Being a defender may not be the most glamorous of positions in a football team, but they are a vital part of any successful team. Below we take a look at the top 10 defenders ever to play in the Premier League…
An immense figure at the heart of the Arsenal defence; he was a striker’s nightmare. Strong, powerful and incredibly quick for his size, he read the game brilliantly and was a key member of the ‘Invincibles’ team of 2003/04 who remained undefeated during the entire season. Starting his career at Tottenham, he played for them 255 times before moving to Arsenal, a move that saw him become a hate figure amongst the Tottenham faithful.
He had good times at Arsenal, winning the Premier League twice and also winning two FA Cups. A major presence in the England team, he played 73 times for his national team, scoring once. As well as TV appearances he also helps run the charity ‘Kids Go Live’, which helps inner city children see live sporting events such as Wimbledon, football and rugby internationals.
It’s not often that Sir Alex Ferguson admits he is wrong, but that is exactly what he did when he revealed that selling Jaap Stam was the biggest mistake in his career. Although he only played for United between 1998 and 2001, his impact is still considered huge by loyal Manchester United supporters. Winning three Premier League titles, an FA Cup, the Intercontinental Cup and the Champions League, his time at United was very successful and was the best of his career, never hitting those highs again after leaving.
His controversial exit was down to allegations made in his biography, which made Sir Alex Ferguson furious, and he was dispatched to Lazio in 2001, where he was subsequently caught with the banned steroid Nandrolone in his system. Although his time in the Premier League was short, his skills as a defender and the impact he made on a great United team ensure he is remembered as one of the Premiership’s best ever defenders.
Still playing for Manchester City, it could well be that in years to come Vincent Kompany will become known as the greatest defender ever to play in the Premiership. Bought in 2006 by the then City manager Mark Hughes for just £6m from Hamburg, it must surely rank as one of the greatest deals in Premiership history. Tall, slim yet powerfully built, he is perfectly poised as a defender, reads the game well and has lots of pace to deal with the quickest Premiership strikers.
He’s not bad in front of goal either, and whilst not scoring a great deal for City, his goals often come at crucial times. Playing a major role in Manchester City’s first Premiership title in 2011/12, his captaincy was inspirational and continues to be so, and he remains one of the greatest ever defenders both in Premiership and world football history.
A brave buy by Liverpool in 1999, he was somewhat of an unknown quantity when he arrived from Willem II. However, the Liverpool fans were soon aware of his talent, and he formed a great partnership with Stephane Henchoz. Regularly captaining the team, he won a lot of honours during his time at Liverpool, including the treble of the UEFA Cup, League Cup and FA Cup, as well as winning the FA Community Shield and the UEFA Super Cup.
However, it was in 2005 that the highlight of his career came, winning the Champions League in one of the most dramatic finals ever, his partnership with Jamie Carragher being crucial to their success. A tough but shrewd defender, he remains a Kop favourite and since retiring now manages Brighton and Hove Albion in the Championship.
Gary Pallister has the rare honour of being one of the few players to have represented his country whilst playing outside of the Premiership. This was whilst he was playing for Middlesbrough in 1998, shortly before moving to Manchester United for a record fee for a defender of £2.3m.
Gary Pallister soon formed one of the Premiership’s greatest ever defensive partnerships with Steve Bruce and he won a plethora of honours whilst at the club including four Premier League titles, three FA Cups, the League Cup, the UEFA Cup Winners Cup and the UEFA Super Cup. Pallister’s skill was also recognised by his fellow players, and he was in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1998. Moving back to Middlesbrough in 1998 following the arrival of Jaap Stam, he is now a regular TV pundit.
Jamie Carragher may not be as naturally gifted as some of the players on this list, but he’s no less of a player, making up for what he lacks in skill with pure passion and heart. A true Liverpool legend, Carragher is Liverpool through and through, starting his career at the Liverpool Academy. Originally a full back, it was the arrival of Rafa Benitez that prompted a change of position to central defender, where he remained until retiring in 2013.
His time at Liverpool brought him lots of honours, including one Champions League, two FA Cups, three League Cups, one UEFA Cup two Super Cups and two Community Shields. Playing over 500 times for Liverpool he remains an Anfield legend and one of the best loved and hardest working defenders ever to play in the Premiership.
If Tony Adams’ career had of spanned more recent years, he surely would have been the greatest ever Premiership defender. As it is, he only played a few seasons in the Premiership but such is the magnitude of Adams as a player, he still makes it into the top 10. A one club man, he played at Arsenal for 19 seasons and won four titles with them, two being in the then new Premier League.
Together with Lee Dixon, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn, he formed part of the ‘famous four’, perhaps the best defensive line that English football has ever seen. Arsenal’s captain for 14 years, he was an inspirational and decisive leader on the field, and despite his off field problems with alcoholism; he remained an amazingly gifted defender and fan favourite. Tony Adams now runs the Sporting Chance Clinic, which provides support for sports people who are suffering from drink, gambling or drug addictions.
Part of the ‘famous four’ defence of the Serbian national team that only conceded one goal during the World Cup in 2006, Vidic signed for Manchester United in January that year. He quickly developed a fantastic defensive partnership with Rio Ferdinand, another great of the Premiership era. A real all-round defender, it was his sheer consistency more than anything that marked him as head and shoulders above most of his peers. Immensely strong, quick and tactically aware, strikers always knew they would be in for a hard time when up against Vidic.
He won a host of honours whilst at United, including five Premiership titles, the Champions League, the FIFA World Club Cup and three League Cups, and was voted into the PFA Team of the year three times. Leaving Manchester Utd at the end of his contract in 2014, he now pays for Internazionale, but it is at Old Trafford he will be remembered most fondly.
Has there ever been a defender more composed or assured as Rio Ferdinand? Starting his career at West Ham and then Leeds, he arrived at Manchester United in 2002 for a record breaking £30 fee, the second time he had broken the record. Winning the Premier League in his first season at the club, he was soon courting controversy after missing a drugs test in 2003, resulting in an eight month playing ban.
Upon his return to the team, however, he established himself as an integral part of the playing setup, and was soon talked about as one of the best ever players to play for Manchester United. He won 6 Premiership titles, one FA Cup, two League Cups, five Community Shields, one Champions League and a FIFA World Cup. His graceful, attacking style of defending made him a nightmare for attackers, his natural talent for defending perhaps unmatched. He now has a successful media career as well as being involved in a number of successful businesses.
Don’t get distracted by the headlines off the pitch that Terry has generated, it’s as a player we should judge him by and what a player he is. A born and bred Londoner, he started his career at West Ham, moving to Chelsea in 1995 where he quickly began to establish himself as someone to watch, breaking into the first team in 2000. A defender in the traditional British fashion, he is strong, powerful and tenacious. His excellence in the air is unsurpassed, as is his tackling and any lack of pace he may have is made up for with the way he reads the game.
Quite simply the best defender of his generation, he will go down in history as the greatest defender ever to play in the Premier League. With three Premier League titles, three League Cups, four FA Cups and a Champions League winners medal, it will be a long time till we see a player of his ilk again.