African defender rated third best in the world as value raises while Super Eagles defenders struggle for relevance – Find out more

The job of top defenders in football is preventing opponents from scoring and helping to organise the backline against the best attackers in the world.

Greats like Paola Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Jaap Stam and Franco Baresi earned their names from those qualities listed above. However, football is taking a new twist in the modern game with modern defenders following in the footsteps of the likes of Robert Carlos by scoring a lot more goals.

For Nigeria, the most in-form defenders are Udinese’s William Troost-Ekong and Kenneth Omeruo who currently ply’s his trade with Leganés in Spain on a season long loan from Chelsea.

The duo have been in good form this season and by far the best Eagles defenders in Europe at the most but they are not considered good enough to make the top 10 list for defenders in the world while an African made the list with ease.

Here are the top 10 defenders in the world:

10. Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham)

Toby Alderweireld

Alderweireld endured a difficult time at Spurs while a contract dispute led to his awkward benching. Yet the Belgium international came back with an excellent World Cup as his country finished third in Russia, and he soon returned to Mauricio Pochettino’s first team despite being heavily linked with a move to Manchester United in the summer. An extension to his contract was triggered, but that only means he can leave for a cut-price fee this summer. 

Alderweireld is rarely caught out of position and is equally comfortable playing in a back three or back four. He’s a terrific passer too, and is particularly adept at spraying long diagonals out to the flanks.

Jan Vertonghen

Now into his seventh season as a Tottenham player, Vertonghen has developed into one of the world’s leading centre-backs – and arguably the foremost in the Premier League – over the last couple of years.

Alderweireld’s team-mate for club and country is aggressive and an expert at wrestling the ball away from opposition strikers high upfield.
He’s strong in one-on-one duels and comfortable when forced to defend in wide areas – and the Belgian is also surprisingly adept at left-back, where he put in a stunning display against Borussia Dortmund earlier this season.

8. Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)

Giorgio Chiellini

The grizzled Italian stalwart may have turned 34 in August, but he remains one of the standout players in his position. Strong in the tackle and commanding aerially, Chiellini is a wonderful reader of the game and an underrated passer from deep.

Juve’s defensive stalwart is still a mainstay in the Bianconeri backline and will be integral as they look to land a Champions League win for the first time since 1996.

7. Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona)

Samuel Umtiti

Little was known of Umtiti outside his native France before summer 2016, but it didn’t take long for the centre-back to become a household name. Confirmation of his move from Lyon to Barcelona came midway through that year’s European Championship, when the defender turned in a flawless display on his international debut against Iceland in the quarter-finals.

Umtiti isn’t the biggest at 6ft tall, but he more than makes up for his lack of height in other areas. Mobile, powerful and quick to anticipate danger, he’s also a good passer and ball-carrier from the heart of the backline. He was a key member of the France side that triumphed to win the World Cup in Russia. 

6. Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid)

Diego Godin

Godin probably isn’t the type of centre-half who would thrive under Pep Guardiola or Maurizio Sarri, but he’s the perfect fit for Atletico Madrid and Uruguay. While he’s by no means poor in possession – the 32-year-old has shown that he’s perfectly capable of carrying the ball upfield when the situation demands – Godin is more of an old-fashioned defender than most of his peers on this list.

Gritty, rugged and aggressive, the former Villarreal stopper is invariably in the right places at the right times. Blessed with great powers of anticipation, he also has a useful knack for popping up with vital set-piece goals.

5. Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City)

Aymeric Laporte

A classy yet understated operator in the Premier League’s finest ever team, Laporte is the atypical Guardiola centre-back: stylish, comfortable in possession and not afraid to put his head where it hurts when things matter. 

Manchester City run a tight ship in large part thanks to Laporte, who joined them from Athletic Bilbao for £57m in January 2018. An ongoing international dispute – he could be eligible for Spain and France – means he hasn’t actually played for either yet, having previously represented Les Bleus at youth level. That will surely change in the near future.

Sergio Ramos

Ramos won’t win too many popularity awards outside of the Bernabeu, and he’s slipping down this list now, but it’s tough to dispute his position as one of the best defenders in world football. The Real Madrid captain is still his team’s heartbeat and always rises to the big occasion, as he demonstrated during Los Blancos’ recent monopolisation of the Champions League trophy.

His antics may be a turn-off – or hilarious, with that purposeful yellow card against Ajax in mind – but his aerial prowess in both boxes and all-round fighting spirit can only be admired.

3. Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)

Napoli may have lost Jorginho to Chelsea in the summer, but they’ll have been delighted to keep the rest of their squad intact. Koulibaly is the man they’d have least liked to lose, after the Senegal international proved in 2017/18 that he deserves to be considered among the very best in his position. He is wanted by Manchester United and Real Madrid as his value raises to 89 million pounds.

A commanding figure who’s difficult to get the better of either in the air or in a foot race, Koulibaly is rarely outmanoeuvred by opposition strikers. Most impressive, though, is his ability with the ball at his feet; Koulibaly is a magnificent passer who always manages to keep his cool in possession. He’ll be the most in-demand stopper this summer.

2. Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)

Raphael Varane

Varane was outstanding at the 2018 World Cup, turning in superb performance after superb performance as France won the tournament for the second time in their history. That followed on from the four Champions League and two La Liga titles he’d previously won – not a bad haul for a player who only turned 25 in April.

This season has been less gold-tinged, but Varane is the complete central defender. He reads the game expertly and possesses the recovery speed to cover for team-mates’ mistakes, and he’s adept at stepping into midfield with the ball and setting his side on the attack if needs be too.

1. Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)

Virgil van Dijk

Football is a team game and even the most talented individual will struggle to shine if the collective balance of the team isn’t right. Even so, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Van Dijk has transformed Liverpool’s defensive fortunes since his move from Southampton in January 2018; where once was a leaky backline that undermined a thrilling strike force now lies the bedrock of a title-challenging team. 

The Dutchman has never played at an international tournament or won a major trophy outside Scotland, but that doesn’t matter right now: he’s taken giant strides since his move to Anfield, and is a growing force for his country too.

The 27-year-old has everything you’d want in a modern-day centre-back: strength, speed, aerial prowess, leadership qualities and ability on the ball. Five good reasons why he’s the most expensive defender of all time.

Which defenders not mentioned do you feel deserve a place in the top 10?

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