Zidane, Gerrard, Pirlo, De Bruyne: 30 greatest central midfielders since 1990 ranked

Who are the greatest central midfielders to ever play the beautiful game?

We can think of a few suggestions: Zinedine Zidane, Andrea Pirlo, Xavi Hernandez and Lothar Matthaus all seem like viable shouts.

But then again, you could also put forward plenty of Premier League legends spearheaded by the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard – and even Kevin De Bruyne at this point.

It’s relatively easy to go through and simply name the best. However, when it comes to actually sorting the finest of the lot, well, that’s when things become challenging.

Nevertheless, we here at GIVEMESPORT have decided to give it a go and have sorted 30 of the greatest central midfielders in recent history across five categories.

The first category and lowest of them all will be the ‘world class’ section. Meanwhile, the best of the lot will officially be crowned the ‘midfield GOAT’.

Players must have played after 1990 to be considered.

‘World class’

Paul Pogba, Marco Verratti, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Fernandinho, Wesley Sneijder, Michael Essien

We’ll start off strong with six leading central midfielders of their respective eras.

Sure, Pogba has known to be pretty hit and miss in his career, but when he’s at it, boy is he good.

France win the World Cup.

Meanwhile Verratti, Fernandinho and Essien couldn’t be classified anymore differently to the Frenchman. All three represent ultra-consistent and dependable holding midfielders.

Schweinsteiger was once a leading midfielder in Germany and an integral member of their national side.

And what can be said about Sneijder? The Dutchman once said that he had all the talent to reach the heights of Lionel Messi, but that he enjoyed wine and the presence of good food too much.

We wouldn’t agree with that statement, Wesley, but undoubtedly a world class baller.

Wesley Sneijder of Inter Milan


Xabi Alonso, Claude Makelele, Cesc Fabregas, Mesut Ozil, Frank Rijkaard, Toni Kroos, Sergio Busquets, Yaya Toure, Ricardo Kaka, Juan Roman Riquelme

Alonso, Fabregas and Kroos make up three of the finest passers of a football the world has ever seen, so it’s no surprise they’re all good enough for the ‘legendary’ category.

Ozil and Riquelme weren’t half bad at picking a pass either – we say in what is surely the understatement of the year. The creative midfielders were special for large swathes of their careers.

Mesut Ozil

Although neither can lay claim to lifting the Ballon d’Or the same way Kaka can. The Brazilian lifted the coveted trophy in 2007, just before the Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo era set in.

The remaining midfielders: Makelele, Rijkaard, Busquets and Toure prove four of the most powerful presences we’ve ever seen in the middle of the park.

Man City's Yaya Toure

‘Icons of the sport’

Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Clarence Seedorf, Luka Modric, Kevin De Bruyne, N’Golo Kante, Patrick Vieira, Lothar Matthaus, Michael Laudrup

And now for the most stacked category of all.

The ‘icons of the sport’ section is actually full of Premier League legends, which is a testament to the extremely high level of central midfielders England’s top-flight has boasted over the years.

Gerrard, Lampard and Scholes all find their home in this category – and no, we won’t pick between them.

Steven Gerrard of Liverpool

But so too do old rivals Keane and Vieira. Even De Bruyne and Kante make the grade having been world-leading players throughout the modern era of football.

We also have plenty of European class brought courtesy of Pirlo and Modric. Both legends excelled in the game despite their less physical nature, championing purely through footballing ability and a lightning quick brain.

Whereas Seedorf and Matthaus were mainstays at the highest level for what seemed like an eternity.

Seedorf remains to this day the only player to lift the Champions League with three separate clubs.

Clarence Seedorf
Clarence Seedorf

‘Nearly GOATs’

Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez

The iconic Barcelona duo were trailblazers throughout the 21st century, combing beautifully with Messi to guide the great club to glory time and time again.

They also enjoyed unprecedented success with the Spanish national team lifting two European Championships consecutively, with a World Cup sandwiched in between.

But you don’t need all their major honours recalling to remember how good the duo were, just go and watch them in action on YouTube – simply glorious.

Xavi and Iniesta

‘Midfield GOAT’

Zinedine Zidane

But when it comes to the ‘Midfield GOAT’ there can only be one and that right is reserved for one very special baller.

The Frenchman was more of an artist than an athlete, gracefully gliding about the pitch in a seemingly gravity-defying manner when you consider his lanky 6ft, 2in frame.

A 34-year-old Zidane, who was injured, schooled Brazil at the 2006 World Cup

Zidane won everything there was to win in the game, both individually and with his teams.

He even scored two winning goals in the World Cup final against Brazil, as well as arguably the greatest Champions League goal of all-time in the final vs Bayer Leverkusen.

The ultimate big game player, there was no stage he wouldn’t thrive on.

Ladies and gentlemen, your midfield GOAT.

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