The role of the defender has changed drastically over time and has undergone a number of changes over the years. It’s not the most attractive position – everyone always wants to be a midfielder or a striker. Even goalkeepers are sometimes ahead of defenders in this particular boiling order.
Despite the obvious lack of attractiveness, the modern defender is one of the most important players on a football team. The nineties experienced an evolution of the role, so defenders moved into midfield and back into position depending on the game situation.
4-4-2 was a very common formation in the 1980s, and defenders were more secure in attack than they are today. There are a few names from this era that I didn’t list in my top five, but they deserve respect.
Phil Neil was absolutely brilliant for Liverpool. At one point in my career, I played 117 games in a row and I thought that was pretty impressive. He pales in comparison to Neal, who has played more than 400 consecutive games for his club. The game is different in so many ways now and you can’t really compare generations, but to think that you can play the game for eight years without missing a beat is amazing. To me he is the godfather of all defenders.
Rob Jones is another Liverpool player who deserves a mention. He was one of the first defenders to be part of the transition we’re talking about today, and he was adept at his forward-looking rush and crossing. Had it not been for his injuries, he might have been highly regarded for what he achieved.
This is an incredibly difficult list to put together because a few names have changed the way we look at the game. Here are my thoughts on the five greatest defenders of all time.
#5 I’m sorry.
Internationally, Cafu is one of the most decorated players on this list. I’ve been playing with him occasionally for the past few years, and he’s still incredibly fit. If he’s like this in his 40s, it must have been a real nightmare to play in his prime.
Kafue was part of the evolution of the modern quarterback in the 1990s and 2000s. He was a great watch on the field, both as a football fan and as a player. He would introduce a distinctive Brazilian to the defender role, and his skill and grace on the ball was impeccable.
Cafu has led Brazil to incredible success at the international level, winning two World Cups for his side. I never opposed him as a player, but the time I shared with him on the field after retirement gave me insight into his incredible skill as a quarterback.
#4 Danny Alves
Dani Alves is the only active player on my list. There was always a question mark with him – is he really a defender or is he a defensive winger? What a player Nine European titles, with three victories in the UEFA Champions League Barcelona – he is one of the most decorated players of all time.