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What makes a world class centre-back in the modern game? Gone are the days where an out and out defender is considered the top dog. Nowadays, there is such a strong desire to play out from the back that passing ability and composure under pressure seem to be two of the key requirements for defenders but, remember, no team has ever lost a match when keeping a clean sheet and defenders should always defend first and foremost.
Here’s our top 10 centre-backs in the world right now and – spoiler alert – there isn’t an Arsenal player in sight.
10. Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)
Bonucci actually started out in football as a midfielder before slotting into defence, which is perhaps why his calmness under pressure when in possession is up there with the best in the business. The Italian is more than an easy on the eye defender though and his positional sense, strength and aerial prowess makes him a tough man to get the better of. 99 international caps are proof of just how good and consistent he’s been over the years.
9. Harry Maguire (Manchester United)
You might expect the world’s most expensive defender to rank higher than ninth on our list but Maguire – despite his obvious talents – still has a lot to prove. The Sheffield born centre-back is a force to be reckoned with in either box and is comfortable playing out from the back. The trouble is with an £80m price tag comes a lot of pressure and to make it to the top of this list he really needs to lead Man United back to the glory days, which is something that looks a long way off at the moment.
8. Gerard Pique (Barcelona)
It’s fair to say Gerard Pique is one of the best players Manchester United have ever failed to utilise. He left England for Barcelona aged 21 and that was that; his technique suits the Spanish – and Barca – game to a tee and his stature and physical attributes make him a more than able defender too. Not many players leave a club like United and go on to massive success but Pique has a medal haul that consists of 19 post-United major honours, two of which were on the international stage where he’s racked up over 100 appearances for Spain.
7. Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich)
Despite moving into his early 30’s Jerome Boateng is still one of the best defenders around Europe. Very few players will come closing to replicating his success on the pitch. A trophy cabinet that contains 1 World Cup, 2 Champions League trophies, 8 Bundesliga titles, 4 German Super Cups, 1 FA Cup and more. Not many would have predicted the German developing in a world class talent after an error-prone spell with Man City. He’s been a mainstay at the heart of Bayern Munich’s defence for close 10 years now, making over 200 appearances. Boateng’s current partnership alongside a pacey David Alaba suits him perfectly, helping Munich maintain their dominance in Germany.
6. Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)
Real Madrid’s French centre half Varane is arguably not quite yet in his prime at 27 years old but a World Cup winners medal and a trio of Champions League wins are testament to what a player he is. Varane is a technically gifted defender who is quick across the turf, which, although he’s no pushover himself, makes him a superb candidate to play alongside a more dominating partner. On top of his ability as a player, Varane is known to have a phenomenal temperament and with nearly 300 Real Madrid appearances to his name already it’s frightening to think what he might achieve come the end of his career.
5. Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City)
Nothing epitomises the solidity Laporte brings to a team than the fragility that Manchester City have shown without him at the heart of their back four. Laporte proved an instant hit when joining from Athletic Bilbao in January 2018 with his ability to start attacks with a wand of a left foot the standout quality; as time has progressed though it’s his leadership and organisation that have proved most important as he ably filled the shoes of Vincent Kompany. The sooner he fully recovers from his injury troubles, the sooner City will become a near unstoppable force again.
4. Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
The inclusion of Chiellini this high up the list is proof that, no matter how the game has changed, defending is the most important thing for a defender. That isn’t to say Chiellini is bad with the ball at his feet but he’s hardly Kevin De Bruyne; instead, Chiellini is all about power, aggression and tenacity with his ball winning ability – probably – second to none. It’s hardly a surprise that Juventus have dominated Italian football over the last decade with both Chiellini and Bonucci at the back for most of it but the biggest compliment we can pay Chiellini is that he’s a centre-back who could have played in any era and still he would be one of the very best.
3. Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)
Napoli’s man mountain could be one of the most talked about players in the game over the last 12 months or so. The transfer links won’t go away and it seems inevitable that Koulibaly will soon be plying his trade in the Premier League; if that is a move that transpires then it could eclipse the fee for Maguire and even then it would be good value. Koulibaly is quick, strong, aggressive in the challenge both on the ground and in the air and he can play out from the back with ease. If ‘The Wall’ can prove himself in England then he could well become the number one defender in the world.
2. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
Ramos is perhaps the most ‘marmite’ footballer there is with a general split that his fans love him whilst everyone else despises him for his mastery of the dark arts. That said, his defensive prowess and desire to win is undeniable. Although he’s now at the twilight of his career at the age of 34 it is impossible to overlook his medal haul that includes a World Cup, two European Championships and four Champions League titles and even now he’s turning in solid performances week after week.
1. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool)
If there is a better all-round defender playing on this planet at the moment then I’m yet to see him. Van Dijk has proven himself wherever he has been and since moving to Liverpool he’s transformed them from a flowing, attacking side to one that is still awesome going forward but now they’re tough to breakdown too. The Dutchman is so comfortable on the ball he almost makes the game look too easy but he’s more than capable of dealing with the ‘kick it, head it’ side of the game as well. Liverpool chances of retaining their Premier League title has been heavily hit by his knee injury, hopefully Van Dijk can get back on the pitch before the end of the season.
There you have it, our view on the best defensive talents in today’s game. What are your thoughts? Let us know below.