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10 Best Defensive Midfielders Of All Time
Charrua74 (Tottenham Hotspur) 7 years ago
Who are your all time 10 best defensive midfielders? The role of the defensive midfielder can often make the difference between winning and losing. They can prevent the opposition from playing and begin attacks for their own team with a tackle and a pass. There are many different types of defensive midfielder with some relying solely on tackling while others use their ability to pass. Despite the importance and emphasis placed on skills and creativity in the game of football, the role of the defensive midfielder can often make the difference between winning and losing. The following are my all time top 10.

10. Graeme Souness. (Scotland) 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.

9. Michael Essien (Ghana) is often referred to as "the Bison" for his tough tackling style, boundless energy and physical presence on the pitch. He is a midfielder who can play multiple midfield roles (defensively and offensively) but is most effective when asked to man mark an opponent out of the game. At Chelsea, his versatility as a player has been put to effective use in various roles. He has often been deployed as a defensive midfielder, but has also played as a centre midfielder, a right-sided lateral defender or a right-sided midfielder. For the Ghana national football team, Essien has played primarily in a central midfield role, with combined opportunities to go forward or support defensive play. He also has a good eye for goal and has on occasion scored important, sometimes breath-taking goals for both club and country. One of his trademark abilities is to hit a shot from distance. Between the summer of 2007 and the summer of 2009, Essien was the most expensive African footballer on account of his £24.4 million move from French club Olympique Lyonnais to Chelsea FC.

8. Javier Mascherano (Argentina).... El Jefecito (The little chief) began his career in at River Plate. He earned his first senior honours in 2003–04, winning the Primera División Argentina. He also won an Olympic gold medal with Argentina in the Athens Games and finished runner up in the Copa América 2004. He moved to Brazilian side Corinthians in 2005, winning the Brazilian Série A in his first season. Mascherano moved to Europe, signing for Premier League side West Ham United. However, unusual contract terms with Media Sports Investments blighted his brief time at the club and at the beginning of 2007 he joined Liverpool on loan. He was runner up in the UEFA Champions League in his first season on Merseyside and again finished runner up in the Copa América with Argentina. He officially signed for Liverpool in February 2008 for £18.6 million, parting ways with Media Sports Investments. He won a second Olympic gold medal with Argentina in the Beijing 2008 Games, the first male footballer to achieve this since 1928. He was appointed captain of the national team by new head coach Diego Maradona in November 2008 whom has repeatedly stated that his Seleccion is Mascherano and 10 more. Many regard him as possibly the best defensive midfielder in the world today.

7. Claude Makelele (France) is widely considered the premier defensive midfielder of the modern game, which is often named after him. 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.

6. Edgar Davids (Holland) began his professional career with Ajax, he played for AC Milan, Juventus, FC Barcelona, Internazionale, Tottenham Hotspur before returning to the Amsterdam club. 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.

5.Patrick Vieira (France) is another exceptional defensive midfielder. He has played for Arsenal, Juventus and Inter Milan . Vieira arrived at Arsenal in 1996 following just two appearances for AC Milan, going on to play almost 300 games in a successful nine year period. Vieira breaks the mould of the Makelele-style midfielder with his height, speed and ability to pass added to his fierce tackling and excellent reading of the game. Vieira would form a vital part of Arsene Wenger's formidable Arsenal midfield that would win three Premier League titles and four FA Cups (with two league and cup doubles). For France, Vieira would become part of the French midfield that would win the FIFA World Cup and European Championships. Vieira has regularly found himself in trouble with referees as his tough tackling and complete commitment found him sent off twelve times in his career. Vieira would have a long running feud with the my next choice for the best defensive midfielders ever to play soccer, Manchester United and Republic of Ireland's Roy Keane.

4.Roy Keane (Republic of Ireland) 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.

3.Fernando Redondo (Argentina) The key years of his career were spent at Real Madrid, where he was twice league champion (1995 and 1997), adding two European Champions medals (1997-1998 and 1999-2000). It was during the second champions league victorious campaign that Redondo arguably turned in his finest performances. His contribution to a 3-2 quarterfinals victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford will live long in the memory of Madrid and United fans alike. He was the best player of the game, and was the author of a spectacular play (The backheel of Old Trafford 5 min 04 sec on video post), in which Redondo backheeled the ball through the legs of defender Henning Berg before recovering it and assisting Raúl for Real Madrid's third goal. The performance is also of note because of the way another great midfielder of the 1990s, Roy Keane, was completely overshadowed by Redondo's display. After winning the final against Valencia CF, he was named the Champions League Most Valuable Player. Redondo played for Argentina 29 times, the bulk of his appearances coming during 1992-1994, while Alfio Basile coached the Argentina side. Redondo was a deep-lying playmaker. He broke up opposition attacks with sharp tackling and set in motion attacks of his own with crisp, short passing. Redondo had physical presence, a wonderful left foot and the intelligence to dictate the rhythm of the game. Real Madrid manager Fabio Capello once said he was "a tactically perfect player." Redondo, arguably, became a key influence to several Argentine holding midfielders which appeared subsequently, such as Fernando Gago and Javier Mascherano.

2 Lothar Matthaus (Germany) was renowned for his perceptive passing, positional sense, and well-timed tackling, as well as his explosive shot. In 1990, he was named European Footballer of the Year and World Soccer Player of the Year after captaining West Germany to victory in the 1990 World Cup. One year later, he was also named the first ever FIFA World Player of the Year. He has played in five World Cups (1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998) more than any other outfield player, and holds the record for the most World Cup matches played (25 games). He also won Euro 80, and played in Euro 84, Euro 88, and Euro 2000. In 1999, he was again voted German Footballer of the Year. He is the most capped German player of all time, retiring with a total of 150 appearances (83 of them when the team was called West Germany) and 23 goals for the German national team. Matthäus is a member of the FIFA 100 – a list of 125 of the greatest living football players chosen by Pelé. Maradona said about Matthäus "he is the best rival I've ever had.

1.Frank Rijkaard (Holland) 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. His five seasons at Milan made him a legend. It was coach Arrigo Sacchi who saw Rijkaard as playing a pivotal role at Milan and transformed the central defender into a world class holding midfielder, where the Dutchman's aggressive and firm style would go on to influence the likes of Patrick Vieira to replicate in future years. Playing alongside fellow country-men Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit, Rijkaard won the European Cup twice (in 1989 against Steaua Bucureşti and 1990, against Benfica) and the domestic Serie A championship twice. In the 1990 European Cup Final he scored the only goal to win the cup for Milan. After five seasons in Italy, Rijkaard returned to Ajax in 1993. With Louis van Gaal at the helm, Rijkaard and Danny Blind formed the experienced defensive core of the Ajax team that won the first two of three consecutive Dutch Championships. Ajax were the unbeaten champions of the Netherlands in 1994–95 season and carried that success into Europe. In his final game, Rijkaard won the European Cup (which had been renamed as the Champions League) again, with a 1–0 victory over Milan in the 1995 final at the Ernst Happel Stadion in Vienna. On the international stage, Rijkaard made his debut for the Netherlands in 1981. He was part of the Dutch side that won Euro 1988 with a 2–0 win in the final over the Soviet Union, playing at center-back alongside Ronald Koeman. He won a total of 73 caps and scored 10 goals. Rijkaard also played for the Netherlands during the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cups and at Euro 1992. He was named in the FIFA 100, Pele's list of the 125 World's Greatest Footballers.

This is of course is just my opinion of the greatest 10 defensive midfielders of all time. What are yours?
Theshid (Liverpool) 7 years ago
Good list
Big9al (Newcastle United) 7 years ago
Hmm.... Where deschamps?
Blueskiesahead (Chelsea) 7 years ago
Good list, though I wouldnt put mascherano among the best ever
Franboy (Barcelona) 7 years ago
Many are very good player and deserves this ranking (ok for Makelele, mattheaus, Rijkaard, redondo, davids, keane, viera. But not Mascherano and Essien, they are good but many players like them? Mascherano and Essien did nothing won. They are not world renowned for me. But I like Essien but not in this classification
Charrua74 (Tottenham Hotspur) 7 years ago
Mascherano has won championships in every team he has played for apart from Liverpool where he finished as runner up in the Champions league. He has won Olympic gold twice also. There were a few players that I had very close to being in the top ten but that's when personal opinion and of course a little bias took over. Before personal opinion and bias took over my list the following defensive midfielders were very seriously considered but unfortunately 15 does not go into 10.......

Marco Tardelli...... He played defensive midfielder with Juventus and the Italian national team. He was part of the Italian side to win the 1982 World Cup and was five time Italian Serie A champion. He was well known for his battling qualities, primarily his stamina and mentality as well as his ruthless tackling. He was also known for his technical abilities and his ability to score vital goals.

Gennaro Gattuso the italian bulldog is a hard tackling defensive-midfielder and widely regarded as one of the most aggressive players in the world game. Two time winner of the champions league, Serie A champion and current world cup winner.

Diego Simeone. El Cholo He won 106 international 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.

Dunga. Dunga won 91 caps for Brazil, captaining them to World Cup glory in 1994 and another final four years later.

Didier Deschamps captained France to victories in the 1998 FIFA World Cup and Euro 2000.

I am a defensive midfielder by trade. All my favrourite players when growing up were theese kind of players. The guys that don't get the accolades that the goal scorers do. These guys are the junkyard dogs of football. They love to do all the dirty work. They come off the pitch with bloody knees, cuts on thier heads and don't pull out of any 50/50 tackles. They also love to win the ball and pass it as quickly as possible to take advantage of a quick counter attack during broken play. In south america they are known as "el Ganche" .... The hook and are as important a player as is the number "10"
Franboy (Barcelona) 7 years ago
True, you can not save everyone. Good job guy
On3two (Manchester United) 7 years ago
Great list, you covered almost everyone but I also think Mascherano should be replaced. Fantastic job!
Charliehenry (Arsenal youth) 7 years ago
Very good list makelele I think should be a bit higher when he was at his best especialy that he isn't the tallest guy.
Not sure if mascerano has prooved himself enough for me anyway but Essien is a monster of a midfielder
Good to see some legends
MazzaMathias (Manchester United) 7 years ago
Great list. Maybe mascherano out, and essien after he has proved himself. Needs gennaro gattuso and roy keane
[account-removed] 7 years ago
Essiens turning into a class act and is week in, week out one of Chelsea's strongest performers. Mr. Consistency.... ! And give Javier a few years and he'l be in there, along with Lucas.... Or not!
Neonseong (Liverpool) 7 years ago
What about De Rossi though, I know he does take a lot of shots, but I personally think he does a fine role at his position and takes good shots on target. No?
Yogan (Chelsea) 7 years ago
I'm not a defensive midfielder by trade and I don't know many but Michael Essien is a great one. So is Rijkaard, ho is at the top of your list, I have seen him on highlights playing for Holland. Defensive midfielders are important parts of the team, because they protect the defence but can also come forward and help the strikers. And Claude Makelele is a good one too, the former Chelsea player, who I know is a good tackler who likes to get stuck in.

Patrick Viera was amazing when he was at Arsenal and also when he played for France, I respected him and think he was probably the best one out of all of them really. He does everything he is told to by the manager, gets on with his job and does it well. And last of all may I mention you shoukld submit this as a blog because it is an excellent post showing all the best rock solid holders of midfield. I don't think it has already be done and I hope they won't lock it if they have because it is obvious you took a lot of your time up to find videos and do this. Excellent job
Charrua74 (Tottenham Hotspur) 7 years ago
Thanks for the feedback. I didn't realise I could enter it as a blog. How do I do that?
RealAnimalz (Real Madrid) 5 years ago
How about Xabi Alonso actually? Won a world cup and a european cup, has great tackling, strong shot and vision. But he is more of a central midfielder than a real defensive one, allthough he often is the only one with real defensive qualities in the teams he plays, outside of liverpool probably. But with Spain and Real Madrid he often stands alone and still manages to control the midfield like a maestro
Big9al (Newcastle United) 7 years ago
My 10 defensive midfielders:

10. Edgar Davids
9. Claude Makelele
8. Xavi
7. Michael Essien
6. Paul Ince
5. Bobby Charlton
4. Lothar Mathaeus
3. Roy Keane
2. Patrick Vieira
1. Didier Deschamps
Blueskiesahead (Chelsea) 7 years ago
I wouldnt really say that bobby charlton is a defensive midfielder. He was more of an attacking midfielder/central forward
Bloodbrothers (Barcelona) 7 years ago
For me Xavi is more of a central midfielder not a defensive midfielder
Blueskiesahead (Chelsea) 7 years ago
For a good amount of his career he's played in a more defensive role though he was rarely seen breaking up play the way your typical cdm does. He was more of a deep lying playmaker. In my eyes that is still a cdm but I think that is arguable
Jeroen (Barcelona) 7 years ago
Yup, just like Pirlo, who is probably the single player that is very comparable to Xavi in this world
Blueskiesahead (Chelsea) 7 years ago
Very true. But I think xavi is gonna' have a longer career than pirlo
ManUK (Manchester United) 7 years ago
That's a long carrer mate
RealAnimalz (Real Madrid) 5 years ago
Pirlo is the one with the longer career, don't forget Xavi only really got up to the highest level when he was already 25
RealAnimalz (Real Madrid) 5 years ago
Pirlo is the one with the longer career, don't forget Xavi only really got up to the highest level when he was already 25
Blueskiesahead (Chelsea) 7 years ago
Here it goes.

10. Matthaus

9. Edgar davids

8. Michael essien

7. Dunga

6. Roy keane

5. Didier deschamps

4. Patrick viera

3. Rijkaard

2. Makelele

1. The kaiser, franz beckenbauer
Charrua74 (Tottenham Hotspur) 7 years ago
The Kaiser was a libero or sweeper. Probably one of the best ever readers of the game
Blueskiesahead (Chelsea) 7 years ago
He's also been known to clean up the midfield on occasion and was one of the pioneers of the possition. Hence I leave him at the top because it is a whole lot harder to do something when you have no examples to go by
Charrua74 (Tottenham Hotspur) 7 years ago
Fair point
KingOmar (Arsenal) 7 years ago
Thank you Blueskiesahead.... I was waiting for some to mention Beckenbauer
Yamsy (Liverpool) 7 years ago
I for one think Makelele should be higher up that list, he was pivotal for th first Galacticos, without him, they fell apart and Makelele also hugely supported the success of Chelsea. He's great at reading the game, intercepting passes and starting up attacks with his distribution...
Blueskiesahead (Chelsea) 7 years ago
Agreed. Greatest modern defensive midfielder in my oppinion. He's just so underrated
Incuteration (Everton) 7 years ago
10. Dunga

The current Brazil coach and the former Brazil captain that clinched World Cup trophy in 1994, Dunga's continued effort, determination, and desire won over his sceptics as he became a vital member of the Brazilian team.

9. Michael Essien

The current Chelsea defensive midfield, one of the best in EPL, hardworking and tackles well, really knows how to guard the defence, versatile in many midfield position. One of the best modern DM you can find.

8. Gennaro Gattuso

One of the more dirty guys on the field, has a fiery temper, but is one of the best AC Milan defensive midfield. He just continues to help AC Milan with his tackles, he's dirty and criticised by some. But nobody knows how hard it is to control a midfield, he had to guard the defence, by this he has to tackle.

7. Marcos Senna

Great timing in the tackle and even better positional sense which means he always appears in the right position at the right time to slow down and intercept opposing attacks. Great technical ability with an ability to pass and move which matches the very best play makers. His defensive capabilities are what has allowed Spain to attack and enjoy success recently and he has an equally important role at Villarreal who are continuing to punch above their weight in Spain.

6. Didier Deschamps

Didier Deschamps was the carrier of the French side as they embarked on their "golden generation". 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. None noticed him since and finally, in the 1988 World Cup and Euro 2000 campaigns, he was named as captain.

5. Patrick Viera

However good Deschamps was individually, he was ably assisted by a great defensive midfielder, whom was Patrick Vieira. The lanky Frenchman offered everything the shorter Deschamps didn't, forming a formidable partnership. He later went on to eclipse Deschamps and and winning 107 caps for France.

4. Claude Makelele

Makelele is an unsung hero. For years, he 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.

3. Roy Keane

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. He's one of the real defensive midfield, crunching tackles and short fuse made him a famous one. Behind all the aggression, however, was a player of sheer quality, with Sir Alex Ferguson acknowledging him as the greatest player he has ever coached.

2. Frank Riijkaard

The second member of Milan’s famous Dutch trio that were so outstanding during the late 1980s and early 90s. Transformed by coach Arrigo Sacchi from a defender to a defensive midfielder, Frank helped the Rossoneri to a number of trophies – including the 1990 European Cup, when he scored the winning goal against Benfica in the final.

1. Lothar Matthaus

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.

Apart from this list, I got to say that there is still a lot of better defensive midfielders now such as Edgar Davids, Gilberto Silva, Paul Ince, Juan Sebastian Veron. All great choices but couldn't fit them into the list because there's too many to choose from.

Blueskiesahead (Chelsea) 7 years ago
Wow how could I have forgotten senna. I don't think I would have put him in my top ten list because his injuries have kept him from being one of the best but I didn't even think of him. Good call
Jeroen (Barcelona) 7 years ago
I don't like those 'best of all time' lists, because it's nearly impossible to compare a player now to one in the 60s or earlier. But I always have had a healthy respect for top notch coaches, and so I believe Bobby Charlton -one of England's best ever attackers- (who said he was a defensive MD?!) when he says that Duncan Edwards, the most talented of the Busby Boys, was the best player he'd ever played with. He was a DM, and he was only 22 when the tragedy happened.



He's mentioned as a wing half, but from what Bobby says, he was a DM.

The best current DM is, for me, Michael Essien. He is absolutely stunning: great physique, pace, he's excellent at recovering loss of possession and has very good technique and dribbling skill as well. A good pass, a great long shot, great stamina, team play, determination, work rate, .... The perfect DM
Blueskiesahead (Chelsea) 7 years ago
The busby tragedy was terrible. Stole so many bright futures from so many great players.

Essien is brilliant. But what often goes unnoticed is his tallent with the ball at his feet. He's very unselfish which is why no one knows how good he is in this sense but he is so technically gifted. Just watch him carefully for a whole match and oyu will see what I mean
Jeroen (Barcelona) 7 years ago
I know, I mentioned that, didn't I? I think Yaya Touré is a great DM, but Essian has everything Touré has, and more pace, even better physique and he simply runs everywhere. Both have excellent technique as far as DMs go
AbbeyC 7 years ago
Hierro, didn't always play DM but used to bang the goals in as well as defending well apparently, should get a mention. He played for Real Madrid and Spain, scoring 21 league goals in 1991-92 for Real, according to wikipedia
Keong (Manchester United) 7 years ago
Owen hargo, roy keane and paul ince!
SP8884 (Barcelona) 7 years ago
10. Deschamps
9. Dunga
8. Fernando Redondo
7. Gennaro Gattuso
6. Edgar Davids
5. Patrick Viera
4. Michael Essien
3. Claude Makelele
2. Roy Keane
1. Frank Raijkaard
MURDABEST (Manchester United) 7 years ago
Thomas1978 (Liverpool) 7 years ago
I am not too sure about top 10, but the 4 I will definitely have in my team any time will be Viera, Makelele, Keano and Descahmps. Funny enough, 3 are French.

In the modern game, do think Essien is the stand out one. Masch is not the full article yet. I think his concentration is not great. Yaya Toure looks great for Barca, can plays in defence too.

Docdre99 (Barcelona) 7 years ago
1. Vieira (simply the best !)
2. Mathaus
3. Deschamps
4. Desailly
5. Makelele
6. Davids
7. Redondo
8. YAYA toure
10. Guardiola
Shanki (Manchester United) 7 years ago
Good job.  Ithink gattuso should replace mascherano.... !
Charrua74 (Tottenham Hotspur) 7 years ago
After noticing the lack of backbone in the Liverpool midfield it looks like Alonso could be a contender defensive midfielder of the last 4 years. Don't they miss him greatly
Devang (Liverpool) 7 years ago
Top 10 Defensive midfielders according to me would be.

10. Diego Simeone

9. Dunga

8.Graeme Souness

7.Edgar Davids

6.Didier Deschamps

5.Patrick Vieira

4.Claude Makelele

3.Roy Keane

2.Frank Rijkaard

1.Lothar Matthaus

Pasanewa (Chelsea) 7 years ago
I totally agree with.... " Incuteration "  Cheers my friend !

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