Football’s 40 greatest centre-backs ranked – GiveMeSport

Who is the greatest center back in football history?

Is it the legendary Franz Beckenbauer? The German, who alongside lifting a record two Ballon d’Or awards as a defender, also led his national team to World Cup victory.

Or is it Paul Maldini? The iconic Rossoneri general who lifted a stupendous five Champions League titles across his illustrious career, and who was once a member of an AC Milan defense that conceded just 17 goals and kept 25 clean sheets across a 38-game campaign.

Heck, you might even think the greatest centre-half ever is John Terry, Rio Ferdinand or the modern great Virgil van Dijk – none would be too outrageous to shout.

And that’s beauty of it, us football fans needn’t all agree on every matter, differences make it interesting.

So, with that in mind, we here at GIVEMESPORT have tried our hand at ranking 40 high-profile centre-backs that many would deem an elite player in the role from ‘overrated’ to ‘GOAT’.

Take a look at our findings below and try to work out how your ranking would differ:


  • Pepper
  • Jamie Carragher
  • Diego Godin
  • Rafael Marquez
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – JANUARY 15: Jamie Carragher of Liverpool skips around Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United during the Barclays Premiership match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on January 15, 2005 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

We know these four were great defenders but they never quite achieved the elite level required to rank higher in this list.

Sure, they all played for leading European clubs, yet individually they were never quite considered the best around – unlike most of this list.

Very good

  • Sami Hypia
  • Sol Campbell
  • Ricardo Carvalho
  • Jose Santamaria
  • Lilian Thuram
  • Robert Ayala
  • John Charles
  • Alessandro Costacurta
  • Elias Figueroa
  • Gerard Pique
Sol Campbell playing for Arsenal
BLACKBURN, ENGLAND – MAY 03: Sol Campbell of Arsenal fouls Morten Gamst Pedersen of Blackburn Rovers in the penalty box during the Barclays Premier League match between Blackburn Rovers and Arsenal at Ewood Park on May 3, 2010 in Blackburn, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Some outstanding players make up the ‘very good’ category, with several Premier League greats making their appearance.

Campbell might be the best of that bunch, however, Carvalho and Hyypia were no slouches in their prime and both enjoyed stellar times in their career, most notably at Chelsea and Liverpool.

World class

  • Carles Puyol
  • Fernando Hierro
  • Marcel Desailly
  • Laurent Blanc
  • Giorgio Chiellini
  • Billy McNeill
  • Billy Wright
  • Matthias Sammer
  • Tony Adamss
Juventus’ Chiellini was named the world’s best defender in 2021.

Now we’re approaching the juicy stuff.

European Cup winners, World Cup winners and even a Ballon d’Or winner, we’ve got the lot in this category.

The Ballon d’Or winner being Sammer, in case you weren’t aware. The German claimed the gong in 1996, after being crowned player of the Euros as his nation became champions.

The less familiar names on the list include Billy McNeill who led Celtic’s ‘Lisbon Lions’ to their European Cup victory in 1967. He was also the first footballer in the world to earn 100 international caps.


  • Thiago Silva
  • Jaap Stam
  • Nemanja Vidic
  • Vincent Kompany
  • Alexander Nesta
  • Ronald Koeman
  • Gaetano Scirea
  • Daniel Passarella
  • Fabio Cannavaro
Man Utd legend Vidic is one of the greatest Premier League players ever.

Stam and Vidic were two feared Manchester United warriors back in the day and are rightly still loved at Old Trafford.

They join fellow Manchester great Kompany, albeit he was loved by the sky blue half of the city.

Italian Alessandro Nesta and Dutchman Ronald Koeman are the other two recognizable names that make this tier.

On the flip side, Juventus hero Gaetano Scirea and Argentine Daniel Passarella will likely be less known amongst youngsters. We never got the privilege of seeing them in action ourselves, but their records and statistics tell us all that we need to know.


  • Virgil van Dijk
  • Sergio Ramos
  • Rio Ferdinand
  • John Terry
  • Bobby Moore
  • Paul Maldini
  • Franco Baresi
Maldini was untouchable
Maldini was untouchable

Now we’re into the best eight to ever do it.

Maldini could easily have claimed number one spot and it actually pains us not to put the great man up as the GOAT. His former teammate Baresi had a solid shout too, but he’s more of a top five contender in our eyes.

Some will no doubt be quick to point out the inclusion of Van Dijk, who in comparison to the rest of this category has won very little, but our response to that would simply be: use your eyes. The level of performance he achieved prior to rupturing his ACL was surely the greatest we’ve ever seen in the Premier League.

Terry and Ferdinand also find their home in this category and were both certainly ‘era-defining’ players of the early 21st century.

The ultimate football quiz of 2022:


1960: West Germany Captain Franz Beckenbauer #5 shakes hands with the East Germany Captain before a match. Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport

There can only be one and we’re giving this to the German hero, Franz Beckenbauer.

The Bayern Munich legend claimed the Ballon d’Or in 1972 and 1976, after captaining West Germany to the 1974 World Cup.

A very worthy winner. View the full ranking below:

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