Greatest Ever: Football's Top 10 Defensive Midfielders of All Time

Barney Corkhill@@BarneyCorkhillSenior Writer IAugust 6, 2009

The Greatest Ever series is back! In this 27th installment, I look at the greatest defensive midfielders to play ever football.

A few months ago, I wrote a list of the top 10 central midfielders of all time in which the majority of players were attacking. This led to requests to do a separate defensive midfielders list, so here I go!


10. Diego Simeone (ARG)

When Simeone's name is mentioned here in England, one's mind is immediately cast back to the 1998 World Cup, where he deliberately got David Beckham sent-off. While this is a black mark on his career, he more than balances it out with the amount of accolades he has amounted throughout his career.

While he was considered something of a journeyman at club level, never playing more than 100 league games for any one club, at international level he was a fixture in the Argentinian side.

He won 106 caps, breaking a record previously held by Diego Maradona, on his way to helping Argentina to two Copa America titles. He also won a La Liga title, a Serie A title, a Spanish Cup, an Italian Cup, and a UEFA Cup during his illustrious career.

9. Dunga (BRA)

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Dunga faced stiff competition from fellow countrymen Mauro Silva and Zito for his spot on this list, but his overall importance to a star-studded Brazilian side just gave him the edge.

Another player who featured more prominently at international level than club level, Dunga won 91 caps for Brazil, captaining them to World Cup glory in 1994 and another final four years later.

Despite facing critics for his "Un-Brazilian" style early on in his career, Dunga's continued effort, determination, and desire won over his sceptics as he became a vital member of a team containing Romario, Ronaldo, Cafu, and Roberto Carlos, among others.

8. Graeme Souness (SCO)

Ask any Liverpool fan who the key players were during the Bob Paisley era and Souness' name will always be one of the first mentioned. The tough-tackling Scot provided vital presence, intimidation, and quality in the Liverpool midfield.

Throughout his career, Souness won five First Division titles, three European Cups, four League Cups, and an Italian Cup in addition to 54 Scotland caps.

As well as being one of the best midfielders to play in English football, Souness was also one of the hardest. You could be sure when you faced him that there would be no quarter given or asked.

7. Edgar Davids (NED)

Edgar Davids is one of the most instantly recognisable players of all time due to his dread-locked hair and protective glasses. He didn't waste the spotlight that came with this attention either.

He quickly gained a reputation as a typical defensive midfielder, breaking up the play before launching an attack for his own team. Such was his tenacity in doing so that he was nicknamed "The Pitbull" by Ajax manager Louis van Gaal.

In a trophy-laden career, Davids won three Eredivisie titles, two Dutch Cups, a Champions League, a UEFA Cup, three Serie A titles, and an Italian Cup. Internationally he won 74 caps for Holland.

6. Didier Deschamps (FRA)

Didier Deschamps was the "water-carrier" of the French side as they embarked on their "golden generation". Every team needs one, and Deschamps carried out his task to perfection, doing all the unseen, dirty work before giving the ball to the headline-makers such as Zinedine Zidane, Eric Cantona, and Thierry Henry.

Despite this, his value to the team wasn't ignored as he was named as captain for the successful 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 campaigns. At the time of his retirement from international football, Deschamps was France's highest capped player ever, with 103.

His club career was laced with silverware too, as he helped his respective clubs to two Ligue 1 titles, two Serie A titles, an Italian Cup, an FA Cup, and two Champions Leagues titles.

5. Patrick Vieira (FRA)

However good Deschamps was individually, he was ably assisted by two other great defensive midfielders, the first of which was Patrick Vieira. The lanky Frenchman offered everything the shorter Deschamps didn't, forming a formidable partnership.

Vieira went on to eclipse Dechamps, however, winning 107 international caps thus far, as well as being part of the same World Cup and European Championships winning squads.

At club level, Vieira came to prominence with Arsenal, winning three Premier League titles, including captaining the "Invincibles", and four FA Cups. Elsewhere, Vieira has won four Serie A titles, although one of these was revoked due to Juventus' match fixing scandal.

4. Claude Makelele (FRA)

The third Frenchman in a row on this list is the token unsung hero. For years, Claude Makelele was under-appreciated, so much so that Real Madrid let him go to Chelsea instead of increasing his wages.

It was at Chelsea that everyone saw what a quality player he was. In many ways he was the perfect defensive midfielder, simply winning the ball and making a short pass to keep possession. He was so successful in this position that it is now known as the "Makelele role".

During his career, Makelele won a Ligue 1 title, two La Liga titles, two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup, and a Champions League. He made 71 appearances for France, including helping them to the 2006 World Cup final.

3. Roy Keane (IRE)

Few men encompass the phrase "fighting spirit" as much as Roy Keane, who became a talisman for Manchester United during the most successful period in the club's history.

His duels with fellow great Patrick Vieira are legendary, as are his crunching tackles and short fuse. Behind all the aggression, however, was a player of immense quality, with Sir Alex Ferguson acknowledging him as the greatest player he has ever coached.

Under his leadership, United won seven Premier League titles, four FA Cup titles, and a Champions League. He later won a Scottish League title and Cup with Celtic, as well as winning 66 Republic of Ireland caps.

2. Frank Rijkaard (NED)

While Johan Cruyff led the first era of "Total Football", Frank Rijkaard, along with Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten brought it back. This Dutch triumvirate became the dominant force in both international and club football.

His time at AC Milan and role in the 1988 European Championships brought him to worldwide acclaim as he fast became regarded as one of the best players on the planet.

During his club career he won five Dutch league titles, three Dutch Cups, two Serie A titles, a Cup Winners' Cup, and three Champions League titles. He made 73 caps for Holland, including playing an integral part in the triumphant 1988 European Championships.

1. Lothar Matthaus (GER)

Matthaus was the only defensive midfielder to make it on to the original central midfielders list, and it's not hard to see why. His five World Cup campaigns remains a record for an outfield player, as does his 25 World Cup appearances.

During his club career, Matthaus won seven Bundesliga titles, three German Cups, a Serie A title, and two UEFA Cup titles. Internationally, he helped Germany to the 1980 European Championships, and led them to World Cup success ten years later.

Matthaus went on to win 150 caps for Germany, a record which still stands today. He was also awarded the Ballon d'Or in 1990 and became the first player to be named FIFA World Player of the Year one year later. At the age of 38, Matthaus proved his immense longevity by being named the German Player of the Year for a second time.

Lothar Matthaus—the greatest defensive midfielder of all time!

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