The defence is not the most glamorous of football positions. After all, defenders don’t score too often and tend to make the headlines a lot less than the strikers or midfielders.
Very often, however, a good defence can mean the difference between winning and losing. Some of the best defenders make it look like an art form. Here is our list of the best defenders in the history of the Premier League…
Tony Adams (Arsenal)
Already Arsenal captain by the time the Premier League began in 1992, Tony Adams played in the new league for 10 seasons until he retired in 2002 at the age of 35.
In 255 appearances, Adams led the Gunners to two Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups and one Cup Winners’ Cup.
Listed at number three on Arsenal’s Greatest 50 Players, Adams played at Arsenal for his entire career and came to define everything that the club stood for as the leader of its famously impenetrable back four.
Jaap Stam (Manchester United)
Despite spending only three years in the Premier League, Dutch international, Jaap Stam was an absolute colossus for Manchester United until Sir Alex Ferguson sold him to Lazio in 2001.
The manager later described the decision to sell Stam as the worst mistake of his managerial career.
Stam was named in the PFA Team of the Year in every one of his three seasons in the league and he was a rock in defence during the famous treble win in 1999. In fact, his time at Old Trafford included three straight league titles.
Denis Irwin (Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers)
While rarely making the headlines in a squad comprising the likes of Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Roy Keane and many others, Denis Irwin was a world-class player, nonetheless.
Ferguson described the former Republic of Ireland international as the “one certainty to get in the team” of his all-time United starting XI.
With the ability to play in either the left-back, or right-back positions, Irwin had everything that a full-back should. He could read the game well and was solid in the tackle like all good defenders.
What sets Irwin apart is his consistency; Ferguson said that he always played at an “8 out of 10 level” and indeed, he rarely had a bad game. Irwin was also an expert penalty and free-kick taker.
Rio Ferdinand (West Ham United, Leeds United, Manchester United, QPR)
Rio’s advantage over many other defenders lies in his composure on the ball: few are – or have ever been – as assured as Ferdinand.
Having started his career at West Ham in 1996, Ferdinand moved to Leeds in 2000 for a record £18 million. Manchester United signed him for another record-breaking fee of £30 million in 2002.
In a glittering career, Ferdinand’s first award was the Hammer of the Year in 1997-98. He went on to be named in the Premier League PFA Team of the Year six times and the FIFPro World XI once.
In 12 years at the centre of a formidable Manchester United defence, he won the Premier League six times, the League Cup three times, the Champions League once and the Club World Cup once.
Ashley Cole (Arsenal, Chelsea)
For a number of years, Ashley Cole was the best left-back in the world. He was part of Arsenal’s “Invincibles” during the 2003-04 season, when they won the Premier League, and also went the entire season without losing a single match.
The former England international won 102 caps for his country, in addition to a long list of trophies with Arsenal and Chelsea.
Cole was named in the PFA Team of the Year four times and the Euro 2004 Team of the Tournament. He was also voted Chelsea Players’ Player of the Year twice and England Player of the Year once.
Cole also played a crucial role in Chelsea’s unexpected Champions League win in 2012. During their run to the final, Cole’s quick responses were able to deny the likes of Barcelona’s Cesc Fàbregas and Napoli’s Christian Maggio at crucial moments.
What you’ll no doubt notice is the amount of Manchester United and Arsenal players on this list. After all, the league’s most dominant forces are bound to attract more defenders of international calibre than any other.
All good defenders are good tacklers. But the ability of these players to read the game, to stay composed and to act wisely at crucial moments is what kept them in some of the best teams – not just in the Premier League, but the world – for so long.