Top 10 Premier League Centre-Backs of All-Time

With goals galore in recent seasons in the English top-flight, it’s fair to say that old-school, no-nonsense defending is almost a thing of the past.

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have reached 100 goals in two of the last three campaigns, with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool not far behind. Even this season’s second match week saw the records tumble, with 44 goals scored across the ten fixtures.

Fortunately, a handful of traditional defenders remain, but even they seem miles behind their predecessors in terms of doing absolutely everything possible to keep that all-important clean sheet.

We take a look at the 10 best centre-backs that the competition has ever seen.

1. John Terry

Undoubtedly the greatest defender in Premier League history, Terry’s battle-hardened exterior was coupled with his iconic headed clearances and perfectly-executed tackles. His 492 league appearances boast 214 clean sheets, with some of those displays having the added bonus of many important goals at the other end of the pitch.

The 39-year-old now finds himself in a coaching role at Aston Villa, and one can only imagine how rewarding and beneficial his presence is for the youngsters at the club, especially 22-year-old defender Ezri Konsa.

2. Rio Ferdinand

One of Terry’s fiercest competitors in club football, but his national team partner for almost a decade. The stubborn centre-back enjoyed spells at West Ham and Leeds, but made his name in the red of Manchester United, where he soon became a legend at Old Trafford.

Ferdinand made over 500 appearances in the top-flight, and very rarely put a foot wrong in a United side that dominated English football under Sir Alex Ferguson. His experience at the highest level of the game is behind his recent success and respect as a pundit.

3. Tony Adams

The Arsenal legend was doing his thing well before any modern-day statistical records began, but none are needed to remind football fans worldwide just how good a player he was.

The ultimate one-club man, ‘Mr Arsenal’ earned his reputation through 669 club appearances and 14 years as captain, serving as Arsene Wenger’s rock at the back. Add to that ten major trophies – including league titles in three different decades – and it’s clear to see why Adams is one of the greatest there ever was.

4. Sol Campbell

Another Gunners legend, and another Premier League veteran who amassed over 500 league appearances. Tackling and interceptions were his forte, with the former Tottenham Hotspur and Portsmouth man also a specialist in recovering possession. He even helped clinch trophies with both Spurs and Pompey, certainly no mean feat.

The defensive colossus was one of the main reasons behind the world-famous ‘Invincibles’, with Campbell forming an unbreakable partnership with Kolo Toure, allowing the attacking abilities of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp to wreak havoc up front with little worry.

5. Nemanja Vidic

A typically-classy signing during Ferguson’s time in charge of United, Vidic arrived as a nobody but left a legend, throwing his body towards everything he could during his eight years at Old Trafford.

The perfect partner for Ferdinand in an era of superiority for the club, he was not to be messed with, and anyone who did certainly didn’t do it again. Rarely did a pacey forward get the better of the tough-tackling Serbian.

6. Ricardo Carvalho

Another class act to join the top-flight from Europe, the Portuguese defender was only ever concerned with keeping things tight in defence. Remarkably, he kept 63 clean sheets and conceded just 63 goals in his 135 league appearances at Chelsea, as well as securing three league titles and an FA Cup.

He worked under several world-class bosses and, just like his former team-mate Terry, Carvalho is now relaying that wisdom to the next generation, and is currently assisting Andre Villas-Boas in the dugout at Marseille.

7. Vincent Kompany

The ex-City man was a true force to be reckoned with, and was almost impossible to beat in a duel, both on the ground and in the air. His leadership helped bring endless silverware to the Etihad, with errors an extremely rare occurrence under his watch.

City perhaps underestimated just how much of an impact his exit from Manchester would be, with all the money in the world still unable to replace their former captain. The 34-year-old is now back in his native Belgium in the manager’s seat at Anderlecht.

8. Gary Pallister

Pallister is another to have enjoyed an astonishing career across both the First Division and the Premier League, with his technical ability on the ground equally as impressive as his physicality in the air.

A few notable players have followed his route of non-league football to top-flight stardom over the years, but none have gone on to achieve the high level of success that United’s former centre-back enjoyed.

9. Steve Bruce

Before Ferdinand and Vidic came Bruce and Pallister, who formed an impenetrable barrier at the back to help seal three league titles and three FA Cups among several other honours. Bruce even chipped in with an astonishing 51 goals in his 414 appearances in Red.

Much of the credit must once again go to the genius of Ferguson, who paid next to nothing for his services. Any failings in Bruce’s current managerial adventure may sadly overshadow his displays as a player, but United fans certainly won’t forget his time at the club.

10. Virgil van Dijk

The giant defender’s mere presence strikes fear into opposition forwards, even though things should definitely work the other way around. Liverpool would be completely lost without their number four, with his last-ditch tackling and ability to ease players off the ball key to Jurgen Klopp’s side.

Many will argue that he needs more honours to be labelled a Premier League legend, but perhaps clinching league, Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup titles in a matter of months is the perfect way to start that journey.

Honourable mentions must go out to Ledley King, Jaap Stam, Jamie Carragher, Kolo Toure and Sami Hyypia for their continuously colossal displays at the back.

Who have we missed? Or who doesn’t deserve a spot on the list?

About the author

Peter Lynch

Sports Journalism graduate from the University of Stirling, huge Liverpool and Northern Ireland fan, currently working as a freelancer.