Along with the striker role, this is the hardest list to compile, simply because of the sheer amount of talent that we have seen in this position over the years.
It is the position where the strings are pulled - the defence is protected and attacks begin. Because of the convoluted nature of the central-midfield role, players must be extremely intelligent, versatile and have bags of stamina.
This list could quite easily be split into three: holding midfield, box-to-box and attacking midfielder, but I have decided against it as the players who make up the final greatest XI must be flexible enough to cover all these areas.
1. Alfredo Di Stefano (River Plate, Millionarios, Real Madrid, Espanyol & Spain)
Although often confused as being a striker, the prolific Spaniard was commonly seen on the edge of his own area making decisive challenges as often as he was hitting the back of the net. Di Stefano was a pivotal member in possibly the most successful team of all time: Real Madrid of the 1950's and 60's.
Considering the fact that they played far fewer games in those times, the Spaniard still managed 216 goals in 282 games at the Bernabeu, making him Madrid's 2nd highest goal-scorer of all time, just behind Raul who managed 228 in 550 games!
2. Zinedine Zidane (Cannes, Bordeaux, Juventus, Real Madrid & France)
By far and away the greatest player of his entire generation. The French magician had an outstanding career which culminated in one of the best technical finishes ever in the 2002 Champions League Final, which saw him hit an outstanding volley with his weaker foot. It is, personally, my favourite goal of all-time.
Zidane has been named World Player of the Year on three separate occasions, a record matched only by the Brazilian, Ronaldo. In total, the Frenchman earned two Serie A titles, one Italian Super Cup, one La Liga title, two Spanish Super Cups, a Champions League, a World Cup and a European Championship.
3. Johan Cruyff (Ajax, Barcelona, LA Aztecs, Washington Diplomats, Levante, Feyenoord & Holland)
Purveyor of the great football philosophy, "Total Football", the Dutch legend was once considered to be the greatest player on the planet. He had one of the greatest passing abilities in history, made so by his superb vision and precise timing.
His ability earned him nine Dutch League titles, six Dutch Cups, a La Liga title, a Spanish Cup and also three European Cups in a row. Most will be aware of his legendary invention: the 'Cruyff turn' which bamboozled many of his opponents.
4. Sir Bobby Charlton (Manchester United & England)
The legendary England midfielder was an ever-present for Manchester United between the mid-1950's to early 70's, making 758 appearances for the Old Trafford club in total, hitting the back of the net on 249 occasions, the latter of which still remains a record at the club.
He is also England’s record goal-scorer with 49 goals in 106 caps, one of which earned him the 1966 World Cup. Charlton’s other trophies include three English titles and an FA Cup.
5. Lothar Matthaus (Borussia Monchengladbach, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan & Germany)
Regarded by many to be the greatest defensive-midfielder of all time, Matthaus also holds the record for most World Cup appearances (25) over five World Cups (another record for an outfield player). Diego Maradona described him as ‘the best rival I’ve ever had’, which simply emphasises the talent of the German.
In his lengthy career he won seven Bundesliga titles, three German Cups, three German League Cups, one UEFA Cup, one Serie A title, the 1990 World Cup and 1980 European Championship.
Honourable mentions should go to Roy Keane, Ruud Gullit, Xavi and Michel Platini. Some players such as Diego Maradona will be included in the strikers list. However, feel free to leave your comments on who you think should make the top five greatest ever centre-midfielders list.
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