Sergio Ramos, Virgil van Dijk, Paolo Maldini: Football's greatest ever defenders ranked


Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos has enjoyed quite the week.

Everybody's favourite footballing s***house achieved a unique piece of history when he directed a glancing header into the net during Real's 3-2 win over Inter Milan in the Champions League.

His fine finish past Samir Handanovic meant that the Spaniard had scored his 100th goal for Los Blancos, which we can all agree is an astonishing achievement for a centre-back by trade.

Ramos crowned the centre-back GOAT

However, Ramos is no ordinary centre-back and his overall career tally of 126 strikes are comprised of everything from penalties to bullet headers to glorious free-kicks.

And his latest, remarkable statistic also reopened the debate surrounding football's greatest ever defenders and where exactly Ramos features amongst the pantheon of deep-lying legends.

In fact, Ramos was actually crowned the finest centre-back to ever play the game by a fan poll in Spanish newspaper Marca this week, though the publication is admittedly linked to Real.


Is Ramos really the greatest?

Nevertheless, with 74% of voters backing Ramos as the GOAT in his position, we couldn't help assessing the debate ourselves and widening the net ever-so-slightly to defenders in general.

To achieve that we turned to our beloved medium of tiermaker to rank 22 of the legendary defensive marshalls on their website in categories ranging from 'GOAT' to 'Why are they here?'

Naturally, we're not going to please everyone with these defenders spanning various eras and it goes without saying that all of them are due praise as some of their position's most talented alumni.


Greatest ever defenders ranked

But disclaimers aside, rub your hands together and place them over the fires of debate we're about to stoke by checking out our final rankings down below:

Why are they here?

Lucio, Virgil van Dijk

Yeh, look, I'm not entirely sure how either player has wangled their way onto the list because, while there's no disputing they were and are top-class, they fall comfortably short of the standard here.

Lucio was one of the finest defenders of his generation, particularly during his pomp with Brazil and Inter Milan, without ever standing out enough individually to enter the GOAT conversation.

Liverpool's Van Dijk is a slightly different case because there is scope for him to rise up the ranks, but the Ballon d'Or-challenging defender needs to show long-term dominance before we go that far.


Pure quality

Marcel Desailly, Gerard Pique, Rio Ferdinand, Alessandro Nesta, Javier Zanetti, Lilian Thuram

'Pure quality' might be the understatement of the century, admittedly, but the standards really are that high and it's with great reluctance that we put stars like Zanetti and Thuram so many rungs down.

Desailly and Pique have won nearly everything there is to win in the beautiful game, while Ferdinand and Zanetti became heroes for their long-term achievements at Manchester United and Inter Milan.

Thuram, meanwhile, staked his claim as the dominant full-back of his generation by way of winning the World Cup and impressing across spells with Juventus and Barcelona.

Nesta came the closest to forcing his way into the tier above for his near-invincibility in AC Milan's legendary back four, winning two Champions League titles, but we happen to rank 15 defenders slightly higher...



Paul Breitner, Dani Alves, Laurent Blanc, Carles Puyol, John Terry, Nemanja Vidic

Credit to Bayern Munich and West Germany hero Breitner as the eighth-most prolific defender in history and one of a handful of players including Pele to have scored in two World Cup finals.

Alves deserves his place as the most decorated footballer in the sport's history, while his former teammate Puyol is one of the greatest leaders and defensive talents of the 21st Century.

Blanc, meanwhile, was inspirational en route to World Cup glory in 1998 and with Ramos inspiring our list, we couldn't help commending his stellar 153 goals, even becoming Montpellier's all-time record scorer.

Terry can most certainly be classed as 'era-defining' as the greatest defender in Premier League history, but Vidic isn't far behind him having won the competition's Player of the Year award twice in two years.


Legend status

Cafu, Daniel Passarella, Carlos Alberto, Roberto Carlos, Fabio Cannavaro, Sergio Ramos

Straight off the bat: Cafu and Carlos have pretty good claims to being the greatest left-backs and right-backs to play the game, winning the World Cup in 2002 and bagging Champions League titles at AC Milan and Real Madrid.

Alberto isn't trailing by much, though; becoming an icon across 53 appearances for Brazil and scoring the greatest goal in World Cup finals history with his 1970 screamer against Italy.

World Cup-winning skipper Passarella also deserves props for being the standout defender of the late 1970s and his astonishing scoring total of 175 goals can only be topped by Ronald Koeman.

We had to reward Cannavaro as the last defender to win the Ballon d'Or, while Ramos finds himself in the penultimate category for his gargantuan trophy cabinet and historic goal-scoring record.



Franz Beckenbauer, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini

Beckenbauer not only proved his GOAT status in defence, midfield and as a sweeper, but 'Der Kaiser' is also the only defensive player to have won the Champions League, World Cup and Ballon d'Or.

Baresi isn't just one of the best defenders in history, he's one of the greatest players, period: winning 19 major honors in Milan and marshaling the club's defence to just 15 goals conceded in 1993/94. Mental.

And what is there to say about Maldini that hasn't been said already? The AC Milan icon - who amassed 902 appearances for his boyhood club - would be our pick if we were forced to choose one GOAT.


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GIVEMESPORT's Kobe Tong says

Sorry, Sergio, you're not quite worthy of the highest tier of all, but I'm inclined to think that the Real captain is deserving of more praise than he receives... outside of Marca polls, that is.

You get the feeling that it's taken a crazy flurry of goals in the last few seasons for Ramos to be touted amongst the greats when, frankly, such lofty compliments have been due for a while.

After all, we are talking about a defensive juggernaut who has won four Champions League titles - captaining Real in three - as well as World Cup and European Championship winners' medals.


And trust me when I say that being called not quite as good as Beckenbauer, Maldini and Baresi is just about the most complimentary insult anyone has ever written. Credit to you, Sergio.

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