their defence.

    In order to get the best out of both Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Reds manager Brendan Rodgers has restructured his team and opted to field a three-man central defence supported by two wing backs.

    With the likes of Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure added to the squad's existing defenders this summer, such a move also allows Rodgers to field as many of his quality performers as possible, and so far the decision appears to be a successful one. The Reds are joint-top of the league, after all.

    But what about those players that Sakho and Toure have to live up to? Who are the club's greatest central defenders of all time?

    Here we've attempted to name the top 20, starting with a man who often lived up to his sharp nickname...

20. Neil Ruddock

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    One of the loudest characters in Liverpool teams of the 1990s, “Razor” Ruddock was a committed defender who was much more than just a hard man.

    The £2.5m signing from Tottenham could also pop up with vital goals for the Reds, none more so than the towering header which completed the comeback from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 with Manchester United in January 1994.

    One of the cornerstones of Liverpool’s “Spice Boys” team, which perhaps doesn’t get enough credit, frequent struggles with his weight and fitness troubled the defender, and he left when the more professional regime of Gerard Houllier came in in 1998.

19. Glenn Hysen

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    Liverpool beat Manchester United to the services of Swede Hysen when they signed him from Fiorentina for £300,000 in 1989, and the centre-back was a crucial part of the team which won the club’s most recent league championship that season.

    An impressive debut in the Charity Shield against Arsenal and his first goal for the club in a 9-0 mauling of Crystal Palace helped the experienced international settle in, and his importance was huge as the Reds were without the injured Alan Hansen.

    He would stay at the Reds for three years, making 93 appearances before leaving following the resignation of manager Kenny Dalglish.

18. Gary Ablett

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    Forever associated with Merseyside football due to being the only man to have won the FA Cup with both Liverpool and Everton, Gary Ablett came through the ranks at the Reds and, after biding his time and frequently being used at left-back, he eventually became a central defender and performed well alongside Hysen as Hansen sat out through injury.

    He was a key part of that 1990 title-winning team having been on the fringes of the one that was successful in 1987/88, before he left for a four-year spell with the Blues in 1996.

    After coaching Liverpool’s youngsters and embarking on a managerial career in the lower leagues, Ablett sadly contracted a form of blood cancer and died on New Year’s Day 2012, aged just 46.

17. Martin Skrtel

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    Injuries and a loss of form have been unwelcome bookmarks in the chapters of the Slovakian's Liverpool career, but he remains one of club's ever-willing stalwarts.

    A signing from Zenit St. Petersburg in January 2008, Skrtel was in and out of the team under Rafael Benitez before assuming greater importance following the departure of Sami Hyypia.

    Skrtel was voted as Liverpool's player of the 2011/12 campaign, when his goal against Cardiff City at Wembley helped the Reds towards their only trophy in the past seven years, the Carling Cup.

    After initial struggles under Brendan Rodgers in 2012/13, his current form is making him hard to shift from Liverpool's three-man defence.

16. Gary Gillespie

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    Scottish international Gillespie initially struggled to earn a place in the Liverpool team following his arrival from Coventry in 1983 due to the quality competition, but his patience was eventually rewarded.

    A frequent goal threat from defence, he once scored a hat-trick in a match against Birmingham City in April 1986 and was a steady presence in the Reds defence for much of the 1980s.

    He won three league titles, two FA Cups and a League Cup with the club, before leaving after eight years at Anfield in 1991.

15. Jimmy McDougall

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    Initially regarded as a forward in his early Liverpool career, Scotsman McDougall became a fixture in Liverpool's defence for a decade prior to the Second World War.

    Sadly for him, his excellent displays and loyal service to the club coincided one of the least successful periods in Liverpool's history, with his efforts going unrewarded in trophy form.

    He played for the Reds 356 times in all, with his form earning him the honour of the Scotland captaincy during his time at Anfield.

14. Stephane Henchoz

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    The Swiss already had experience in the Premier League when he joined the Reds following a season at Blackburn in 1999.

    Injury hampered him initially, but he soon formed an impressive partnership with Hyypia which would serve the Reds well during their treble cup winning campaign under Gerard Houllier in 2000/01.

    Very much a defender's defender, Henchoz would use any means necessary to prevent Liverpool from conceding a goal, most famously blocking Thierry Henry's goalbound shot with his hand in the 2001 FA Cup final against Arsenal. He got away with it, though.

13. Larry Lloyd

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    Perhaps one of the more underrated players in Liverpool's history, Lloyd helped establish the Reds as a major domestic force before going on to achieve European success with Nottingham Forest.

    A Bill Shankly signing from Bristol Rovers in 1969, the centre-back was seen as the successor to the ageing club captain Ron Yeats, and he partnered Tommy Smith at the back in the 1971 FA Cup final and as the Reds clinched the league and UEFA Cup double in 1972/73.

    Following a move to Coventry in 1974, he then went on to Forest where he was a key part of the side which won back-to-back European Cups in 1979 and 1980.

12. Mark Wright

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    A Liverpool stalwart for seven years following his arrival from Derby County in 1991 for what, at £2.5m, was a record fee for a British defender, Wright lifted the FA Cup as captain at the end of his first season.

    Seen as one of the main experienced heads in the young Liverpool teams of the 1990s, he won 45 England caps over a 12-year international career and was a regular in the Liverpool side until the age of 35.

    His form peaked and troughed as he got older, but on form, he was a solid performer who gave his all over 210 appearances for the club.

11. Phil Taylor

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    Perhaps more commonly remembered as the man who managed Liverpool immediately before Bill Shankly, Taylor is also the only ex-Reds boss never to have managed the club in the top division.

    A £5,000 signing from home town club Bristol Rovers in March 1936, Taylor was converted from a centre-forward to a centre-half early on in a career which would feature 345 Liverpool appearances.

    He was the defensive rock upon which Liverpool built their team as they won the first post-war league title, whilst he picked up an FA Cup runners-up medal in 1950 before taking over as manager in 1956, three years before making way for Shankly.

10. Mark Lawrenson

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    It took a club record fee of £900,000 to bring Lawrenson to Liverpool from Brighton in 1981, but it proved to be money well spent.

    These days known for his television work, the defender was a key part of Liverpool’s successes over seven years during which he won five league titles and the European Cup in 1984, forming a terrific partnership with Alan Hansen as he did so.

    Capped 39 times for the Republic of Ireland, he played 356 times for Liverpool during one of the most successful periods in the club’s history.

9. Daniel Agger

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    The classy operator at the heart of the Reds defence was plucked from Brondby by Rafael Benitez in January 2006, and is currently the second longest serving player at the club.

    The Denmark captain has suffered from injury problems throughout his Liverpool career, but when he's fit, there are few better defenders in Premier League, a division which has frequently seen the centre-back excel in bringing the ball out from the back.

    Also capable of firing in terrific shots from range with his rapier-like left boot, Agger has been and remains a tremendous player for Liverpool and must go down as one of Benitez's best purchases.

8. Alex Raisbeck

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    Perhaps Liverpool's first-ever star player, Scottish central defender Alex Raisbeck signed for the Reds from Stoke for the princely sum of £350 in 1898.

    The Scot stayed with with the club for 11 years and led them to their first two league titles as captain in the 1900/01 season, and then again in the 1905/06 campaign.

    He also skippered his country on five occasions and formed a huge part of Liverpool's early years as the rock upon which future successes were built.

7. Phil Thompson

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    Another locally-produced talent, Thompson was a key figure at Liverpool over 13 years which featured seven league championships.

    He lifted the European Cup as captain against Real Madrid in Paris in 1981, and following stints as the club's assistant manager, he took over as caretaker boss when Gerard Houllier fell ill in 2001.

    Always ready to help out his boyhood club in any situation, he remains a respected figure in Liverpool history.

6. Tommy Smith

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    Affectionately known as "The Anfield Iron," local lad Smith gave his all for the Reds over 16 years on the books, initially as a versatile member of Shankly's team and latterly as a never-say-die defender who was a key member of the team which won Liverpool their first European Cup.

    He won four league titles and two FA Cups, with a fairytale ending to his Reds' career coming when he headed home from a corner in Liverpool's first-ever European Cup Final, the victory over Borussia Moenchengladbach in 1977.

    Smith played 638 games over 16 years with the Reds, earning his reputation as a hard man by giving his all in every one of them.

5. Emlyn Hughes

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    The first Liverpool captain to lift the European Cup, Hughes joined the Reds from Blackpool as a 19-year-old in 1967, when manager Bill Shankly introduced him as the future captain of England.

    He was proved right of course, whilst the man nicknamed “Crazy Horse” went on to lift the European Cup in both 1977 and 1978.

    Always ready to give his all for the Reds cause, Hughes was a huge favourite with supporters over his 665 appearances for the club, and his death in 2004 was marked with an emotional Anfield minute’s silence.

4. Ron Yeats

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    Shankly introduced new signing Yeats to the media in 1961 and invited the press pack to “take a tour around” the Scot, such was his frame.

    The centre-back was the rock upon which much of Liverpool’s progress under Shankly was built, and he was a key member of the team which won the club’s first ever FA Cup in 1965, as well as the two league titles in the seasons wither side.

    A captain and leader of the side, Yeats was one of the symbols of the Reds throughout the 1960s, and his place in Liverpool legend has been long secured.

3. Sami Hyypia

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    Have Liverpool ever spent a better £2.6m than the sum they sent to Dutch club Willem II for Hyypia's services in the summer of 1999?

    From his initial status as a relative unknown, the Finn quickly became a fan's favourite due to his unflappable nature and ability to read the game.

    He would stay at Liverpool for 10 years, winning every trophy possible bar the league title and contributing immensely to all of the club's successes, not least the Champions League in 2005 when he scored a stunning volley in the quarter-final against Juventus.

    A fantastic servant to the club, Hyypia is still remembered fondly by supporters today.

2. Alan Hansen

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    A signing from Partick Thistle in 1977, Hansen would go on to be one of Liverpool’s best ever imports from Scotland and one of the classiest defenders in British football history.

    Initially played at left-back, he eventually moved across to the centre and excelled as Liverpool won the first of his three European Cups at the end of his first full season.

    A regular throughout the 1980s and one of the symbols of the club at that time, “Jocky” goes down as one of the best Reds defenders of all time and surely the best with a ball at his feet.

1. Jamie Carragher

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    An example to any footballer of just what is possible if you apply yourself correctly, Carragher is Liverpool's second-highest appearance maker with 737 games under his belt.

    The man himself would admit that he needed to grow up fast once he got into the first team, where he was shunted around for years and played in several different positions.

    It wasn't until the arrival of Rafael Benitez that he settled at centre-back, a move that proved crucial and set up the defining 30 minutes of his Reds career, the extra-time period in the Champions League final in Istanbul when his cramp-ridden body threw itself in front of any white AC Milan shirt that came close to Jerzy Dudek's goal.

    A one-club man, Carragher's place in Liverpool legend was secured long before his retirement in May.