The midfield is called the engine room of any football match and midfielders are the ones who dictate the pace of the team. The link between defense and attack, they can split an opposition defense with one pass or make a crucial tackle to deny a scoring chance for their opponents. There have been some truly amazing midfielders who have graced the beautiful game and to pick the best 10 out of the long list is no easy task. Without much ado let us look at the top 10 midfielders in the history of the game
A dynamic midfield player whose ability to bring the ball from defence to attack was a marvel to behold, Patrick Vieira was the captain of the incredible Arsenal “invincibles” side. Vieira led his team by example and he was a player whose quality of tackling, passing energy and determination made him a natural fit to the League and an easy player for the Arsenal fans to fall for. The ability to regularly beat people with the ball, especially in the middle, is a rare one, but to Vieira this seemed to come naturally. A combination of height and strength added to technique and composure led to him rapidly becoming a vital cog within Arsenal’s game plan. The facts of Vieira’s career speak for themselves; at the time of his retirement he had amassed 107 caps for France (including the ’98 World Cup and 2000 Euros), featured in six seasons in a row in the PFA team of the year at Arsenal, won three Premier Leagues and four FA Cups.
Pele, Garrincha and co get all the credits for Brazil’s 1958 and 1962 World Cup triumphs, but the engine of the team who gave Pele and Garrincha the freedom to terrorise defences was a midfielder who went by the name Waldyr Periera also known as Didi. Didi had excellent passing range, technique and stamina but what he is really renowned for is his unique and excellent free-kicks. A dead-ball specialist he is credited with inventing the folha seca (dry leaf) free-kicks which has later extensively been used by free-kick maestros like Cristiano Ronaldo and Juninho. The legendary Didi’s best moment was when he was awarded the FIFA World Cup Golden Ball (Player of the tournament) for his stunning performances in the 1958 World Cup. He retired after the 1962 World Cup where once again he played a starring role in Brazil’s spectacular triumph. Old Trafford has witnessed many spectacular individuals donning the Manchester United captain’s armband during its 113-year history, and has also witnessed quite a few ordinary players being entrusted with this armband. No prizes for guessing which category Roy Keane goes under.
Roy Keane was one of the most inspirational captains the game has ever seen. Composed on the ball but completely different off it, Keane is credited for instilling the never say die attitude in Manchester United’s squad. Roy Keane was known for his hot temper and he spoke about how he tried to maintain some semblance of control on it in the later stages of his career. “I’d come to one firm conclusion, which was to stay on the pitch for ninety minutes in every game. In other words, to curb the reckless, intemperate streak in my nature that led to sendings-off and injuries.” 7 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups and one Champions League title with Manchester United undoubtedly made him a Manchester United and Premier League legend.
Bought from Granada in 1964, Pirri’s transfer heralded in a new era of success for the all whites. The Real Madrid legend represented the club he loved for 15 long years winning numerous trophies in his long and successful career. Pirri played for Madrid from 1964-1979 and he was even their club captain for four years. The Spaniard is well known for his leadership skills, tenacity and ferocity. However, his best asset was his stamina, allowing him to contribute regularly to both the attack and defence without relenting. Pirri was also a very good passer and scored a remarkable amount goals for a defensive player scoring 123 league goals. The Spanish defensive midfielder had superb positioning and tackling skills and he was one of the best at breaking up plays and starting off attacks. The Madrid legend won an astonishing 10 La Liga titles, four Spanish Cups and the 1966 European Champion Clubs’ Cup with Los Blancos. After retiring Pirri completed his studies to qualify as a physician and joined Madrid’s medical staff.
Former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich midfielder, Paul Breitner is one of the most decorated German footballers of all time. Capable of playing in a number of different positions, Breitner was best known for his amazing partnership with Karl-Heinz Rummenige at Bayern Munich. The German midfielder was an integral part of the West Germany squad which won the 1974 World Cup, even scoring in the final. He also scored in the 1982 World Cup final making him one of only 4 players (Zidane, Pele, Vava) to have scored in two World Cup finals. Breitner was also supremely successful at club level, putting in influential performances from the centre of the field, where he dictated the flow of play with his excellent distribution and positioning skills. Winner of multiple Bundesliga, La Liga titles along with the World Cup and the European Cup, Breitner is undoubtedly one of the greatest German players of all time.
Scholes was highly regarded for his technical skills, renowned for his accurate passing, intelligent movement and powerful shooting from long range. A well-rounded, tenacious, and versatile box-to-box player, he was capable of playing in any midfield position, often alternating between defensive,offensive and playmaking roles, due to his stamina, vision, and work-rate, as well as his ability to make attacking runs. Widely regarded by his peers as one of the best in the world, Scholes has received praise from players like Zidane, Edgar Davids ,Guardiola and even Xavi who called Scholes as “the best central midfielder he has seen in the last 15-20 years”. One of the best players Manchester United have ever had, Scholes was capable of pulling the strings in midfield and control the flow of the game effortlessly. Paul Scholes is quite simply the greatest midfielder of the Premier League era and one of the greatest midfielders of all time. He won an astonishing 25 trophies with Manchester United which included 11 Premier League titles and two Champions League titles.
The diminutive Spaniard has been astonishing the footballing world since 2005 and there are no signs of him slowing down. A true gem in the crown of the Barcelona midfield, Iniesta almost has a telepathic understanding of his team mates’ positions. Always setting up goals or scoring crucial ones, Iniesta is truly a big match player, much like other Barcelona youth products such as Guardiola and Xavi. Iniesta relies on exceptional creative passing, intuition and inventiveness to control the midfield and dictate the ebb and flow of play. He has won 29 trophies in his stellar career making him the most successful and decorated Spanish player of all time. The Barcelona legend has won numerous individual accolades in his career. Iniesta won the League. He was runner-up to Lionel Messi for the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or and achieved third place in 2012. UEFA Best Player in Europe award in 2012, and was also chosen as the Best Player of the 2011-12 Champions. The Spaniard is only one of three Barcelona players to receive a standing ovation at the Bernabeu showing how appreciated his unique qualities are. A wonderful dribbler and an excellent passer, Iniesta is one of the best midfielders to have ever played the beautiful game.
One of the best players to have ever played, Luis Suarez was an elegant player who dictated and controlled proceedings as a central midfielder for Barcelona. The Spaniard was the first Spanish player to win the Ballon d’Or and he was widely considered to be the best Spanish player in the 1960s. Nicknamed El Arquitecto (The Architect) he was noted for his perceptive passing and explosive shot. He also had a keen eye for goal and he was an integral part of the 1964 Euro winning Spanish squad. A versatile player, Suarez excelled in his role as a deep-lying playmaker, scoring and assisting numerous important goals for Barcelona. Luis Suarez won 2 La Ligas, 2 Copa Del Reys and 2 Fair Cups in his six-year spell at Barcelona. In 1961, he made a move to Inter Milan which made him the world’s most expensive footballer of that time. A true Spanish legend, Suarez was one of the first global Spanish superstars.
Considered by many to be the greatest Spanish player ever, Xavi Hernandez is truly one of the best midfielders to ever play the game. Having won all the major trophies club and international competition has to offer, Xavi has carved a unique place for himself in the pantheon of footballing greats. The Spaniard’s vision, pinpoint accurate passing and world class ball control allowed him to dictate the flow of play while rarely relinquishing possession. His ability to control some matches has earned him the sobriquet, “The Puppet Master”. The Barcelona legend was also known for his amazing positioning and ability to pick out the right pass every time which made him integral to both Barcelona and the Spanish national side. Pulling the strings in midfield, Xavi was the lynchpin in Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona team and Spain’s World Cup and two-time Euro winning squad. Having made more than 180 assists in his stellar career, Xavi is definitely one of football’s all-time greats.
The first and only German player to ever win the FIFA World player of the year, Lothar Matthaus is one of the greatest ever midfielders to ever grace the game. Supremely successful at both the club and country level, Matthaus was capable of playing both as a central midfielder and as a sweeper. The legendary German played in five FIFA World Cups and holds the record for the most World Cup matches played by a single player. Matthaus’ impact on the game and the respect he had from his rivals was best epitomised by Diego Maradona’s comments: “He is the best rival I’ve ever had. I guess that’s enough to define him”, said Maradona in his book Yo soy el Diego (I am the Diego). Capable of creating chances and breaking opposition’s play with equal ease, Matthaus’ perceptive passing, positioning and powerful shooting made him Albert Adomah.