12 Best Defensive Midfielders in Football

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Today, let’s talk about the hidden gems of football, the midfielders. We will be discussing the 12 best defensive midfielders. 

Midfielders (half-backs) play mid-way from charging forwards and defenders. Their primary duty is to sustain possession of the ball, take it from the defenders and pass it to the strikers. 

Midfielder in action
Midfielder in action

Moreover, they also put out the players from the opposite team. For example, a midfielder creates opportunities to score through assistance or self-goal. Lastly, they protect their team’s goal and maintain a solid defensive zone. 

As the name implies, the basic duty of the defensive midfielder is to have super defensive skills. Let’s look at the 12 best defensive midfielders who have changed the game. 

12 Best Defensive Midfielders in Football

Before we dive straight into the informative list, let’s look at an overview of the list. The information of the players has been gathered from Wikipedia. Here are the 12 best defensive midfielders ever.

Name of the player Country
1. Lothar Matthäus Germany
2. Frank Rijkaard Netherlands
3. Jozsef Bozsik Hungary
4. Roy Keane Republic of Ireland
5. Jose Leandro Andrade Uruguay
6. Johan Neeskens Netherlands
7. Paulo Roberto Falcão Brazil
8. Fernando Redondo Argentina
9. Obdulio Varela Uruguay
10. Ernst Ocwirk Austria
11. Gerhard Hanappi Austria
12. Dunga Brazil

1. Lothar Matthäus

  • Capps: 150 
  • Goals: 23
  • Honors: 1st FIFA World Player of the Year

Lothar Herbert Matthaus is a former German football player and current manager. Matthaus was the first player ever to achieve the award for FIFA World Player of the Year. Hence, making it to the first position on the best defensive midfielders list. 

Matthäus debuted professionally with Borussia Monchengladbach and retired with 1. FC Herzogenaurach. He was infamous for being the biggest rival of Maradona. Moreover, he won the title of German Footballer of the Year in 1990 and 1999. 

Best Defensive Midfielder Lothar Matthäus (Source: worldfootball.net)
Best Defensive Midfielder Lothar Matthäus (Source: worldfootball.net)

He played in five FIFA World Cups in 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, and 1998. Moreover, in 1980, Lothar won the UEFA Euro and, in 1990, became the German Footballer of the Year. With his lead, Germany became the winner of the Euro 1980 and 1990 World Cup.

Lothar is famous for being a versatile and an all-rounder and a great midfielder until now. His passing techniques, sense of position, intense shooting, and timed tackles made him the best of all time. 

2. Frank Rijkaard

  • Capps: 73 
  • Goals: 10
  • Honors: Dutch Golden Shoe

The second-best defensive midfielder on our list is Frank Rijkaard of the Netherlands. Rijkaard is a former football player and manager. He has managed national teams of the Netherlands, Barcelona, and Saudi Arabia. 

Similarly, he also played for the national team of the Netherlands 73 times and scored 10 goals. So he wasn’t just a well-rounded footballer, but he was also known for being a fashionable player.

Moreover, The Daily Telegraph description about Frank was a stylish player of faultless pedigree. 

During his tenure, the Netherlands won its first Euro 1988 title. In 1985 and 1987, Frank won the Dutch Golden Show and was mentioned in Pele’s FIFA 100.

Enjoy the write about NFL 15 Greatest Football Teams of all Time. 

3. Jozsef Bozsik

  • Capps: 110 
  • Goals: 11
  • Honors: Hungary’s Magical Magyars

Jozsef Bozsik was a former football player who dedicated his professional career to Budapest Honved. In addition, he was an honorary member of legendary Hungary’s Magical Magyars.

Also, he was the sole representative of Hungary on international platforms. Jozsef has a stadium named after him, Bozsik Jozsef Stadium. Moreover, he is an Olympic Gold medalist of 1954.

Jozsef’s special attacking skills on the field and accurate passes are some of the best in the industry. During his career, Bozsik became a member of Parliament and, in 1947, became the manager of the Hungarian national team. 

4. Roy Keane

  • Capps: 67 
  • Goals: 9
  • Honors: 1st FIFA World Player of the Year

Roy Maurice Keane from the Republic of Ireland is a former football midfielder famous for his brutal and mean skills. He was also the Irish national football team manager from 2013 to 2018. 

He was also one of the midfielders mentioned in Pele’s 2004 FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest players. On the other hand, Keane also made it to the The Time’s “50 hardest players list” in 2007

Roy Keane
Roy Keane

Regardless of his demeanor, he was the FAI Senior International Player of the year in 1997 and 2001. Moreover, he also won the FWA Footballer of the Year and PFA Player’s Player in 2000. 

Finally, in 2021, he booked his spot in the Premier League Hall of Fame

5. Jose Leandro Andrade

  • Capps: 34 
  • Goals: 4
  • Honors: Two Olympic Gold Medalist

Jose Leandro was a former Uruguayan midfielder who was two times a gold medalist in the 1920s. After that, he was known as the black marvel because of his irresistible charms and game skills. 

Andrade was one of the best defensive midfielders of his time who then went on to win Uruguay’s first FIFA World Cup. While playing with the club Nacional, he got victory over four Uruguayan Championships and three national cups. 

The industry widely appreciated him for his intelligence and honesty, and he never made a celebration for his goals. Jose was fast and understood the technicalities of the game like no other. 

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Moreover, he could easily dominate other players regardless of being comparatively less physically robust.

6. Johan Neeskens

  • Capps: 49 
  • Goals: 17
  • Honors: Copa Del Rey

Johan Jacobus Neeskens is a former football midfielder who works as a football manager currently. He was a vital member of the Dutch national team who contributed to the FIFA World Cups. 

He was given the title of the Greatest Living Footballers of 2017 in the FIFA Awards. Johan started his career with RCH and retired with the Zug in 1991. However, he played for the national team from 1970 to 1981. 

Johan Neeskens
Johan Neeskens

Throughout his career, he has won the 1979 Cup Winner’s Cup and the 1971 European Cup.

Furthermore, he has capped 49 times for the national team with 17 goals. He also has two Eredivisie titles and one Copa Del Rey under his name.

7. Paulo Roberto Falcão

  • Capps: 39 
  • Goals: 7
  • Honors: Pele’s 125 Greatest Living Players of 2004.

Paulo is a former football midfielder from Brazil who is considered one of the greatest players in Brazil. During the 1980s, he was the highest-paid football player in the world. 

Due to his successful performances, he was named the eighth king of Rome by his supporters. In addition, his earnest and diplomatic skills and career have earned him the spot in the A.S Roma Hall of Fame.

Throughout his career, he has won three Brazilian National Championships and is the finalist of Copa Libertadores.

8. Fernando Redondo

  • Capps: 29 
  • Goals:1
  • Honors: 1993 Copa America

Fernando Redondo contributed his talent to Tenerife, Milan, and Real Madrid, displaying his innate creativity and offensive tactics. He has won two La Liga, Champion League trophies, and the 2003 Champions League (Real Madrid). 

Also, he played for Argentina’s national team from 1992-1999 and won the 1993 Copa America. With his irresistible offense and defense tactics, he is one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. 

Furthermore, he has won 29 caps for his home country.

9. Obdulio Varela

  • Capps: 45
  • Goals: 9
  • Honors: 1950 World Cup

Obdulio Jacinto Muinos Varela was a football player from Uruguay. Varela was the Uruguayan national team’s captain, where he played from 1939 to 1954.

His supporters called him the black chief because of his shiny black skin and his takeover on the field. In addition, his defensive skills were the talk of the town which made him one of the best captains ever. 

Overall, he has been a part of 45 matches for Uruguay, where he recorded nine goals. After he took the lead as the captain, he took the 1950 FIFA World Cup for Uruguay.

Moreover, he won the 1942 Copa America and 1943 Copa Escobar Gerona.

10. Ernst Ocwirk

  • Capps: 62
  • Goals: 6
  • Honors: Austrian Cup

Ernst Ocwirk was a football midfielder and a great Austrian player in history. In addition, he contributed his skills and teaching to Austria and Italy in his career.

Ernst Ocwirk (Source: Pininterest)
Ernst Ocwirk (Source: Pinterest)

He was also the Austria National Team player and captain who earned the third-place position at the 1954 World Cup. Also, Ernst was named clockwork because of his consistent midfielder skills.

Moreover, the public loved his perfect timings, technical play, defense, and offense skills. Although he was the top player of his time, he was still modest and down to earth. 

11. Gerhard Hanappi

  • Capps: 93
  • Goals: 12
  • Honors: 1954 World Cup

Gerhard Hannappi was a football player from Austria who was widely known for his technical midfield tactics. He started his professional career with SC Wacker Wien and got retired with Rapid Wien. 

Similarly, he also played for the Austrian national team from 1948 to 1962. His time with Vienna was a highlight of his career as he became the three times winner of the Australian Championship.

Also, he was selected as 1999’s Rapid’s Team of the Century. Furthermore, he has also been a part of international matches.

At the tender age of 19, he played against Sweden and in 1954 played at the World Cup. In the 1945 World Cup, they ended up in the third position.

With his captainship, the team has won seven league trophies and one Austrian Cup. Lastly, during his match with Czechoslovakia, he recorded 93 caps with 12 goals.

12. Dunga

  • Capps: 91
  • Goals: 6
  • Honors: 1994 World Cup

Carlos Caetano Bledoen Verri, also known lovingly as Dunga, is a former midfielder of Brazil and the Brazilian national team manager. 

Dunga started his professional football career with Internacional and retired with the same. He has also played for Santos. Pisa, Pescara and Fiorentina. In addition, he was with the Brazilian national team from 1987 to 1998. 

Overall, he has won a J. League, FIFA Confederations Cup, Copa America, Olympic Silver Medal, and FIFA World Cup All-Star Team.

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Furthermore, he has managed their national team from 2006-2010. After being selected as the national team captain, he led the team to the 1994 FIFA World Cup win. Also, he managed the Brazilian squad to the finals against Argentina.

In summary, 

Finally, we conclude the best defensive midfielders list, which consists of the greatest players in history. These players have opened a new and supreme era of football for the other new football player who debuted after them. Their legacy remains and shall be remembered for a long time.

Sanjib Sah
Sanjib Sah
Sanjib Sah is an engineer and content writer passionate about sports and athletics. With a background in engineering and a love for all things active, Sanjib brings a unique perspective to the world of sports writing. Whether he is covering the latest trends in sports technology or sharing tips on improving your game, Sanjib's words are always rooted in a deep appreciation for players' hard work and dedication everywhere. In his free time, you can find him hitting the courts or hitting the trails, always looking for new ways to challenge himself and improve his skills.

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