Top 16 Best Defensive Midfielders In Football History

Best Defensive Midfielders In Football History: The defensive midfielder or holding midfielder position often goes underappreciated in football. Depending on the team’s formation, this player’s technical skills and aggressiveness might vary, yet they often go unnoticed by many. Only those with a deep understanding of football or a unique fondness for the tactical and hardworking player truly value a defensive midfielder.

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Physical strength, dedication, ball recovery, game vision, and anticipation are the key attributes of a quality defensive midfielder. The individuals on this list have honed these skills to become nightmares for opposing attackers.

By presenting the top 16 defensive midfielders in history, we aim to shine a spotlight on the significant figures who anchor the defensive core of a team. This role plays a pivotal part in achieving victories.

Players in this position possess distinct characteristics, notably exceptional positioning and the ability to intercept passes, thwarting attacks early and preventing them from reaching dangerous areas. Additionally, these players are expected to be accurate passers.

Often, we only recognize the importance of these unsung heroes when they are absent from matches, which unfortunately leads to their lack of recognition in the media.

Best Defensive Midfielders In Football History

Our goal is to highlight these players who haven’t always received the credit they deserve. We’ll showcase the 16 best defensive midfielders in history, selected based on their exceptional performances and their contributions to their clubs’ successes.

16. Sergio Busquets

Despite his tall and seemingly unassuming appearance, Sergio Busquets has redefined the role of the traditional defensive midfielder. Born on July 16, 1988, in Sabadell, Spain, he began his football journey with FC Barcelona in 2008 and has since become a vital figure in the club’s history. His exceptional game understanding, ball recovery skills, and precise passing have made him an indispensable presence in midfield.

Throughout his career, Busquets has amassed an impressive collection of titles, including 9 Spanish La Liga titles, 7 Copa del Rey trophies, 7 Spanish Super Cups, three UEFA Champions League titles, three European Super Cups, and three Club World Cups. He also played a key role in Spain’s triumphs in the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 Euro Cup. He now plays for Inter Miami in the USA, alongside Messi.

His defensive expertise and tactical brilliance have earned him personal honors, such as inclusion in the UEFA Team of the Year and recognition as the Best Defensive Midfielder in the Spanish League. His exceptional positioning and adept ball-handling skills have transformed the defensive midfield role, shifting its focus from primarily destroying to building up play. Sergio Busquets has undoubtedly left an enduring legacy in football, cementing his status as one of the most accomplished and respected players of his era.

15. Fernando Redondo

He’s a remarkable Argentine player who stood out not only for his defensive skills but also for his offensive prowess. His technical finesse and playmaking abilities make him arguably the best defensive midfielder in terms of these attributes.

Redondo made his mark in Europe, representing Spanish clubs Real Madrid and AC Milan. He achieved a plethora of local, continental, and international titles with both teams.

However, it was his time at Real Madrid where he truly shone. The Argentine maestro captivated the hearts of Real Madrid fans, and his influence played a pivotal role in the club securing two European Champions League titles and two Spanish League titles.

14. Roy Keane

The Manchester United and Irish national team star, Roy Keane, was famed for his robust and passionate playing style. He had a remarkable capacity to lead his team, owing to his leadership qualities and exceptional skills in his position.

Beyond his defensive capabilities, he excelled as a skilled passer and served as a source of inspiration and energy for his teammates, particularly during his time with Manchester United.

His contribution was pivotal in Manchester United’s attainment of numerous domestic titles, most notably clinching the league title in seven different seasons. He also played a crucial role in securing the European Champions League title once and the Club World Cup.

Keane’s legacy is defined by his influential presence on the field and his vital role in Manchester United’s triumphs.

13. Fernando Redondo

Born on June 6, 1969, in Argentina, Redondo began his football journey in lower-level clubs like Club Atlético Tiro Federal Argentino and Club Atlético Argentino de Quilmes. But it was his time at Club Atlético Boca Juniors that brought him fame. There, he showcased his impressive technical skills and smart play, helping the team win the Argentine league title in 1992-1993.

His excellence at Boca Juniors caught Real Madrid’s attention, and in 1994, he joined the Spanish club. At Real Madrid, Redondo became a crucial midfielder, showcasing a unique blend of defensive and attacking abilities. He achieved many victories with Real Madrid, including an impressive three consecutive UEFA Champions League titles in 1998, 2000, and 2002. He also secured two LaLiga titles and a Spanish Super Cup. Unfortunately, his time at AC Milan towards the end of his career was marred by injuries, which kept him from playing for nearly four years.

Fernando Redondo was known for his graceful playing style and his knack for stealing the ball and distributing it with precision. His refined technique and ability to impact games from the midfield position made him stand out. Though his career was shortened by injuries, he still left an unforgettable mark on global soccer as one of the most skillful midfielders of his generation.

12. Edgar Davids

He’s the well-known Dutch football star who sported glasses on the field, which FIFA permitted due to his vision issues.

This remarkable player, recognized as one of the top 16 defensive midfielders in history, navigated among Europe’s most significant clubs during his impressive 23-year professional career.

He left his mark on prominent clubs like Juventus, Milan, Inter Milan, Barcelona, Tottenham, and Ajax Amsterdam. With Ajax’s golden generation, he dominated domestic leagues and secured victories in the European Champions League and the Club World Cup.

11. Dunga

Dunga was a strong and commanding defensive midfielder, making it tough for opponents to get past him. He had a keen sense for reading the game and predicting opponents’ passes or actions. While he didn’t possess the typical technical flair of traditional Brazilian midfielders, his determination and effectiveness set him apart.

He is most renowned for captaining Brazil’s victorious team in the 1994 World Cup.

In club football, Dunga played for several Brazilian teams, as well as Fiorentina and Stuttgart, although he didn’t secure any major titles at the club level. Nevertheless, he’s regarded as one of the finest number 6 players in football history.

10. Marco Tardelli

Tardelli is widely regarded as the greatest defensive midfielder in 20th-century Italian football and one of the top 16 defensive midfielders in history.

His most outstanding achievements at the club level were with Juventus. He played a significant role in helping Juventus dominate their domestic league and win numerous titles in European competitions.

For the Italian national team, he was a crucial pillar for the Azzurri. He contributed significantly to Italy’s victory in the 1982 World Cup.

9. Gennaro Gattuso

The Italian powerhouse was renowned for his immense physical strength and fierce style of play. He utilized his body and all his senses on the field, making it nearly impossible to get past him. Gattuso’s approach was often rough, and he would do whatever it took to halt opponents, whether through legal means or more forceful tactics.

Alongside his remarkable achievements with AC Milan, he helped secure numerous domestic and international titles for the Lombardy-based club. Notably, he was part of the team that clinched two European Champions League titles. Furthermore, he played a crucial role in Italy’s victory in the 2006 World Cup.

8. Casemiro

Casemiro stands out as one of the fiercest defensive midfielders in the 21st century. The Brazilian national has enjoyed a remarkable and undeniable career. At Real Madrid, he formed a formidable midfield trio alongside Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

Although he may not possess extraordinary technical skills, he compensates with his exceptional game reading abilities. He’s an incredibly intelligent defensive midfielder, known for his sharp positioning and tactical smarts, making him one of the best at neutralizing opponents’ attacks.

Recently, Casemiro has significantly improved his all-around game. His passing has notably gotten better, and he played a crucial role in Real Madrid’s successful La Liga season.

Casemiro’s trophy cabinet includes four Champions League titles, three Liga trophies, three FIFA Club World Cups, and a Copa Del Rey.

7. Patrick Vieira

The French football star with Senegalese roots is ranked among the top 10 best defensive midfielders ever. He stood out for his physical strength and the ability to contribute offensively, making him a standout player among his peers.

He had impressive performances with various clubs, notably with Juventus, but his peak club career was with Arsenal, where he even held the captaincy.

During his time with Arsenal, they achieved numerous titles, including three league titles in a row, which also included the unique accomplishment of winning the Golden Shield that no other English team had managed.

On the international stage, he played a pivotal role in the French national team’s success. He was part of the squad that won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Nations Cup, and he helped the team reach the final of the 2006 World Cup.

6. Johan Neeskens

Neeskens was an essential figure alongside Johan Cruyff in the successful Dutch teams of 1974 and 1978. He’s recognized as one of the most well-rounded defensive midfielders in history, known for his skill in regaining possession and his endurance, combined with accurate passing.

At the club level, he achieved impressive victories, securing two Eredivisie titles, three Dutch Cups, and notably clinching three consecutive Champions League titles with Ajax Amsterdam, one of the esteemed clubs in European history.

Later, he moved to FC Barcelona and added a Copa Del Rey and a European Cup Winners’ Cup to his accomplishments with the Catalans.

5. Claude Mikaleli

He’s the French star who highlighted the significance of his position, particularly evident in the decline of Real Madrid’s performance after they let go of him. He’s regarded as one of the top 16 defensive midfielders in history.

Makélélé achieved numerous titles with the clubs he played for, notably winning domestic league championships with Real Madrid. He also secured titles like the European Champions League and the Club World Cup.

He played a crucial role in the French national team’s success, contributing to winning several titles, including back-to-back domestic league championships. This happened during the era when the club’s president Abramovich came on board and under the leadership of Portuguese coach Mourinho.

4. Didier Deschamps

He’s among the standout players in the defensive midfield role, known for his remarkable performances that place him among the top 10 defensive midfielders in history.

Deschamps was part of the legendary Marseille team that secured the Champions League title in 1993, marking a historic achievement for French clubs.

After a stint at Marseille, he later joined the Italian club Juventus in 1996, where he went on to win numerous championships.

On the international stage, Deschamps led the France national team as the captain to victory in the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship.

3. Frank Rijkaard

The ex-footballer was a key player for the Netherlands when they won their only European title in the 1998 European Nations Championship.

In club football, he was part of the Dutch trio (including Ruud Gullit and Van Basten) that played a vital role in leading the Italian club Milan to success in local, continental, and global competitions.

He also accomplished winning the European Champions League with the Dutch club Ajax Amsterdam, which was also dominant in their domestic leagues.

2. N’Golo Kante

N’Golo Kante became a sensation while playing for Leicester City in the 2015-16 Premier League season. His strong determination and unrelenting efforts were crucial for Leicester, who surprised everyone by winning the league title despite facing tough competition.

Kante isn’t just about disrupting opponents in midfield; he’s also skilled at maintaining possession and connecting plays, which he has gotten even better at recently. Over the last six seasons or so, the 30-year-old has been a key player for Chelsea. Now he plays for Al-Ittihad Club in Saudi Arabia.

He stood out as Chelsea’s top player when they won the Champions League in the 2020-21 season. In 2021, he was honored as UEFA’s ‘Best Midfielder of the Year’.

Despite his small stature, Kante played a significant role in France’s victory in the 2018 World Cup. Without a doubt, he is one of the finest defensive midfielders in the 21st century.

1. Lothar Matthaus

Lothar Matthäus is considered one of the greatest defensive midfielders in football history. He was a strong leader on the field, physically powerful, and had a good understanding of the game. He was also known for his determination. Matthäus was skilled at striking the ball and taking set pieces.

He played in a remarkable 5 World Cups and played a key role in Germany winning the Euro 1980 and the 1990 World Cup, where he was the team’s captain. He even won the prestigious Ballon d’Or award in the same year. While he spent most of his career as a defensive midfielder, he could also play as a libero, a flexible defensive position. He’s also ranked among the top 25 Best Midfielders of all time.

Matthäus is a legend for both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. He achieved success with Bayern Munich, winning 7 Bundesliga titles and 3 German Cups. He also won a Serie A title with Inter Milan. He added 2 UEFA Cup trophies to his achievements, one with each club. However, he missed out on winning the Champions League, despite reaching the final twice.

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