8 Greatest Central Defenders in Netherlands History
Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp—as a footballing nation, the Netherlands are primarily known for their attacking prowess.
However, throughout the years, the Dutch have produced some quality defenders as well.
Here, we've ranked the eight best of all time.
Contributions to success with the Dutch national team will be the main criterium, but club success has been taken into account as well.
Furthermore, it's not just pure defensive skills the players are judged on. In true Dutch fashion, the ability to pass the ball around and contribute to the attacking phase of play is seen as important as well.
Ultimately, though, the question is this: Who was the best centre-back the Netherlands have ever had?
8. Aron Winter
Primarily a defensive midfielder, Aron Winter was sometimes used as a centre-back. This was especially the case under Guus Hiddink, who was Dutch boss during Euro 1996 and the 1998 World Cup.
Winter never complained about this. He got on with his job. For that, he deserves praise.
Able to pass the ball and position himself intelligently, Winter adjusted to the role perfectly, and he definitely made his contribution to the Netherlands' successful 1998 World Cup campaign.
7. Ron Vlaar
Ahead of the World Cup in Brazil, a lot of critics casted their doubts over the Netherlands' defensive capabilities.
The defenders, it was said, were simply not good enough.
However, after a few matches, these critics were forced to eat their words. The Dutch defence performed outstandingly.
Ron Vlaar played especially well, becoming the rock at the back the Netherlands needed.
No one had expected it beforehand, but arguably Vlaar became one of the best defenders of the tournament.
6. Ruud Krol
In 1971, 1972 and 1973, Ajax managed to win the European Cup three times in a row.
Critics generally agree that Dutch legend Johan Cruyff was the architect of this success. However, at the back, central defender Ruud Krol played a major role as well.
In 1974, when the Netherlands reached the final of the World Cup, Krol played as a left-back. In 1978, when the Dutch made it all the way again, he had developed into a world-class sweeper.
Versatile, loyal and intelligent, Krol was a truly unique defender.
5. Ruud Gullit
He played in many positions throughout his career, so it's difficult to classify Ruud Gullit as a defender. However, he has played as a centre-back—and he was pretty good at it, too.
In 1988, Gullit achieved his biggest success with the Dutch national team, winning the European Cup together with AC Milan teammate Frank Rijkaard.
At the back, in midfield and up front. Ruud Gullit played everywhere. How often do you get to see players that versatile?
4. Frank Rijkaard
Frank Rijkaard was a versatile player, too. Not just a static centre-back, he would often push forward from defence to add another man to midfield.
In this role, Rijkaard was crucial to Ajax's tactics when the Amsterdam-based side won the Champions League under the leadership of Louis van Gaal in 1995.
With the Dutch national team, Rijkaard was equally successful, winning the European Cup in 1988.
3. Ronald Koeman
When it comes to Liberos, it's impossible not to mention Ronald Koeman, who is possibly the best roaming defender the Netherlands have ever had.
At Euro 1988, Koeman was an essential part of the ultimately victorious Dutch national team. In 1992, he scored the winning goal in the Champions League final for Barcelona—then managed by Dutch legend Johan Cruyff.
2. Frank de Boer
Who can forget Frank de Boer? Now manager at Dutch club Ajax, the former central defender and sweeper might just be one of the Netherlands' most intelligent footballers of all time.
His greatest moment? That must be the assist he gave for Dennis Bergkamp's wondergoal at the 1998 World Cup in France.
His lowest moment? Undoubtedly the two penalties he missed against Italy during the semi-final of Euro 2000.
1. Jaap Stam
Frank de Boer, Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard—they were all versatile defenders, capable of attacking as well as defending. However, none of these players was as ruthlessly effective as Jaap Stam.
At the World Cup in 1998, when the Netherlands reached the semi-final, Stam functioned as the team's guardsman. He denied some of the world's best attackers access to Oranje's box.
At club level, Stam did the same for sides like PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, Lazio, AC Milan and Ajax.
When it comes to out and out defenders, Stam might have been one of the best the world has seen in the last 20 years.