Redcafe's All-Time Top 30. Box-to-box and defensive midfielders | Finally done!

harms

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TOTAL
1Matthäus740
2Rijkaard686
3Neeskens467
4Keane418
5Breitner380
6Redondo365
7Davids353
8Robson351
9Schweinsteiger351
10Beckenbauer346
11Tigana302
12Edwards294
13Desailly275
14Voronin268
15Vieira252
16Tardelli230
17Souness229
18Varela214
19Coluna210
20Makelele141
21Cerezo138
22Busquets107
23Netto100
24Gerrard94
25Seedorf90
26Pirri88
27Gascoigne84
28Stielike80
29Bremner77
30Lampard69
31Goncalves62
32Kante61
33Ballack52
34Effenberg49
35Lerby42
36Zito41
37Essien39
38Vidal39
39Szymaniak34
40Deschamps33
41Mackay30
42Dunga23
43Toure20
44Benetti19
45Rossi17
46Mendieta15
47Mauro Silva11
48Mascherano9
49Cambiasso8
50Bonhof7
51Cajkovski5
52Pluskal5
53Luis Fernandez4
54Meszöly4
55Clodoaldo3
56Hierro2
57Jansen2
58Carrick1

Post your list of 30 best box-to-box and defensive midfielders of all-time. I'll close the thread on the 8th of September (unless we decide to extend the vote).

Note: since we're obviously facing a problem with individual categorisation, we've decided to highlight the debatable players that should or shouldn't be eligible for this list

Eligible:

Matthäus
Rijkaard
Desailly
Voronin
Robson
Keane
Vieira
Breitner
Neeskens
Redondo
Tardelli
Gerrard
Tigana
Varela
Bremner
Davids
Souness
Zito
Stielike
Ballack
Lampard
Lerby
Bonhof
Goncalves
Mascherano
Deschamps
Makelele
Edwards
Schweinsteiger
Pirri
Rossi
Szymaniak
Haan
Essien
Mackay
Netto
Ardiles
Simeone
Fernandez
Cambiasso
Effenberg
Seedorf
L. Enrique
Mendieta
Busquets
Cerezo
Toure
Gascoigne
Coluna

NB: This is not a complete list - if you think of someone, you can specify his category in the main thread.


Non-eligible:
Paulo Roberto Falcão
Guardiola
Pirlo
Xabi Alonso
Ocwirk
Bozsik
Masopust
Scholes
Deco
Modric
Overath
Van Hanegem
Schuster


Note: all discussion goes to this thread - http://www.redcafe.net/threads/redcafes-top-20-by-position.448431/

Note: you can post less than 30 names, but not more

The list should be posted in the required format:

  1. J. O'Shea
  2. P. Jones
...

30.

NB: After careful consideration, only players that had played at least a season after the 1950 WC are eligible.
 
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paulscholes18

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12 Gascoigne
13 Vieira
14 Makelele
15 Gerrard
16 Effenberg
17 Cerezo
18 Lampard
19 Seedorf
20 Ballack
21 Essien
22 Mascherano
23 Tigana
24 Cambiasso
25 Toure
26 Deschamps
27 Mendieta
28 Tardelli
29 Souness
30 Breitner
 
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Invictus

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9. Bryan Robson
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11. Edgar Davids
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13. Graeme Souness
14. Marco Tardelli
15. Valery Voronin
16. Jean Tigana
17. Sergio Busquets
18. Clarence Seedorf
19. Toninho Cerezo
20. Billy Bremner
21. José de Miranda Zito
22. Néstor Rossi
23. Uli Stielik
24. Arturo Vidal
25. Néstor Gonçalves
26. Paul Gascoigne
27. Kálmán Mészöly
28. Patrick Vieira
29. Clodoaldo de Santana
30. Rainer Bonhof
 

Physiocrat

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13. Tigana
14. Souness
15. Tardelli
16. Edwards
17. Effenberg
18. Coluna
19. Desailly
20. Cerezo
21. Vieira
22. Lerby
23. Bremner
24. Gascoigne
25. Bonhof
26. Goncalves
27. Seedorf
28. Deschamps
29. Essien
30. Clodoaldo
 
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Šjor Bepo

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10. Breitner
11. Vieira
12. Robson
13. Souness
14. Tigana
15. Kante
16. Voronin
17. Gascoigne
18. Coluna
19. Edwards
20. Heyyyy Makelele
21. Desailly
22. Tardelli
23. Varela
24. Seedorf
25. Stielike
26. Pirri
27. Essien
28. Netto
29. Goncalves
30. Carrick
 

BlackShark_80

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  8. Marco Tardelli
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  10. Obdulio Varela
  11. Jean Tigana
  12. Bryan Robson
  13. Edgar Davids
  14. Roy Keane
  15. Igor Netto
  16. Patrick Vieira
  17. Paul Gascoigne
  18. Graeme Souness
  19. Steven Gerrard
  20. Frank Lampard
  21. Claude Makelele
  22. Soren Lerby
  23. Billy Bremner
  24. Valery Voronin
  25. Bastian Schweinsteiger
  26. Nestor Rossi
  27. Svatopluk Pluskal
  28. Zlatko Cajkovski
  29. Uli Stielike
  30. Stefan Effenberg
 
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oneniltothearsenal

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9. Varela
10. (t)
Robson
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12. (t)
Cerezo
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14. (t)
Dunga
Keane
16. Tigana
17. Tardelli
18. Edwards
19. Coluna
20. Zito
21. Mendieta
22. Pirri
23. Heyyyy Makelele
24. Seedorf
25. Kante
26. Voronin
27. Goncalves
28. Gerrard
29. Gascoigne
30. Lampard
 
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Michaelf7777777

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8. Claude Makelele
9. Marcel Desailly
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11. Paul Breitner
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19. Patrick Vieira
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22. Mario Coluna
23. Edgar Davids
24. Graeme Souness
25. Billy Bremner
26. Franz Beckenbauer
27. Luis Fernandez
28. Nestor Rossi
29. Zlatko Cajkovski
30. Svatopluk Pluskal
 

2mufc0

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9. Davids
10. Redondo
11. Desailly
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13. Robson
14. Voronin
15. Cerezo
16. Tardelli
17. Tigana
18. Varela
19. Zito
20. Souness
21. Pirri
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harms

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  7. Bastian Schweinsteiger
  8. Edgar Davids
  9. Fernando Redondo
  10. Marcel Desailly
  11. Valery Voronin
  12. Jean Tigana
  13. Duncan Edwards
  14. Patrick Vieira
  15. Toninho Cerezo
  16. Obdulio Varela
  17. Marco Tardelli
  18. Graeme Souness
  19. Igor Netto
  20. Mario Coluna
  21. Søren Lerby
  22. Paul Gascoigne
  23. Steven Gerrard
  24. Clarence Seedorf
  25. Uli Stielike
  26. Frank Lampard
  27. Nestor Gonçalves
  28. Claude Makelele
  29. Billy Bremner
  30. Jose Pirri
... to edit out
Busquets, Zito, Vidal, Bonhof, Kante, Effenberg, Deschamps, Ballack, Mendieta
 

Jim Beam

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Gio

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Edgar Allan Pillow

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Joga Bonito

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  21. Graeme Souness
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  23. Igor Netto
  24. Mario Coluna
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  26. Steven Gerrard
  27. Clarence Seedorf
  28. Stefan Effenberg
  29. Nestor Gonçalves
  30. Claude Makelele
 
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Enigma_87

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  1. Lothar Matthäus
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  4. Johan Neeskens
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  6. Fernando Redondo
  7. Edgar Davids
  8. Marcel Desailly
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  10. Bastian Schweinsteiger
  11. Jean Tigana
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  16. Duncan Edwards
  17. Valery Voronin
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  20. Jose Pirri
  21. Michael Ballack
  22. Toninho Cerezo
  23. Igor Netto
  24. Arturo Vidal
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  26. Mario Coluna
  27. Clarence Seedorf
  28. Stefan Effenberg
  29. Nestor Gonçalves
  30. Søren Lerby
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berbasloth4

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Synco

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  7. Busquets
  8. Vieira
  9. Keane
  10. Voronin
  11. Davids
  12. Tigana
  13. Schweinsteiger
  14. Gerrard
  15. Ballack
  16. Lampard
  17. Coluna
  18. Desailly
  19. Essien
  20. Szymaniak
  21. Toure
  22. Breitner
  23. Bremner
  24. Souness
  25. Tardelli
  26. Gascoigne
  27. Seedorf
  28. Pirri
  29. Makelele
  30. Deschamps
 

Indnyc

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  1. Lothar Matthäus
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  6. Roy Keane
  7. Marcel Desailly
  8. Paul Breitner
  9. Bryan Robson
  10. Fernando Redondo
  11. Edgar Davids
  12. Patrick Vieira
  13. Jean Tigana
  14. Graeme Souness
  15. Duncan Edwards
  16. Valery Voronin
  17. Claude Makelele
  18. Obdulio Varela
  19. Marco Tardelli
  20. Sergio Busquets
  21. Didier Deschamps
  22. Toninho Cerezo
  23. Mario Coluna
  24. Igor Netto
  25. Arturo Vidal
  26. Uli Stielike
  27. Clarence Seedorf
  28. Zito
  29. Nestor Gonçalves
  30. Frank Lampard
 
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harms

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You were waiting for it. And waiting for it. And then you stopped waiting for it.

The results are in, thanks to the great enthusiast @Synco, who has volunteered to reanimate the project.
 

harms

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58. Michael Carrick. 1 point

It's Carrick, you know... it's hard to believe it's not Scholes. An undeservingly controversial figure for a huge part of his United career, Carrick is probably one of the most underrated midfielders of his era. Ever-present and ever-reliable, he was a key player in one of the most successful teams in our club's history. Who knows, maybe playing Carrick in a holding role was the solution for the seemingly unsolvable Lampard/Gerrard dilemma, but we would never know. What wouldn't we give to have Carrick in today's team — not on the bench next to Ole, but in his favourite position just in front of defence.


56. Wim Jansen, Fernando Hierro. 2 points

Wim Jansen.


He was a part of the Dutch Golden generation, having played for Netherlands in both of their World Cup runners-up campaigns of the 70's, and he also left a huge mark on Feyenoord history — with him and van Hanegem in midfield they became the first Dutch club to lift the European Cup in 1970. His remarkable legacy as a Feyenoord legacy (he came through their academy and played 15 seasons for them), sadly, got a little damaged when he went back to Netherlands after a short stint in MLS... to play for Ajax. On his Ajax debut (ironically enough, it was a game against his former club Feyenoord), he had to leave the pitch for treatment — a snowball thrown by a furious Feyenoord fan hit him right in the eye.

Fernando Hierro.

Real Madrid legend and one of their greatest captains, Hierro is usually considered as a center back for a sake of those ratings, but he had spent a lot of his career playing in midfield — either as a defensive midfielder or as an expansive box-to-box midfielder in his younger days. His most prolific years were those that he had played in that role — in the early 90's he had scored an incredible 55 goals over the course of 3 seasons! Perhaps a bit unfairly, those goals put him a tad too high on the lists of goalscoring defenders, but those numbers are insane regardless of the position you're playing in (if you're not a striker, obviously).


55. Clodoaldo. 3 points

Carlos Alberto's legendary goal in the 1970 World Cup final is one of the most iconic goals in football's history. Yet, the quintessential "joga bonito" masterpiece is rarely shown from its very beginning, which, symbolically, is probably as important as Pelé's unselfish pass and Carlos Albero's wonderstrike. The move started out deep in Brazilian midfield, where the Brazil's number 5, a holding midfielder Clodoaldo, got the ball and dribbled past 4 Italian players before shifting the ball wide to Rivellino (-> Jairzinho -> Pelé -> Carlos Alberto -> goal). The game itself was a clash between 2 opposite ideologies that was set to decide the future of football — would it be the miserably defensive catenaccio or the joyous and creative joga bonito, where even a holding midfielder has enough flair to dribble past multiple opponents deep in his own half? It was the latter. Clodoaldo was also the successor of Zito both for Brazil and for Santos, the club he'll play for the 500 games for, and the comparisons between their styles tells you everything you need to know about the evolution of the beautiful game.
 

harms

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53. Kálmán Mészöly, Luis Fernández. 4 points

Kálmán Mészöly


Nicknamed "the blond rock", Mészöly was a highly rated Hungarian midfielder, who had participated in 2 World Cups and 1 Euros. Throughout the 60's he was often called up to play for the World All Stars team, which was pretty much the equivalent of today's Team of the Year awards. Like many Eastern European footballers, he was denied the chance to play abroad though, and spent the wholesome of his career at home, playing for Vasas FC, winning 4 out of the club's 6 Hungarian championships.

Luis Fernández

Luis Fernández is mostly known as a part of "le carré magique", France's midfield four that dominated the international football in the 80's. Fernández, Platini, Giresse & Tigana had won the 1984 Euros and were quite unlucky not to win at least one of the 80's World Cups. Fernández played the role of a holding midfielder but he was more of a deep-lying playmaker rather than a typical ball-winner, and, like Tigana, at his clubs he played in an even more expansive role, orchestrating the play and contributing a lot offensively. His personal highlight would probably be the French Player of the Year award that he received in 1985, although you keep in mind that the French players who played abroad (most notably a certain Michel Platini), were ineligible for the award.


51. Svatopluk Pluskal, Zlatko Čajkovski, 5 points

Svatopluk Pluskal


Svatopluk Pluskal was the Keane to Josef Masopust's Scholes — while Masopust took care of the creative part of the job with his silky-smooth dribbling and outstanding passing ability, Pluskal provided the steel and overall defensive solidity. It's not a surprise that the duo played with each other for 14 years, both for Dukla Prague and Czechoslovakia. Their biggest success was, undoubtedly, the 1962 World Cup, when Czechoslovakia lost in the final to Garrincha's Brazil. Masopust got his Ballon d'Or, Pluskal — an international recognition which was followed up by multiple call ups to the World/European XIs, including probably the most famous World XI game of All-Time, against England in 1963. He is also said to be the inventor of a sliding tackle (I wouldn't be too sure about that though), and in the former Czechoslovakia states they still often call them "Pluskal's tackles". A bigger write-up on him can be found here.

Who other than Sir Stanley Matthews to provide the most pointless compliment ever:
"I knew in my career many outstanding players. Only one of them, however, named Svatopluk Pluskal." - Sir Stanley Matthews
Zlatko Čajkovski

Zlatko had played a bit earlier and was known as one of the most complete midfielders of his time — an absolute unit known for his physicality and marking skills, but also someone who possessed a metronomic passing ability. It's hard to judge those pre-TV players though as all of them end up being described as basically superhumans. Still, you can't deny his relative success in his era and he is quite unlucky not to break into the top-50. He also hadn't spent his whole career in Yugoslavia, which was quite unusual at the time, and spent some time playing for FC Köln and Hapoel Haifa — the former stint decided his post-retirement plans. Čajkovski went into coaching, starting out with FC Köln (and winning the title with them) and, later, having a successful spell at Bayern Münich in the 60s.
 

Šjor Bepo

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You know you are fecked when even your own fans dont rate you properly, poor carras :(
 

Enigma_87

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Top stuff @harms and @Synco .

Apart from Matthaus, Rijkaard, Neeskens and Beckenbauer it will be very close results for the top 10 just looking at the lists.
 

harms

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50. Rainer Bonhof. 7 points



I quite like this chant by the German fans from the 1974 World Cup final — "we know Bonhof, but who is Cruyff?". Funnily enough, Rainer Bonhof, who would provide the cross for Müller's golden goal in that final, was born in Netherlands — originally a German town, Emmerich am Rhein was occupied by the Dutch from 1949 till 1963. Another anecdote about him involves Ray Clemence. The Liverpool keeper was so afraid of Bonhof's powerful free-kicks that he decided to duck and let the ball in when he figured that one of those was flying towards his head.

Bonhof was truly a Swiss army knife of a player — two-footed, played in every midfield & defensive role, had one of the most powerful shots of all-time... and being equally provide a match-winning assists in a big game (assist for the winner in 1974 WC final, 4 assists in the semi-final and final games of 1976 Euros) or to man-mark Gerd Müller in a win against the mighty Bayern Munich of the 70's.
 

harms

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49. Esteban Cambiasso. 8 points



Often overlooked, Esteban Cambiasso was one of the smartest defensive midfielders of his generation. He wasn't blessed athletically and neither was he a magician with the ball, but his intelligence and industriousness ensured an illustrious career for him. His best came when he was playing for Inter — he spent a decade there after Florentino Perez dismissed him for the "lack of technical ability and pace". Cambiasso played at the fulcrum. A commanding warrior whose craft, guile and industry first helped Roberto Mancini break Italy’s duopoly, before elevating José Mourinho’s men to conquer Europe. “I won the treble with Cambiasso,” said a gleeful Mourinho to The Independent back in 2015, “he belongs to my golden team.” He commandeered the pitch much like a prize conductor leads his orchestra, each player dancing to Cuchu’s masterful beat. His presence was their baton, the ball their metronome, and cunning yet deadly counter-attacks their symphony.
 

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48. Javier Mascherano. 9 points



The man had made his name by denying his opponents time and space with the ball. The ultimate destroyer of the modern era, he seamlessly fitted in different styles and set ups, always consistently providing what he was asked of. Barcelona signed him as an attempt to replace ageing Puyol — not only his defensive contribution, but also his selflessness, bravery and determination, which he did quite admirably. How many footballers would literally tear their ass in an attempt to prevent the opposition from scoring?
 

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47. Mauro Silva. 11 points



Not often do we see top foreign players spending more than a decade playing for a Spanish team not named Real Madrid or Barcelona. Mauro Silva spent 13 seasons at Deportivo — a side that even won the title once, but overall had been a weird choice for a World Cup winner and arguably the greatest defensive midfielder of his time. He loved it though and the fans loved him back — in 2016 they've named his the best footballer in Deportivo's history, while Mauro Silva refused to even consider Real Madrid's offers that came over the years. At the international stage he would always be associated with the 1994 World Cup — despite Romario's magic, it was Mauro Silva and Dunga who became the face of that side. Boring, dependable, deathly efficient face.
 

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46. Gaizka Mendieta. 15 points



Basque midfielder was one of the brightest stars of the 00's — playing for Cúper's Valencia he had reached 2 CL finals in a row, twice being named UEFA's Best midfielder of the season ahead of the likes of Keane, Redondo, Effenberg & Davids. More English than Spanish in terms of his playing style (he even moved to England later in his career), he possessed endless energy and tremendous shooting ability, as well as a good passing range and workrate. Sadly, his career went downhill pretty quickly after he left Valencia — he failed to secure a place at Lazio and Barcelona and ended up in Middlesbrough. You can also say with confidence that his transfer to Lazio was one of the worst flops in football's history — they've paid €47.7 millions for him, something close to €2,4 millions per game.


45. Néstor Rossi. 17 points



Néstor Rossi was an Argentinian version of Obdulio Varela — powerful, brave and even dirty sometimes, but his most definitive feature was his leadership. In Argentina he played for River Plate, twice — and in his first stint he was a member of famous La Maquina, arguably the greatest South American club team of all-time. While Pedernera, Moreno, Labruna & co wrecked havoc in attack, Rossi was the one who was providing balance at the back, in a Makelele's role if you will. And even though he only managed to earn 26 caps for his country, he participated in 1958 World Cup and won 2 editions of Copa America, in 1947 and 1957.
 

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44. Romeo Benetti. 19 points



Genuinely one of the scariest-looking players that I've ever seen, he's like the football version of Richard Kiel's Jaws. Benetti was one of the most complete midfielders Italy had ever produced — obviously incredibly physical and tenacious, but also quite content with the ball at his feet, having started out as a winger and often forced to act as a deep-lying playmaker for the lack of one in his teams. The Times and The Sun had both included him in their lists of Football Greatest Hardmen, with The Sun quoting one of his opponents: "Benetti was a true animal, wherever you find him, he is always ready to roar." His club career included spells in 8 different Italian clubs, including the heavy-hitters like Juve (twice), AC Milan & Roma.

43. Yaya Touré. 20 points



For a while it looked like Touré would be remembered as one of the greatest defensive midfielders of his generation, having excelled in this position for Barcelona. His physicality and defensive nous even allowed him to cover for injured center backs, despite almost never playing there before — his most surprising performance came in the 2008/09 CL final, when he helped Barca to keep a clean sheet against a scary Manchester United striking force. But the real Yaya was yet to emerge. It was only after a controversial transfer to City, when Guardiola clearly stated that he prefers a lesser known academy graduate Sergio Busquets as his holding midfielder, that we've seen his true potential. In his first season at Manchester he had scored 10 goals — compared to 21 goals that he had scored in the previous 9 years of his adult career. Mancini his found the ideal role for him — when Touré was relieved from his defensive duties, he was set free to use his unique combination of sheer physicality and outstanding technique to wreck havoc in and around the opposition's box. No one was able to contain him once he reached full speed — you would have a better time trying to stop a freight train to be honest. In 2013/14 he had reached his absolute peak, scoring 24 goals in all competitions, including 20 goals in the league — only Lampard had done better as a midfielder.
 

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42. Dunga. 23 points



Not so far off his inseparable twin, here's Dunga, a player who has a whole era named after him (the period from 1990 to 1994 in Brazil's football history was called "Era Dunga", as according to fans and journalists, he symbolized the less-than-thrilling, slow and defensive style of the team). Like many defensive players, he suffers a little from this "boring" and "physical" labels, while in fact he was quite good in controlling the game and even used his long passing often and efficiently. But that's what you get when you play for Brazil — if you don't get the visual appeal of Falcão or Clodoaldo (let's not even talk about their attackers), you're bound to be written off as an underwhelming brute. I'm pretty sure that getting called up for the FIFA XI while playing in Japan is some kind of a record, but those games lost their true meaning and became a simple marketing tools at the time. Still, this top-50 wouldn't have been complete without Dopey (his nickname came from the Disney's Snow White). Along with Xavi, he is one of only two men to have played in a World Cup final, an Olympic final, a Confederations Cup final and a continental championship final.

41. Dave Mackay. 30 points



First of all — he hated this fecking picture :lol: But you just can't ignore it, it's one of the most iconic photographs in history of English football. Even Sir Alex had one hanging in his office. Funnily enough Dave Mackay is remembered as a giant and a brute, while he was neither of those things. Jimmy Greaves, a team-mate at Tottenham Hotspur, recalls that, sitting on bar stools, he and Mackay would regularly win money in pubs from mug punters, who would bet that Mackay was the taller of the two. When they climbed down and took off their shoes, it became obvious that Greaves had a good inch on him. It was the way Mackay played that fooled them; as if he was enormous. The player that gets forgotten behind those illusions is a player of astonishing ability — his trademark as he ran out on to the pitch was to launch a kick high into the air, and then kill it on his instep as it fell to earth. It was said to be his way of intimidating the opposition, letting them know how good he was. The only letdown in the end was his international career — like many Scotland internationals he didn't get much chance to play for his country, earning only 22 caps, a ridiculously low number for a player of his ability.

40. Didier Deschamps. 33 points



You can basically copy and paste what I said about Dunga here. Deschamps was the ultimate winner on every level, he was the backbone on which the teams like Juventus and France based their enormous success of the late 90's and early 00's. And it's not a surprise that the only French side that managed to win the CL was led by Didier Deschamps — 25 years old, but already a captain. The list of his records is insane and I'm not even going to try to mention all of them, and while his playing style had attracted some hilarious criticism ("It'll be the 1st time he goes from a defensive to an offensive position" — Cantona's comment on Deschamps intent to sue him), he was one of the most effective holding midfielders of all-time and a pretty talented player to boot.
 

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39. Horst Szymaniak. 34 points



Szymaniak is one of the oldest names on this list with most of his career taking place right before the TV era. Still, there's enough evidence to rate him properly. When we're taking a look back at Germany's best players, we're usually focusing our interest on more memorable of their international tournaments, like 1954 and 1966. On the face of it Szymaniak, whose career peak came right in-between them, was eminently forgettable. A left-half from the Ruhr, Germany’s traditional mining and industrial region, Szymaniak was not blessed with the Hollywood looks or the maverick tendencies of a George Best. He did not win countless trophies for a host of rich and decorated clubs. Yet he made himself a reputation within Germany and beyond as one of the finest midfielders of his age. His first introduction to the world came in 1958, when the Germans reached the semi-finals before their defeat to the hosts, Sweden. Szymaniak was the team’s brightest spark and was named among numerous “all-star” tournament selections at left-half in recognition of his fine all-round contribution as well as finishing 8th in the Ballon D’Or. Most players who had enjoyed a tournament of this calibre would have baulked at the thought have returning to play in the second division of a regional league.When the time came, he moved to Italy, playing for Catania, Inter & Varese. His time at Inter was a frustrating one — Herrera kept him on the bench in Serie A because of the foreign limit, but he proved himself to be a crucial part of the side in their midweek European games... only to get benched again.

What set Szymaniak apart from his rivals was his alliance of his physical gifts with exceptional technique. There were few players in his era who were able to play so comfortably as a defensive half-back and as a creative inside-forward and in both roles he was able to demonstrate the full range of his talents. As a left-half Szymaniak was tall and strong, with a fantastic ability to anticipate the movements of his opponents. For Catania, Szymaniak was noted in a rare appearance at half-back for the marking role he performed on Jimmy Greaves, at the time playing for AC Milan. Greaves’ spell in Milan was unhappy but prolific, yet for once he did not find the back of the net thanks to the attentions of the German. At inside-forward Szymaniak demonstrated a delicate touch, a love of surging forward from deep and the vision to pick out his teammates in dangerous positions. Had he chosen to play further forward he might well have rivalled Netzer, Overath and Fritz Walter among Germany’s finest creative cogs. Perhaps the greatest illustration of Szymaniak’s true worth was the judgement of his contemporaries. German magazine Kicker, known for their notoriously harsh semi-annual assessments of the nation’s players, considered him “World Class” every year from 1957-61. Only Franz Beckenbauer achieved more consecutive “World Class” ratings than Schimmi. Meanwhile his five nominations for the Ballon D’Or (in the same years) showed that he was appreciated well beyond his home nation. More than enough reason to start remembering this forgotten great.

37. Michael Essien, Arturo Vidal. 39 points



Two of the modern greats had finished side by side — both had a spell when they were considered to be the finest midfielders of their ilk in the entire world but both ended up a little lower than their talent probably allowed them to be.

Michael Essien

One of the greatest math minds of his era, Michael Essien was also well-known for his curious hobby — playing football. At his peak he was, without a doubt, one of the best midfielders in the world — the guy was a machine, he was absolutely relentless on the pitch. While he was not the most refined passer, he never looked inadequate with the ball, and his powerful strikes from long distance were especially memorable :drool: I think that many would agree that he was the next in line of the greatest b2b players in Premier League era behind the likes of Keano and Vieira, but the relative shortness of his peak stopped him a little short of reaching their level.

Arturo Vidal

If you want to know how highly rated Arturo was at his peak, take a peek at his transfer thread on here. He combined an insane energy levels and tackling ability with top-notch goalscoring — I'd argue that even now he has a better off-the-ball movement in the box that any one of our strikers. And not only am I talking about his stints at 2 Bayerns and Juventus — he was arguably the most influential player of the underrated Chilean side of the 10's that had won 2 Copa Americas (beating Messi's Argentina in the finals, twice) and finished 2nd in FIFA Confederation Cup. Let's take a look at his personal honours: 2 times in the BL team of the season, 2 times in the Seria A team of the seasons, 3 times in the Copa America All-Star team, Juventus' player of the Year and Chilean Player of the Year — not bad!
 

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36. Zito. 41 points



The substitution of Dino Sani for Zito is often considered to be catalyst for Brazil's unprecedented success in the late 50's and early 60's. Before that, it was a team full of creativity and flair, but also a vulnerable team that was not consistent enough to compete for big titles. Now, Didi & the rest could enjoy their game, knowing that Zito will always keep them safe. While headlines were dominated by the prodigious talents of his team-mates such as Pele and Garrincha, and understandably so, the neat, pragmatic, impeccably organised wing-half was invariably instrumental in creating the platform from which the stars dazzled. Zito was a strong, intelligent character who won tackles and made simple passes, entering the limelight only occasionally. The most decisive such occasion was when he started and finished the move which put the Selecao in front after conceding an early lead to Czechoslovakia in the 1962 final in Santiago, Chile, nodding home an Amarildo cross on the way to a 3-1 triumph. His club career was equally impressive — he was the captain of Pelé's Santos, one of the greatest sides ever to exist. 2 World Cups, 2 Copa Libertadores & 2 International Cups alongside countless other titles is the legacy that the great Brazilian left behind.
 

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35. Søren Lerby. 42 points



A personal favourite of mine with a bunch of fascinating anecdotes about his career. The best one is below, while I'll just highlight one thing — when Bayern Munich were looking to replace Paul Breitner, they didn't think long and chose to sign Lerby from Ajax. And, however big was the gap to fill, he didn't disappoint. The Danish Dynamite, the great Danish international team of the 80's, also wouldn't be the same without him — he was their everything in midfield, he was the ball-winner, the playmaker and also someone who can switch places with their left back if he had trouble handling a winger, deal with the thread and then push back up like it was nothing.

How Lerby had played in 2 competitive games that were happening on the same day:

Denmark still needed a point to qualify for the worldcup in '86. Hoeneß came up with the idea that he should play both games. The Danish coach agreed to sub him off as soon as the game is decided and Hoeneß waited on the sidelines to bring him home as soon as possible. In the 2nd half Denmark took the lead, Lerby ran off the pitch and they had a police escort to the airport, private jet to Düsseldorf and then by car to Bochum. A few km away from the Stadium they drove into a traffic jam and Lerby jumped out of the car and ran the last 2 km. He arrived 5 minutes before the game started and Udo Lattek told him he's too late, he can't start in the game :lol:. I think he was subbed on in the 2nd half, the game ended in a draw and had to be replayed 5 days later.
 

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34. Stefan Effenberg. 49 points



Stefan Effenberg is the perfect encapsulation of the enfant terrible. Blessed with such phenomenal passing range, stamina and vision that he was an undisputed starter for his first club Borussia Mönchengladbach at the age of 20, this was meshed with a series of off-field incidents which the player summarises by describing himself as “never being an angel”. Yet, it was only after his second coming to Bayern in 1998 that he began to win titles that justified his enormous talent and arrogant behaviour. He had led the Munich club to their first Champions League title since the 70's (it even had another name back then), being voted by UEFA Club Footballer of the Year. It is hard to summarise the career of Effenberg without factoring in all the off-field melodrama, but for a moment one must try to focus on the quality he gave when on the pitch. A good judge on this would be two-time European champion Hitzfeld. “Effenberg leads the team, many of my players come to life when he’s around. He instils confidence; when others are looking for a hiding place, that’s when Effenberg steps forward.”

33. Michael Ballack. 52 points



Assessing the impact of Ballack, as personality and player, can be broken down into the simplest dichotomy of good and bad. He was loved and lauded, but also received lukewarmly. He was a champion, both individually and collectively, yet is best defined by what he didn’t win. His career summation is multifaceted, whose genetics comprise geography, era and expectation. In amongst all of the opinions and troubled relationships are many objective facts, though, and in these facts we can find solace when asserting his place as one of the best midfielders of all time.

On the field he was imperious, poster-boy handsome and competed with an assertive bravery that pleased the traditionalists. Still, after that ill-fated final ща 2002, Ballack candidly admitted to breaking down in tears when he met the changing rooms, its warmth and privacy enough to shatter his valiant façade. Goals in the quarter and semi-finals, despite captaining one of Germany’s poorest sides in recent memory, yet, performance, leadership and enviable selflessness couldn’t appease.

Upgrading to Bayern Munich, Ballack won the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal double in 2003, 2005 and 2006, whilst being named German Player of the Year in two of those campaigns, before then moving on to Chelsea and winning two FA Cups, the Premier League and a reasonable second-place spot in the Champions League over his four years there. But Bayern Neverkusen is still the first thing that comes to mind whenever I think of him.
 
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32. N'Golo Kanté. 61 points



70% of the Earth is covered by water, the rest by N'golo Kanté. It's pointless to do a profile for an active player, so I'll just put a list of his achievements here:
Leicester City
  • Premier League: 2015–16
Chelsea
  • Premier League: 2016–17
  • FA Cup: 2017–18;
  • UEFA Europa League: 2018–19
France
  • FIFA World Cup: 2018
Individual
  • PFA Team of the Year: 2015–16 Premier League, 2016–17 Premier League
  • ESM Team of the Year: 2015–16, 2016–17
  • Leicester City Players' Player of the Year: 2015–16
  • L'Équipe Team of the Year: 2016,2017, 2018
  • PFA Fans' Premier League Player of the Month: March 2017
  • PFA Players' Player of the Year: 2016–17
  • Premier League Player of the Season: 2016–17
  • FWA Footballer of the Year: 2016–17
  • Chelsea Players' Player of the Year: 2016–17
  • Chelsea Player of the Year: 2017–18
  • Trophées UNFP for Best French Player Abroad: 2017,2018
  • French Player of the Year: 2017
  • FIFA FIFPro World11: 2018
  • The Best FIFA Men's Player: 2017 – 9th place
  • Ballon d'Or: 2017 (8th place), 2018 (11th place)
  • UEFA Team of the Year: 2018
  • UEFA Europa League Squad of the Season: 2018–19
  • EA Sports FIFA Team of the Year: 2018,2019
  • ESPN Midfielder of the Year: 2019

31. Néstor Gonçalves. 62 points



You can read a more coherent player's profile if you click on that quote:
Captained the 1960's Peñarol side considered one of the greatest of all time and which was largely responsible for Peñarol being named South American Team of the Century by FIFA. He regularly featured in World XIs in his pomp, a deep-lying playmaker and mean defensive shield rolled into one (yes, he would walk into the Carrick role!). After 15 years of service as a player he retired and spent the next 45 years in various roles (youth coach, coach, Reserves Manager, go-to caretaker whenever needed...).
An absolute legend of a one club man.

His arrival was a big contributing factor in kickstarting Peñarol’s most glorious and decorated period. Considered one of the 15 greatest teams of all time, his Peñarol went toe-to-toe regularly with Santos, Real Madrid and Benfica and delivered 9 league titles between 1958 and 1968, three Copa Libertadores wins, two Intercontinental Cup wins and the Intercontinental Cup Winners Supercup. It's on the back of this decade that when the IFFHS tallied up the scores Peñarol came first and was recognised as the Most Successful South American Club of the Century ("Champion of the Century").

His performance in the 1966 final decider is the stuff of legend. I'll have to write about that later but, with Peñarol 2-0 down halfway through the second half, it was his rearguard action (and assist to boot) that kickstarted an epic comeback. To this day an unlikely comeback turned into an onslaught and beating up of the rival is referred to as "ganar a lo Peñarol" (winning the Peñarol way). And to this day River Plate are referred to as "las gallinas" (chicken) for the manner of that defeat. River had everything: youth, a striker having a freak season (still the top scorer in a single Libertadores with 17), they were 2-0 up... What they lacked was the character to put up with the furious thrusts of a battle-hardened side leveraging their class, experience and sheer will to win. Spencer-Abbadie-Spencer-Rocha, 4-2. Is it any wonder what caught my imagination about United?
 

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30. Frank Lampard. 69 points



Sadly, he is a victim of his quite unique playing style. He's not really a playmaker; he's not a number 10; nor is he a box-to-box midfielder who is going to run himself into the ground. Yet, he's undoubtedly an incredible midfielder who deserves to be mentioned among the best players in the whole history of English football. He is fourth in the Premier League's all-time assists table, with 102 assists and fifth in the Premier League's all-time goalscorers table with 177 goals — all while playing in midfield. He's probably the best and most consistent player of the most successful period in Chelsea's history and I'd even argue that he is the best player in their history. For the national team though he, and his whole generation, ended up as a huge disappointment, with the infamous Lampard-Gerrard dilemma turning into their motto.

29. Billy Bremner. 77 points



Billy Bremner, the last gentleman of football. It is the languid brilliance and gentlemanly manner in which he played the game, as well as the modernisation of the box-to-box position, for which Bremner is most celebrated. One of football’s most respected statesmen, he was the leader and the best player of the famous Leeds United side of the 60's and 70's, labeled by the Football Association's own FA News as "the fairest[team] in the Football League". They've won two league titles (the one from the 1968/69 season has to be the most cherished one — as they had beaten the European Cup holders Manchester United to it) and left a huge mark on European football with a series of memorable performances.

In 2006, he was voted Leeds United's greatest player of all-time. Here's what The Independent had to say about him in their obituary:
Billy Bremner was one of Britain's most fiery, skilful and industrious footballers of the post-war years. An essential cog in the pragmatic, often over-robust yet frequently wonderfully entertaining Leeds United team of the Sixties and Seventies, he was also the red-haired dynamo in Scotland's international side, winning 54 caps.
 

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Fat Frank must be the only player in the list to never get picked. 30th no less, well deserved but an anomaly.