5) Rio Ferdinand
There were ball-playing defenders in English football long before Rio Ferdinand did Rio Ferdinand things at West Ham, Leeds and Manchester United. Granted, there were considerably more of them on the continent, but still, they existed.
If that suggests however that the classy stopper wasn’t a trailblazer then an important detail has been overlooked.
Because for the first time, a defender comfortable on the ball, who always sought to play progressively, wasn’t viewed as a luxury but rather an integral part of an extremely successful team.
It’s not a coincidence that from the mid-2000s seemingly every side had a baller at the back. The increasing influx of foreign coaches explains some of it, the brilliance of Ferdinand the rest.
4) Alessandro Nesta
The former Lazio and Milan legend gets in ahead of some seriously illustrious compatriots, namely Gaetano Scirea and Paolo Maldini. Franco Baresi is a tough omission too.
It could be argued that Nesta’s attributes were a blend of all of the above and were it not for injuries, he would be widely viewed as the most complete defender of all time.
His tackling and reading of the game was immaculate while he had pace and composure in abundance.
But the World Cup-winner also had elegance to spare, an ability to stroll from his station with the ball at his feet and ping a forty-yard pass to feet. He was something else.
3) Daniel Passarella
Captain of the Argentina side who defied the football odds and won the World Cup in not-at-all-suspicious fashion in 1978, Passarella took no prisoners as a defender, with elbows as sharp as his studs. In 2007 he was voted among the hardest footballers to ever glare down an opponent.
But boy could he play a bit too, starting attacks from deep and then often joining in with them as they developed.
Just shy of 150 career goals for River Plate, Fiorentina and Inter would be a good return for a midfielder. From a centre-back that is Koeman-esque.
Ronald Koeman incidentally is another who just missed on making our top five. Alas, he never won a World Cup, in not-at-all-suspicious circumstances.
2) Franz Beckenbauer
Der Kaiser’s sad passing recently was a reminder of his genius; of how a postman’s son and altar boy evolved into becoming the cornerstone of a formidably successful Bayern side, not to mention a world-conquering West Germany, all by playing 21st century football half a century ahead of time.
Regally holding court as a libero, the great man flouted the rigid positioning of his day by sweeping into midfield, dictating every element of play.
Nobody has performed the Beckenbauer role better since he gave his name to it.
1) Bobby Moore
Sir Alf Ramsey described his captain as ‘cool, calculating’ and those traits get to the heart of Moore’s supreme ability to play out from the back, in an era when doing so was rare and untrusted.
There was a detachment to West Ham’s favourite son, almost as if he was involved in the action but simultaneously able to step back and take in the whole picture.
He oversaw games, moving team-mates around like chess pieces while knowing precisely where the opposition’s king was weakest.
For so many of the past’s finest players it is true they would struggle in the modern game but what’s the betting Moore would excel in the Premier League, or indeed twenty years ago, or twenty years from now.
On his statue outside Wembley Stadium he is described as ‘immortal’ and again that gets to the heart of him. He was, and is, timeless.
*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to Alamy*