Leading on from the top 10 goalkeepers in the world; I now present you the top 10 Centre-backs in the world. Remember, this is partly judged on recent performances and partly on permanent class. Enjoy, comment and discuss and remember to look out for the remaining four articles in this series of 6, the next one being the top 10 full-backs.
Diego Godin – An old school centre-half who bought into the ‘Simeone way’ from the very beginning to great effect. His dogged style and aerial prowess means he is now crucial for club and country. He was ever-present during Atleti’s title-winning season and popped up with some crucial goals as well during the run in. England’s ‘other’ Uruguayan nemesis. Very unlucky not to make the 10.
- Laurent Koscielny – It took him a while. Finally, Laurent Koscielny has matured into the composed and efficient centre-back Arsenal fans hoped for after a couple of years of consistently good performances. The days of a long and lanky Frenchman making devastating mistakes are behind him and, along with Per Mertersacker, made a formidable central defence for Arsenal this season. His pace and tackling are sorely missed when he is injured. Now a regular for France too.
- Leonardo Bonucci – Part of a formidable trio at the back for Juventus at the back along with Andrea Barzalgi and Giorgio Chiellini. Rock hard and possesses terrific positioning, he can also play at sweeper. Not flashy but tough as nails and now has 38 caps for Italy. He once punched an armed robber who tried to mug him and chased him down the street. He also chases away Serie A strikers with his fantastic defending.
10. Medhi Benatia – AS Roma and Morocco – 27 – Arguably a shock inclusion but Medhi Benatia has had that good a season. Signed from Udinese last summer for around £11.5 million, he has been a rock at the centre of Roma’s defence as they enjoyed a terrific season in Serie A conceding a miserly 25 goals; only bettered by runaway champions Juventus. He reads the game well, is good positionally and comfortable with the ball at his feet, he also popped up with some goals of his own; scoring 5 in the league for Roma. Heavily linked with a move away, possibly to the Premier League with both Manchester clubs interested. Him and Vincent Kompany in the centre of defence would be a match for anyone but Roma have understandably set a high price tag and staying at the club where he has excelled and will play regularly (in the Champions League as well) may benefit him. Certainly there’s no centre-back more in-form and full of confidence in the world right now.
9. Giorgio Chiellini – Juventus and Italy – 29 – “A force of nature, from another planet” said the great Italian manager Walter Mazzari about Giorgio Chiellini – it’s difficult to disagree. A tall, strong, old-school catenaccio-style defender, Chiellini is one of those defenders that the purists – particularly those of a Juventus or Italian persuasion – just love to watch. Previously a left-back, he is comfortable on the ball, hard in the tackle and a hugely determined figure on the pitch. Surprisingly, he is still only 29 and undoubtedly has quite a few years left of playing, with his 100th cap for Italy looking likely to come at some point. He is hugely popular in Turin and was made vice-captain last year before leading them to a third straight Serie A title with a records points tally, conceding just 23 goals along the way. Oh, and I forgot to mention he was bitten by some Uruguayan fella named Suarez… And then called the ban excessive! Just another year for Giorgio.
8. Dante – Bayern Munich and Brazil – 30 – A late bloomer, Dante only emerged as one of the great centre-backs in 2012 when he joined Bayern at the age of 28. Since then he has moulded himself into a disciplined defender; merging aggression and power with composure and anticipation. At the heart of a record-breaking Bayern team and defence that conceded just 23 goals all season, there’s no doubt that Bayern’s attacking brilliance and possession football could not take place without the crazy-haired Brazilian marshalling their rigid back-line. Emerged as a possible centre-back partner for Thiago Silva at the World Cup but lost out to the more mercurial David Luiz; in the end only taking part in the horrific 7-1 drubbing by Germany in the semi-final stepping in for the suspended captain. That, and poor displays against the pace of Real Madrid’s front line in both legs of the Champions League semi-final mean he isn’t higher on this list and are the only blemishes on his career in the past two seasons. Not bad for someone most of us hadn’t heard of before that.
7. David Luiz – Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil – 27 – He will always have his critics, but on his day (on his day mind you), there are very few footballers let alone centre-backs better than David Luiz. Perhaps that is what persuaded Paris Saint-Germain to part with a reported £40 million and make him the world’s most expensive defender ever, to force Chelsea part with him. He had also previously been linked with Barcelona in what would’ve seemed an extremely unlikely switch. He often suffers from lapses of concentration and his form is so fluctuating its difficult to know what he will be like for any given match; as shown at the World Cup where he followed a match winning performance and a terrific free-kick against Colombia in the quarter-final with a devastating performance (along with the rest of the team) against Germany in the semis as captain. However, what you can say is he is very passionate and throws himself into every single tackle, header, anthem and match almost like a young child full of willing and spirit. Sometimes he must reign that in and Mourinho appeared to be getting the best out of him in a holding midfield role at Chelsea where any mistakes he made were less costly and exposed; in fact, he produced some of his best performances in that position. What PSG can offer which Chelsea can’t is a central defence partner of Thiago Silva; a player who seems almost a father figure to Luiz and who seems to get the best out of him for the national team, as that devastating semi-final showed. Already loved by millions, for those who are yet to be convinced, we may yet see the making of David Luiz at PSG.
6. Raphaël Varane – Real Madrid and France – 21 – Jose Mourinho says he is ‘the best young defender in the world’ whilst Franck Leboeuf, the former France defender, says “Many compare him to Hierro due to his technique, but on the physical level he is stronger and he is much faster” when discussing the likeness between the Real Madrid legend and their current young starlet. At 21, Varane has the world at his feet and don’t expect that to overwhelm him. Excellent technically with a fantastic reading of the game and great natural pace, he has gone from strength to strength since signing for Real Madrid from Lens in 2011 as a spindly 18 year old. Used primarily as a substitute to begin with, learning from greats such as Pepe, Carvallho and Ramos, he became Real Madrid’s youngest foreign player to score in a competitive game with a back heel from a corner. Constantly touted as a future star the pressure didn’t appear to weigh heavily on the shoulders of a young Varane and he had another impressive year under Mourinho as Real Madrid won the league. However, this season has been his breakthrough year, playing in numerous Champions League and La Liga games including the Champions League final against rivals Atletico when he kicked the ball at opposition manager Simeone causing a late brawl on the pitch. Linked with moves elsewhere – with Chelsea (and Jose) looking the most likely – you’d think Real would be foolish to let him slip away.
5. Gerard Piqué – Barcelona and Spain – 27 – A definite former no.1 on this list, Piqué’s form has slumped slightly in the past two seasons, leading to gentle slide down the pecking order of the world’s best defenders. However, he still pretty much holds together defensively what can at times be a slightly shaky Barca back four and is the lynchpin for starting their patient attacks. Still very comfortable on the ball, his lack of pace can sometimes be shown up against the faster forwards and that has led to some less than assured displays from him. This problem will not improve and if Barca can get a quick centre-half to fill the gap left by Carles Puyol in the heart of the defence alongside him, there is no doubt we will once again see the great defender we know he is. Suffered from a poor World Cup, but should bounce back under new manager Luis Enrique with a new look Barca team. Part of a second wave of players who need to take up the gauntlet that will be left by the greats of Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta and Dani Alves. A future captain? It’s possible.
4. Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid and Spain – 28 – The bullfighter has completed the transition from marauding right-back to commanding centre-back and is now definitely amongst the best in the world. He became the youngest player to reach 100 international caps last year and has mature significantly both on and off the pitch this season, dispelling doubts about his concentration and credentials. Still versatile enough to play anywhere across the defence or even in midfield, his aggressive, powerful and determined performances look to have affirmed his position for the next 5 years for club and country. Can also score great (and crucial) goals as he showed in the Champions League semi-final and final victories, as well as some important free-kicks and headers throughout the La Liga season.
3. Mats Hummels – Borussia Dortmund and Germany – 25 – A tall, graceful and majestic defender with long, dark, curly locks from Germany who often steps into midfield and sprays passes around like a playmaker, Hummels was always going to be compared to the great Franz Beckenbauer. Completley pivotal to all Borussia Dortmund’s recent success, it is ironic that he has inflicted so much pain to the club where he started his career, Bayern Munich. At a time when centre-back has seemed the only weak link for the German national team and the bavarians; Hummels is a calming presence at the back. His positioning, composure, tackling and technique have earned him huge praise around the world and, along with nearly every Dortmund player, he is attracting many suitors, notably Barcelona and Manchester United. His partnership with Serb Neven Subotic has continued to flourish even as Dortmund’s success has begun to dwindle, succumbing to the might of Bayern. Yet another German who managed to have an exceptional World Cup, scoring the winner in the quarter-final against France.
2. Vincent Kompany – Manchester City and Belgium – 28 – Sorely missed by club and country when he is injured, Vincent Kompany has established himself as a steely defender with a touch of class. In a team full of multi-million pound purchases Kompany is undoubtedly the bargain of the lot, costing just £6 million from Hamburg in 2008. Initially a midfielder, he converted to defence early on in his City career and has become an integral part to the success they have enjoyed. Combining fantastic tackling, aerial prowess and strength with pace, composure and positioning, Kompany is the archetypal modern day centre-back but it is often his leadership and intelligence that are most crucial for Manchester City. Showed great resolve and courage to come back from a crucial slip against Liverpool to rally the troops and lead them to a winning end to the season, and the title. Also captained his side impressively at the World Cup, whilst still finding the time to be a chairman of a Belgian club, a television pundit and owner of two Belgian sports bars, ingeniously named ‘Good Kompany’.
1. Thiago Silva – Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil – 29 – Adding experience and international pedigree to an already impressive skill set last year meant Thiago Silva finally emerged as the obvious choice for best central defender in the world by most of us who watch, know and love the beautiful game. Passionate yet concentrated, experienced yet fast and agile, aggressive yet composed; Thiago Silva is the perfect Brazilian defender. In the mould of greats like Lucio, Aldair and Mauro Ramos, he is as much a leader and captain as he is a key player and his absence was the main reason behind Brazil’s capitulation in the World Cup, in that semi. A player who always seems to be in the right place at the right time as he often needs to be playing alongside David Luiz for his country and, from next season onwards, his club also. Arguably faces easier defences than others in Ligue 1 but has proved he can face the best at international level and at Milan throughout the years across Europe. Genuinely plays with his heart and it was saddening not to see him lift the World Cup this summer, especially after such a good tournament personally. A true great, and the type of player who doesn’t come around often.