The perfect centre back:
– Seven foot tall.
– 20 foot wide.
– Head made of marble.
– Cinder blocks for feet.
– Daggers for elbows.
– Has a nine pack on his chin.
– Usually covered in his opponent’s blood.
In this article ranking the 25 greatest centre backs of all time, you’ll find out that the ‘perfect centre back’ isn’t specifically all of the above. In fact, ‘perfect’ centre backs come in all shapes and sizes, with a weird number of them actually being pretty small.
So without further ado, here they are: 90min’s 25 greatest centre backs of all time.
25) Gerard Pique
We start the list with a centre back who has won (clears throat):
– One FIFA World Cup.
– One UEFA European Championship.
– Four UEFA Champions Leagues.
– Nine league titles.
– Six Copa del Reys.
– Three FIFA Club World Cups.
So yes, with Gerard Pique sitting in 25th, it’s pretty strong start to this list.
Fun Fact: Once set off a stink bomb on the team plane during a pre-season trip to Helsinki.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Ben Affleck.
Aldair was one of, if not the best centre back in Serie A at the turn of the century.
That’s how good Aldair was.
The Brazilian was the defensive rock upon which Fabio Capello built AS Roma’s title-winning team in 2001.
Pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Fun Fact: His nickname is ‘Pluto’ because, well, the ears.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Bill Farmer (the voice of Pluto).
23) Billy McNeill
Affectionately (yes, actually affectionately) known as ‘Cesar’, Billy McNeill is, was, and will always be, the epitome of everything good about Celtic football club.
McNeill was a winner, a consummate professional, a brilliantly talented footballer, and a local boy come good to boot.
Fun Fact: Gave Sir Alex Ferguson his big managerial break at Aberdeen.
Actor who would play him in a movie: James McAvoy.
22) Rio Ferdinand
‘Vidic or Ferdinand?’
That was always the debate – despite Man Utd
Fun Fact: Once injured himself picking up the TV remote.
Actor who would play him in a movie:
21) Giorgio Chiellini
While what makes Rio Ferdinand one of the best defenders of all time is his footballing ability, what makes Giorgio Chiellini one of the best is his sheer will to win, busting or breaking almost every inch of his body to do just that.
In an exorbitant number of the 500+ games he has played for Juventus, Chiellini has busted his head wide open, broke his nose, turned his knee, rolled his ankle, had abdominal influenza (yes, the sh*ts), and STILL played on. STILL performed at the highest level. STILL dragged his team to famous win…after famous win…after famous win.
Fun Fact: He has a Masters degree in Business Administration.
Actor who would play him in a movie: J.K. Simmons.
20) Alan Hansen
You know him better as the guy who said ‘you can’t win anything with kids’ and a pile of other nonsensical things on Match of the Day over years, but wayyyyyy back in the 80s, Alan Hansen was one of the best central defenders in the world.
As Liverpool’s main man at the heart of their defence, Hansen won just the eight league titles and three European Cups.
Fun Fact: Ran through a glass door when he was 17 and busted his head open. Hence the big scar on his head.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Sean Connery.
19) Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck
The two-guard in the West Germany and Bayern defences which won literally every trophy known to man in the 1970s (hence the photo above),
Fun Fact: His nickname was ‘the Kaiser’s bodyguard’ for obvious reasons.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Jason Robards.
18) Claudio Gentile
Claudio Gentile man-marked Diego Maradona completely out of a game at the 1982 World Cup. So yes, he was quite good.
Fun Fact: Gentile was born in Libya.
Actor who would play him in a movie: James Caan.
17) Jaap Stam
I was terrified of Jaap Stam when he was in his pomp, and I’m pretty sure most forwards were too.
The Dutch legend looked like he’d been forged by dwarves in Nidavellir, but was somehow mobile enough to keep pace with the very best strikers in the game. In other words, Stam was a physical freak.
Fun Fact: The fact that he and his wife ate £32 worth of sweets at the cinema made the front page of the Daily Star while he was at Man Utd.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Ed Harris.
16) John Terry
Look, we all know why John Terry is the 16th best centre back of all time, and we also all know why I don’t really want to lavish him with praise. So, moving on.
Fun Fact: Once fined £60 for parking his Bentley in a disabled spot.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Danny Dyer.
15) Laurent Blanc
Yes, he’s that Icon centre back in FIFA 20 with 81 pace, 95 defending and 90 free kicks.
Yes, that’s pretty good.
But do you know what’s also pretty good? Being one of the best centre backs of all time in real life.
And that’s exactly what Laurent Blanc was.
Fun Fact: Kissed Fabien Barthez’s head for good luck before every game at the 1998 World Cup.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Benedict Cumberbatch.
14) Marcel Desailly
While Blanc was the leader and the brains of France’s 1998 World Cup winning defence, Marcel Desailly was the muscle. But don’t take my word for it, take Blanc’s word for it instead:
“He is a monster! He is an absolute monster! He can play in defence or midfield, but I think he is better as a centre-back. In fact, I’m sure of that. He has so much quality. Forwards simply couldn’t get past him because of his size, but he was smart and quick too.”
Fun Fact: Desailly turned down a move to Liverpool because there were no French schools on Merseyside.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Will Smith.
13) Fernando Hierro
Fernando Hierro is a bit of an anomaly on this list – and not just because he played for Bolton Wanderers.
Hierro is somewhat of an anomaly because he scored 163 CAREER GOALS. Only two other defenders on this list got anywhere near that figure (more on them soon).
Granted, a lot of those goals came when he was playing as a midfielder, but even when he dropped into the heart of the Real Madrid defence the goals didn’t exactly dry up – he was still scoring five or six league goals a season (Zinedine Zidane numbers). Impressive.
Fun Fact: He actually said his move to Bolton was a dream come true.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Antonio Banderas.
12) Carles Puyol
Look, obviously Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez were the best players in Pep Guardiola’s much-lauded Barcelona team, but would they have won as much without Carles Puyol at the back?
Puyol was the solid foundation upon which arguably the greatest club side of the modern era was built.
Oh, and he also won the World Cup with his country – scoring the winner in the semi finals of the tournament.
Fun Fact: He bloody loves yoga.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Kelsey Grammar (as the voice of Sideshow Bob).
11) Jose Santamaria
Now merely known as the manager who oversaw Spain’s disastrous 1982 World Cup by the majority of people,
Fun Fact: Blames the muddy pitches in Switzerland for Uruguay’s 1954 World Cup defeat to Hungary.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Gary Cooper.
10) Billy Wright
No, not that Billy Wright – the other one, the nice one, the defender who captained England a record 90 times.
One of the many surprisingly tiny centre backs on this list, Wright more than made up for his, yeno, smallness, by having Donovan Mitchell level hops.
The winner of three First Division titles and an FA Cup with Wolves (that’s more than I won with Wolves in my FM19 save), the defender is rightfully remembered as the club’s greatest ever player.
Fun Fact: He was only 5’8.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Mickey Rooney.
9) Daniel Passarella
Another pretty small centre back who more than made up for this too with his hops and the fact that he was the best header of the ball of all time (according to Diego Maradona),
He also scored *ahem* 134 CAREER GOALS IN 451 GAMES!!!!!!
Fun Fact: Also only 5’8.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Al Pacino.
8) Ronald Koeman
So yeah, Passarella’s 134 goals are pretty impressive, as are Hierro’s 163, but they have nothing on Ronald Koeman. For Ronald Koeman scored (remember, he’s a centre back):
253 career goals.
And he’s a centre back.
He’s a centre back.
I need to lie down.
Fun Fact: He’s obsessed with mayonnaise.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Val Kilmer.
7) Sergio Ramos
You either love him or absolutely hate ‘the bastard for what he did to our poor wee Mohamed Salah in the UEFA Champions League final that we would’ve won if Ramos wasn’t such a bastard’, but you can’t deny that the guy is a bloody good centre back.
And even if you want to deny it, I’ll just point to the following list of accolades and tell you to get a grip:
– Four La Liga titles.
– Two Copa del Reys.
– Five UEFA Champions Leagues.
– Four FIFA Club World Cups.
– 2010 FIFA World Cup.
– 2008 and 2012 UEFA European Championships.
– 10 FIFPro World XIs.
– Eight UEFA Team of the Years.
– Two-time UEFA Defender of the Season.
Fun Fact: He owns a stud farm in Andalusia.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Tom Hardy.
6) Fabio Cannavaro
Throughout his long, storied career Fabio Cannavaro was always great, but he’s this high on this list and as fondly remembered as he is for one game in particular.
That game: Italy vs. Germany, 4 July 2006.
A game in which Cannavaro put in the greatest defensive performance in history to lead Italy to a World Cup final.
And that’s not even an exaggeration.
As on 4 July 2006, Cannavaro essentially won the Ballon d’Or for one generation-defining performance – becoming only the second defender in history to win the award. What. A. Player.
Fun Fact: Won the coach of the year award in China in 2017.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Bruce Willis.
5) Gaetano Scirea
Just like Billy McNeill is for Celtic, Gaetano Scirea is the epitome of everything good about Juventus football club.
A born winner who personified ‘Lo Stile Juve’, Scirea is fondly remembered as one of the most talented and likeable footballers of his generation.
Fun Fact: One of only five footballers to win every UEFA competition.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Gregory Peck.
4) Alessandro Nesta
If this list was based on just pure natural defensive talent, then Alessandro Nesta might’ve nabbed the number one spot.
Put simply, Nesta was an extraordinary footballer.
On his day, he could man-mark literally any forward out of any game and still have time to come out of defence with the ball and probably set up a goal with a defence splitting pass.
The only problem was, well, the injuries. There were a lot of them, and they usually came at the worst possible time (2006 World Cup).
Fun Fact: He was Andrea Pirlo’s PlayStation buddy.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Jonny Depp.
3) Bobby Moore
So I could sit here and wax lyrical about Bobby Moore, but I’m going to let someone with a bit more, you know, clout to do it for me. Here’s Pele on the England World Cup winning legend:
“I met a lot of good defenders I played against. The difference was I played all over the world. Every place I played not with my team Santos or with Brazil, always I have one player to follow me and to stay with me. Then it was not easy because I get excellent players all over the world…but I think I can mention two in the whole of my career.
“I can mention Beckenbauer who used to play for Germany and Bobby Moore when we played against England.I think those two players. Different style because Beckenbauer used to play more to control the game but man to man, the best was Bobby Moore. No doubt.”
Fun Fact: He didn’t travel with the rest of the England squad to the 1970 World Cup because he was too busy being arrested for allegedly stealing a £600 bracelet – he was later found innocent of this crime.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Steve McQueen.
2) Franco Baresi
Franco Baresi is the best Italian central defender of all time.
Which says it all really.
And he is the best Italian central defender of all time because of how stupidly good he was for AC Milan.
As the leader of the club’s defence for the best part of 20 years, Baresi was a central figure for the club during their most golden of golden eras.
He was so good in fact that, after 23 entries, I’m finally going to do it. That’s right, I’m finally going to describe someone as: Captain. Leader. Legend.
I regret doing that…
Fun Fact: Had a trial with Inter at the age of 14.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Dustin Hoffman.
1) Franz Beckenbauer
This can’t be a surprise, can it? Of course Franz Beckenbauer is number one on this list. He’s the fourth greatest footballer of all time. He’s the best defender of all time by an absolute mile.
He won and captained West Germany to the 1974 FIFA World Cup, won three consecutive European Cups, two Ballons d’Or (everyone else on this combined has won one), and he’s FRANZ BECKENBAUER.
The king of German football. The king of centre backs. The king of Michael Keaton lookalikes.
Fun Fact: He was named in the Bundesliga team of the season for 12 consecutive seasons.
Actor who would play him in a movie: Michael Keaton.