Wed 10 March 2021 | 10:30

Best Tacklers in Football History

Every footballer must master the fundamental technique of tackling. Read on to find out about the best tacklers in football history.

Defenders' performances in football are judged based on several criteria, including some technical actions on the ground. One the most important characteristics of a good defender, is their ability in tackling the ball.

In this article, we first define the action of tackling, introduce different types of it, and then provide a list of the

best tacklers in football history


Tackling in football, is defined as the act of a defender coming to meet an opponent that has the possession of the ball, and successfully taking the ball away from them (or completely win the possession of the ball).

This act usually requires aggressiveness, good timing, and a great amount of body strength, as it entails direct and tight contact between the players who are fighting over the ball.

In football, there are primarily two tackling types, and most notable one of which is "sliding tackle", in which the defender slides on the pitch for a short distance to hit the ball that is in possession of the opponent.

Then there is the "front – to-front tackle" that happens when the defender meets the opponent on foot- in opposition to the slide tackle- and takes the ball away or blocks the ball with his/her foot. To sum up the point, tackling means making the opponents dispossessed of the ball, either while standing or sliding.

There have been numerous players who specialized in tackling throughout football history, who mainly have been defenders and defensive midfielders.

Best Tacklers in Football History

In the following, we are going to provide some brief overviews of the greatest tacklers in football history, and note some of the most remarkable features of their style of play, as well as pointing out some of their notable achievements.

Alessandro Nesta

  • Full name: Alessandro Nesta

  • Date of birth: 19 March 1976 (age 45)

  • Place of birth: Rome, Italy

  • Height: 1.87 m (6 ft 2 in)

  • Position(s): Centre back

Alessandro Nesta Ufficiale OMRI, born 19 March 1976, is an Italian professional football manager and former player who currently manages Serie B club



Alessandro Nesta is regarded as one of the greatest defenders of all time, and one of the

best tacklers in football history

. Although he was a physically strong and dominant player, Nesta was astonishingly agile and fast with an impressive ability in tackling.

Additionally, he was a very tenacious defender with great balance that helped him in recovering the ball perfectly with tackles. Moreover, he was renowned for his excellent stamina, pace, and athleticism, as well as his capability in reading the game and anticipating opponents.

Known as one of the greatest tacklers in football of all time, the former

AC Milan



, and

Italian national team

player has won numerous awards, both with his clubs as well as the national team.

With Lazio, where he had played for 9 years before joining Milan in 2002, he achieved 1

Serie A

title, 2 Coppa Italia trophies, 1 Italian Super Cup, the UEFA Cup Winner's Cup in 1999, and the UEFA Super Cup in the same year.

Furthermore, with Nesta added Milan's squad, they won 2 Serie A titles, 1 Coppa Italia trophy, 2 Italian Super Cups, 2 UEFA Champions Leagues, 2 UEFA Super Cups, as well as the 2007 FIF Clubs World Cup. Nesta was a member of the World –Cup-Winners Italian national team in 2006.

Moreover, Alessandro Nesta has also had a glittering career on individual level. He has been named the Serie A defender of the year 4 times, and was voted in UEFA Team of the Year on 4 occasions. Moreover, he was named Serie A young player of the year in 1998, and has been included in FIFPro World XI twice, in 2005 and 2007.

Carles Puyol

  • Full name: Carles Puyol Saforcada

  • Date of birth: 13 April 1978 (age 43)

  • Place of birth: La Pobla de Segur, Spain

  • Height: 1.78 m (5 ft 10 in)

  • Position(s): Defender

Carles Puyol Saforcada, born 13 April 1978, is a Spanish retired professional footballer who played his entire career for



FC Barcelona's eternal captain, Carles Puyol, is not only considered as one of the best defenders of his generation, but also as one of the best defenders in history of football.

He had brilliant defensive abilities, including having expertise in tackling which puts him in the list of best tacklers in football history. He did not have a tall stature for a defender, and this factor helped him maintain a great balance that led to more accurate tackles.

Moreover, being a highly tenacious defender, he was a rough player when challenging for the ball, and mostly, he would won the duel with astounding tackles. Furthermore, he was known for his admirable commitment to the club, as well as his brilliant leadership abilities that have made him one of the greatest captains in the history.

Furthermore, Puyol has also had a luminous career when it comes to winning trophies, both with his one and only club, Barcelona, and Spain national team. With Blaugrana, he has won 6 LaLiga title, 1 Copa del Rey, 4 Spanish Super Cups, 3 UEFA Champions League, 1 UEFA Super Cup, and 2 FIFA Clubs World Cup.

He lifted all of the mentioned trophies as the captain of the team. Furthermore, Puyol won EURO 2008 as well as the World Cup in 2010 with Spanish national team.

Moreover, Puyol has been named UEFA Team of the Year 6 times, and FIFPro World XI on 3 occasions. He was also named in 2010 World Cup and EURO 2008 team of the tournament.

Fabio Cannavaro

  • Full name: Fabio Cannavaro

  • Date of birth: 13 September 1973 (age 48)

  • Place of birth: Naples, Italy

  • Height: 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)

  • Position(s): Centre-back

Fabio Cannavaro Ufficiale OMRI, born 13 September 1973, is an Italian former professional footballer and current manager of Chinese club Guangzhou.

Fabio Cannavaro is widely regarded as one of the greatest defenders in the history of football. He is the last defender who has achieved the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award, by claiming these titles in 2006.

He was renowned for his superb defending skills, especially sliding tackles, making him one of the best tacklers in football history. Not being surprisingly tall as a defender, Cannavarro's low center of gravity helped him become an agile and fast defender with excellent technical skills with the ball.

Despite being only 1.75m (5ft 9in) tall, he was dominant in the air, and has defend against many tall players as well as scoring goals by headers in the crosses from free kicks. 

Most notably, Cannavaro was admired for his capability of tackling, specifically performing highly accurate sliding tackles with his great speed, excellent timing, and balance. He is deservedly one of the all-time best tacklers in football.

As a player, Cannavaro achieved 1 UEFA Cup, 2 Coppa Italia titles, and 1 Italian Super Cup (Coppa Italia) with


, 2

La Liga

titles with

Real Madrid

, and lifted the 2006 World Cup as Italian national team's captain.

In addition to winning the Ballon d'Or in 2006, he has numerous other individual achievements such as winning the 2006 world Cup Silver Ball and being named in the team of the tournament, being voted in FIFPro World XI in 2006 and 2007, and in UEFA Team of team of the year in 2006.

Paolo Maldini

  • Full name: Paolo Cesare Maldini

  • Date of birth: 26 June 1968 (age 53)

  • Place of birth: Milan, Italy

  • Height: 1.87 m (6 ft 2 in)

  • Position(s): Defender

Paolo Cesare Maldini, born 26 June 1968, is an Italian former professional footballer who played primarily as a left back and central defender for A.C. Milan and the Italy national team.

Paolo Maldini is indubitably one of the best defenders in the history of the sport- arguably the best of all time. The brilliant defender had every possible skill required to be the perfect defender, including prowess in tackling.

Maldini was astonishingly intelligent and versatile in terms of tactics. Moreover, the prominent defender was revered by football fans for his elegance, strength, outstanding ability in controlling the ball and making precise crosses, high stamina, and definitely, his sliding tackles.

He stood out for his strong yet accurate tackles that had a high success percentage rate. One of the most remarkable factors of Maldini's tackling style, was that he evaluated the situation before performing the act, that is he only tackled if there was very little chance of committing a foul, and he avoided tackling when it was unnecessary. That is what distinguishes him from other tacklers in the list of

top tacklers in the history of football


Furthermore, the symbol of AC Milan spent the entirety of his 25-year career with the Black and Reds, helping them to the conquest of 25 major trophies including 7 Serie A titles, 1 Coppa Italia, 5 Italian Super Cups, 5 Champions Leagues, 4 UEFA Super Cups, 2 Intercontinental Cups and 1 FIFA Clubs World Cup.

Regarded as one of the best tacklers in football history, Maldini has achieved many individual awards. A few of them include standing 3rd at Ballon d'Or in 1994 and 2003, and being named in France Football's all-time best XI in 2020.

He won the FIFA World Player of the Year Silver Award in 1995. Moreover, he has been named in 3 World Cup best XI team in 1990, 1994 and 2002, and was voted to FIFA XI in 2002.

Patrick Vieira

  • Full name: Patrick Donalé Vieira

  • Date of birth: 23 June 1976 (age 45)

  • Place of birth: Dakar, Senegal

  • Height: 1.92 m (6 ft 4 in)

  • Position(s): Midfielder

Patrick Donalé Vieira, born 23 June 1976, is a French former professional football head coach and former player.

The French man is said to be one of the greatest defensive midfielders in the history of football, and one of the

greatest tacklers in football history


He was a player with admirable tenacity and strength who had a vigorous body stature that suited his position on the pitch and enabled him to involve in aggressive fights over the ball and win them.

Moreover, Vieira had astounding vision and an impressive ability in reading the game, which are directly related to his expertise in tackling. He won back possession by tackling with ease, and would make forward runs from midfield right afterward.

Moreover, he has had a glittering career on club and personal level. With


, he has won 3

Premier League

titles, 4 FA Cups, and 3 FA Community Shields. Furthermore, he has achieved 3 Serie A titles, and 2 Italian Super Cups with

Inter Milan

, as well as winning an FA Cup with

Manchester City

in 2011.

On international stage, Vieira was a part of the squads that won the 1998 World Cup, EURO 2000, and FIFA Confederations Cup in 2001.

Known as one of the greatest tacklers in football history, Vieira has claimed many individual awards. He was named in EURO 2000 team of the tournament and 2006 World Cup, and has been voted in PFA Premier League Team of the Year on 6 occasions.

Moreover, Vieira won the 2001 Confederations Cup Silver Ball and won the French Footballer of the year award in the same year. He was also named Premier League Player of the 2000/01 season.

Claude Makelele

  • Full name: Claude Makélélé Sinda

  • Date of birth: 18 February 1973 (age 48)

  • Place of birth: Kinshasa, Zaire

  • Height: 1.74 m (5 ft 9 in)

  • Position(s): Defensive midfielder

Claude Makélélé Sinda, born 18 February 1973, is a French football manager and former professional player who played as a defensive midfielder.

Claude Makelele is another defensive midfielder in the list of

greatest tacklers in football of all time

. A pugnacious and hard-working whose main role was to play in front of the defense line, Makelele specialized in getting involved in physical challenges in the midfield, and winning back possession with tackling.

Moreover, he was excellent at anticipating the opponents' decisions, and could man mark them easily. He could maintain his balance perfectly due to his low center of gravity that stems from his powerful- and yet not very tall- body stature. Thus, his capability in slide and front to front tackling excelled.

In addition, Makelele has won many club and individual awards throughout his luminous career. Some of which are: winning the French League with


, winning 2 La Ligas, 2 Spanish Super Cups, a UEFA Champions League, a UEFA Super Cup and an Intercontinental Cup with Real Madrid, 2 Premier Leagues, 1 FA Cup, 2 Football League Cups, and 1 FA Community Shield with


, and 1 French Cup with

Paris Saint-Germain

. Furthermore, with him in the squad, France national team finished 2006 World Cup runner-up.

Moreover, Makelele was named in FIFPro World XI in 2005, and was voted in ESPN World Team of the decade in 2009. He is unquestionably one of the best players of his position in the history, and one of the best tacklers in football history.

Roy Keane

  • Full name: Roy Maurice Keane

  • Date of birth: 10 August 1971 (age 50)

  • Place of birth: Cork, Ireland

  • Height: 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)

  • Position(s): Midfielder

Roy Maurice Keane, born 10 August 1971, is an Irish football manager and former professional player. He is the joint most successful Irish footballer of all time, having won 19 major trophies, 17 of which came at

Manchester United

, in his club career.

Roy Keane is considered as one of the most combative and aggressive midfielders of all time, hence, the Irish man is very suitable for the list of

all-time best tacklers in football


He is one of the most competitive and physical players ever. Keane tended to perform hard tackles, and had no fear of receiving cards. The tenacious midfielder was renowned for his stamina, aggressiveness, and tactical intelligence.

Moreover, his other notable traits include his determination, commitment and his strong character. His performances are mostly remembered with his tackling scenes and combating for the ball that make him an indubitable constituent of the list of the greatest tacklers in football of all time. In addition, he was an adept in controlling the ball, maintaining it and providing passes.

During his spell at Manchester United, Keane helped the Red Devils to the conquest of 7 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, 4 FA Community Shields, 1 UEFA Champions League, as well as 1 Intercontinental Cup. Furthermore, he achieved 1 Scottish League title and 1 Scottish League Cup with Celtic.

Moreover, Keane has also had an exhilarating career on personal level, despite playing in a position that the player's performances are not usually noted compared to attackers or goalkeepers.

Keane has been named in PFA Premier League Team of the Year on 5 occasions, and was named PFA Players' Player of the Year in 2000. Additionally, he was named FWA Footballer of the year in 2000, and is an inductee to English Football Hall of Fame.

Marcel Desailly

  • Full name: Marcel Desailly

  • Date of birth: 7 September 1968 (age 53)

  • Place of birth: Accra, Ghana

  • Height: 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)

  • Position(s): Centre-back / Defensive midfielder

Marcel Desailly, born Odenke Abbey; 7 September 1968, is a French former professional footballer who played as a center-back or defensive midfielder.

Marcel Desailly is unquestionably one of the best French Players ever, one of the best defenders of all time and one of the top tacklers in the history of football.

Desailly was an aggressive defender with a combative style of play that includes performing hard tackles, great tenacity and excellent body strength. He stood out for his ability in reading the game, stamina, and notable skills with the ball.

Due to his ball-winning abilities and tackling expertise, he was occasionally used as a defensive midfielder in his career.

Moreover, regarded as one of the

best tacklers in football history

, Desailly was also successful with his clubs. He helped Marseille to win their first ever UEF Champions League in 1993, won 2 Seria A titles, 1 Italian Super Cup, 1 further UEFA Champions League and 1 European Super Cup with AC Milan, in addition to winning 1 FA Cup, 1 FA Charity Shield and 1 UEFA Super Cup with Chelsea.

On international level, Desailly has claimed the 1998 World Cup, EURO 2000, and 2 FIFA Confederations Cups in 2001 and 2003 with France national team.

Furthermore, He was named in EURO 96 and 2000 team of the tournament, as well as in 1998 World Cup's. Desailly was also named in FIFA XI in 1996.

Franz Beckenbauer

  • Full name: Franz Anton Beckenbauer

  • Date of birth: 11 September 1945 (age 75)

  • Place of birth: Munich, Germany

  • Height: 1.81 m (5 ft 11 in)

  • Position(s): Defender

Franz Anton Beckenbauer, born 11 September 1945, is a German former professional footballer and manager.

Franz Beckenbauer is unquestionably one of the best defenders- according to many the best defender- of all time. He is credited for inventing the role of "sweeper" in football. He is one of the best tacklers in football history.

"The Emperor" was revered by the fans for his dominance, strong character, and brilliance on the pitch. He performed tackles with elegance and great prowess. His astonishing performances will forever be remembered in football fans.

With him, Bayern Munich has claimed 4


titles, 4 DFB-Pokals (German Cups), 3 European Cups, 1 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, and 1 Intercontinental Cup. Beckenbauer won a further Bundesliga with

Hamburger SV

in 1981/82 season.

Moreover, he achieved 3 North American Soccer League titles with

New York Cosmos

, and for his achievements with the club was named in U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame. With West Germany national team, he won the World Cup in 1974 as the captain and the European Championship in 1972.

Beckenbauer has won 2 Ballon d'Or awards. He has been named in 3 different World Cups' Teams of the tournament, won the Bronze Boot in 1966, and the Silver Ball in 1974. Moreover, he was voted in 1968 FIFA XI. Additionally, he has been named in kicker magazine's Bundesliga Team of the Season.

For 12 consecutive seasons. He is one of the 3 people in history to have won the World Cup both as a manager and as a player. He was a member of France Football's best all-time XI that was published in 2020.


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