Football is a cruel game. Player wages have been frowned upon, and accusations of decadence have been made for the extravagant lifestyles of players, however to some, the game is more than just about the paycheck.
For some, the game is a war of attrition where the name on the front of the shirt means so much more than that on the back. They are fiercely determined and prepared to do whatever it takes to see their team succeed. There is no better embodiment of these attitudes than centre halves who hurl themselves in front of the world's most dangerous players in rain, hail or shine to satisfy their insatiable desire for victory.
Over the past fifteen years the world has come to see some of the most gritty and courageous centre backs to step onto a football pitch. Their quality, pedigree, leadership and loyalty over a long and illustrious career marks them out as an iconic figure of their respective clubs.
But cruelly, we are seeing the inevitable slide as time begins to catch up to these gladiators and so, as the the sun sets down on their glorious careers we take the time to salute five of the best:
1. Jamie Carragher
Since making his debut for Liverpool in 1996, Jamie Carragher has established himself as one of Liverpool's all time greats. Equally proficient as a fullback or at centre half, his doggedness and sheer determination have endeared him to the Anfield faithful.
With over 700 appearances for the club he is a natural leader, he's been vice captain of the club since 2003 where his vocal and outspoken character has allowed him to communicate, organise and inspire the defence and the team as a whole for more than decade.
His no nonsense approach has won him many admirers throughout his career.
His recent decision to retire at the end of the season marks the end of a truly outstanding career that was highlighted and epitomised by the miraculous Champions League 2005 triumph in Istanbul.
2. Carles Puyol
Despite being surrounded by the likes of superstars Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Deco, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o throughout his glittering Barcelona career, Carles Puyol nicknamed "The Wall" has remained a constant and vital cog of the Blaugrana since debuting in 1999.
Having taken over as captain in 2004, the Spanish international has led the Catalans through its most successful era having been an exemplary figure throughout his career. Although he may be undersized for a centre-back he more than makes up for it with brute strength, tactical acumen and versatility to form one of Barcelona's and La Furia Roja's finest defender's of all time.
He's further established his legend by helping Spain win two consecutive European Championships, sandwiching a maiden World Cup triumph, Puyol will go down in Spanish Football folklore. Puyol turns 35 this year and time has certainly caught up with him with a growing number of error riddled performances that signal the beginning of the end to an illustrious career.
The Brazilian enjoyed successful stints with Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan winning a host of trophies as well as winning the World Cup with Brazil in 2002. He will be best remembered for his heroics during the 2009/2010 season when Inter Milan won a memorable treble with Lucio being an integral member of that historic side.
Known for his strength, pace, anticipation and barnstorming runs from the back, Lucio in his prime was a centre half who could nullify some of the best strikers in the world, but also initiate devastating attacks from the back. Having racked up over 100 caps for Brazil, Lucio will go down as a national hero for his feats abroad and for the national team.
Whilst his move to Juventus was ill-fated and marks the end of his top level professional career, that should not overshadow the wonderful tenure of Lucio as he's continued the fine production line of attacking and flamboyant centre-backs from Brazil.
4. John Terry
Love him or hate him, John Terry is undeniably one of the finest centre-halves of his generation. As courageous as they come, "Captain, Leader, Legend" is what Chelsea fans call him and it's hard to argue against it.
Having burst onto the scene at Stamford Bridge in 1998, Terry has been the consummate professional with his hard nosed and no frills approach making him the ultimate competitor.
Having been captain at Chelsea for nearly a decade he has lead the Blues to many trophies after a period of success unrivalled to anytime in the club's history. Widely regarded as one of the finest captains whether through word's or deeds for club and country, Terry is a Blue's icon and an England great.
Due to injury worries and age, Terry has found himself on the bench more often than not this season as Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic are at the peak of their powers. With the former England captain turning 33 in December and with his contract set to expire in 2014, his top-flight career is up in the air given Chelsea's policies regarding veteran players. Whatever the future holds, Terry will be remembered as one of the best centre backs and captains in the history of the game.
5. Rio Ferdinand
When Manchester United shelled out nearly £30 million to land Rio Ferdinand from Leeds United, an eyebrow or two would no doubt have been raised, but no one could have predicted the legacy he would go on to create.
In his 11 year stint at Old Trafford, Ferdinand has claimed several honours including five league titles and a Champions League winners medal. He's been part of forming one of Europe's best centre-back partnerships with United skipper Nemanja Vidic.
Tall, strong and athletic, with a bit panache about him especially in his early days, the former West Ham United man has been a rock at the back for club and country over decorated career. Although he has been in fine form this season, his contract runs out at seasons end, and with the likes of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones representing the future of the Red Devil's rearguard, it seems that Ferdinand's days at the top are numbered given he turns 35 in November.
Nonetheless, he has been worth every penny since his move to Manchester and will no doubt go down as one of United's and England's finest defenders of the modern era.
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