Best Serie A Defensive Midfielders of All Time
Join us as we take a look at some of the best Serie A defensive midfielders of all time:
Italian have always been famous for their great tactical structure and at times defensive mindset, both qualities that are usually enforced by defensive midfielders. The importance of the defensive midfielder role in Italian football cannot be overstated. As with many outfield positions in football, the role of a defensive midfielder a=has changed over the years but defensive midfielders in Italian football are expected to contribute to both defense and attack and act as the figurative engines of a team.
As such the best defensive midfielders are usually industrious players that also benefit from a fair bit of technical ability as well as tactical awareness to read and control the flow of the game. The
best Serie A defensive midfielders of all time
are all players who remain composed even in the most difficult situations that makes them essential to any team that wishes to have any kind of success. With that being said, now let’s get to our picks and see who they are:
Best Serie A Defensive Midfielders
From graceful Ballon d’Or winners to the toughest destroyers that football has ever seen, all are amongst our best Serie A defensive midfielders selection. So let’s see who made it into our list:
Esteban Cambiasso (Inter Milan)
With everything that we said about the attributes of a defensive midfielder, Esteban Cambiasso feels like the perfect player to begin our list of
Serie A best defensive midfielders
with, since he had it all. The Argentinian spent a decade at Inter Milan, joining them fromReal Madrid
in 2004, and helped Nerazzurri establish their dominance in Serie A.
An intelligent player that like many South American players had a flair to his game, Cambiasso could’ve played several different roles from being a box-to-box midfielder to a defensive midfielder or even a deep lying playmaker. Upon his arrival atInter
he immediately dazzled the fans and critics alike with his performances and by the end of his debut season, Cambiasso was one of the standout players in Serie A, alongside the likes of Kaka.
Cambiasso’s role became even more important as the defensively-minded Jose Mourinho took charge of Inter in 2008. Mourinho’s team benefited greatly from Cambiasso’s industrious nature and tactical awareness which helped them massively in the 2009-10 season as they were able to win a historic Treble.
Esteban Cambiasso was able to win 5 Serie A titles, 4 Coppa Italia trophies, a FIFA Club World Cup and a Champions League title in the 10 seasons he spent at Inter. He was inducted to the club’s Hall of Fame in 2020 and remains to be one of the best Serie A defensive midfielders of all time.
Toninho Cerezo (AS Roma and Sampdoria)
Considered as one of the best Brazilian midfielders of all time, Toninho Cerezo had a lengthy and successful career both as a footballer and a manager. Toninho’s time at Serie A were spent playing for Roma andSampdoria
between 1983 and 1992 during which he helped both clubs experience a golden age by either playing the role of a defensive midfielder or a deep lying playmaker.
Despite mostly playing defensive roles, because of his high work-rate, tackling ability and his incredible understanding of the game, Toninho also possessed a considerable amount of technical abilities which enabled him to often move farther up the pitch to join the attack and create chances for his team mates using his incredible passing range and decent vision of the game.
Although Toninho’s time at Roma was short, his impact was immense as he helped the club to 2 Coppa Italia trophies as well as helping them reach the European Cup final in 1984, which they ended up losing. He then joined Sampdoria in 1986 after 3 seasons with Roma and experienced the best form of his career. With Sampdoria, Toinho was able to win 2 more Coppa Italia trophies before winning the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1989.
Toninho followed that with a Serie A title in the 1990-91 season before helping the club reach the European Cup in 1992, showing everyone why he is considered to be one of the best Serie A defensive midfielders of all time. Sampdoria however ended up losing the final, after which Toninho left Italian and European football behind and ended up retiring from playing football in 1996. He later found success as a manager in Japan’s Kashima Antlers.
Didier Deschamps (Juventus)
Although he is now known as the manager who led France to the 2018 World Cup title, in his playing days, Didier Deschamps was one of the best defensive midfielders of all time. Deschamps’ career started at Nantes but he soon gained the interest of Europe’s elite clubs when he became part of the only French team to have won the Champions League, when he did so withMarseille
in 1993. He then moved to Juvetus in 1994, where he became one of
Serie A best defensive midfielders
As a defensive midfielder, Didier Deschamps usually played the role of a destroyer that stopped opposition’s attack and subsequently distributed the ball. His tenacity and work-rate allowed his more creative teammates like Zinedine Zidane and Alessandro Del Piero to move more freely which in turn led to one of the best eras of Juventus Football Club where they won multiple league titles as well as reaching several Champions League finals.
During the course of the 5 seasons he spent at Serie A, Didier Deschamps became one of the
best Serie A defensive midfielders of all time
and helped Juventus win 3 Serie A titles, 1 Coppa Italia and 1 Champions League title as well as helping them reach two more Champions League finals in 97 and 98, both of which Juve lost. He later became a very successful manager at Monaco and Marseille and even managed to secure Juventus a promotion to Serie A, following the Calciopoli scandal.
Edgar Davids (AC Milan, Juventus and Inter Milan)
Edgar Davids has perhaps one of the most recognizable faces in football history but Davids was much more than that. The flamboyant Dutch midfielder was part of perhaps the best generation ofAjax
players that won several Eredivisie titles as well as a UEFA Cup and a Champions League before he moved to AC Milan in 1996. Lack of game time there led him to Juventus and he subsequently became one of the
best Serie A defensive midfielders
Physically fast and strong, Davids, much like Didier Deschamps, was a destroyer but unlike Deschamps, who was his partner at Juventus, Davids was supremely gifted when it came to technical abilities, passing, dribbling and even shooting, which allowed him to play in a number of roles, ranging from the left back position up to an attacking midfielder or even a playmaker. He also had quite the temper which often led to him picking up multiple cards during a season.
Despite playing a season and a half at AC Milan and a single season at Inter Milan, most of Edgar Davis’ success at Italy was achieved in his time at Juventus. Davids was able to help Juventus win 3 Serie A title after he joined the Turin giants in 1998 as well as helping them reach 2 Champions League finals both of which they lost. He also won the Coppa Italia with Inter in 2005 but it was because of his 6 seasons at Juventus that he is remembered as one of the best Serie A defensive midfielders of all time.
Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma)
The second AS Roma legend and the youngest player on our list of Serie A best defensive midfielders is the incredible Daniele De Rossi who spent two decades with Giallorossi, forming one of the best ever midfield partnerships in Italian football with Francesco Totti. A product ofAS Roma
’s youth academy, De Rossi made his debut for the club in 2001 and has since become the club’s second most capped player with 616 as well as being Italy’s 4th most-capped player of all time.
De Rossi was a complete midfielder and one of the best players of his era. Aside from having the usual traits of a great defensive midfielder like having the tenacity and the stamina of running endlessly in a match as well as being tactically aware and good at breaking down attacks, De Rossi was also able to create chances in attack with his incredible passing ability and vision. He could play the role of a defensive midfielder, box to box midfielder and also an attacking midfielder. He was even at times used as a center back because of his outstanding defensive abilities.
As it is with any AS Roma player, De Rossi didn’t win many pieces of silverware during the 19 years he spent at Roma apart from two consecutive Coppa Italia trophies between 2006 and 2008 as well as a Supercoppa Italiana in 2007. De Rossi played a part in Italy’s 2006 World Cup campaign as he scored in the penalty shoot-outs in the final and Italy went on to be champions. De Rossi was consistently one of the best Serie A players over the course of his two decades as a footballer and for this he is regarded as one of the best Serie A defensive midfielders of all time.
Gennaro Gattuso (AC Milan)
What Serie A best defensive midfielders list would be complete without the inclusion of the lovable Gennaro Gattuso. The AC Milan legend joined the club in 1999, having played for Perugia and Salernitana in Serie A prior. At Milan, he immediately established himself as a world-class defensive midfielder and went on to form one of the most balanced midfield partnerships ever with Andrea Pirlo, both at Milan and at Italy’s national team.
Gennaro Gattuso was part of a new breed of defensive midfielders in Europe, like Roy Keane and Claude Makelele, who didn’t particularly have strong physical attributes but made it up with their tenacity, tireless nature and in Gattuso’ case ferocity as well as winning mentality. As a defensive midfielder, Gattuso was perhaps the best destroyer in the history of football. His chaotic and highly aggressive style of play coupled with Andrea Pirlo’s calm and composed demeanor, struck the perfect balance of defensive and creative quality which ledAC Milan
to win several major trophies.
Gattuso spent 13 seasons at AC Milan, playing 468 times and scoring 11 goals. he helped AC Milan experience a Renaissance and was able to win 2 Serie A titles, 2 Champions League titles, 1 Coppa Italia trophy and a FIFA Club World Cup with AC Milan before leaving for the Swiss side Sion in 2012, where he would retire from football a year later.
An important part of Italy’s 2006 World Cup squad that won the competition, Gattuso has gone down in history as one of the finest Italian players and one of the best Serie A defensive midfielders of all time.
Luis Monti (Juventus)
The oldest player on our list of best Serie A defensive midfielders of all time may be the most unique of the bunch too as Luis Monti is the only player in history to play in 2 World Cup finals but with two different teams, Argentina in 1930 and Italy in 1934. Monti made a name for himself in Argentina by playing for San Lorenzo before coming toJuventus
in 1930, where he spent 9 seasons, helping the club win several trophies as well as being called to Italy’s national team as an
because of his Italian heritage
Unlike most players on our list that have played in modern formations, Monti was mainly deployed as a center half in the old
system, which would be a cross between a defensive midfielder and a playmaker. He was notoriously tough and strong but had the technical abilities to carry the team going forward. Nicknamed doble ancho for the way he seemed to cover all of the pitch by himself, Monti is considered to be one of the best center-halves of all time.
After winning multiple league titles at Argentina with San Lorenzo and Huracan as well as reaching the 1930 World Cup with Argentina, which they lost to Uruguay, Monti joined Juventus in 1930 and was able to help the club win 5 consecutive Serie A titles between 1931 and 1935 as well as a Coppa Italia in 1937.
He was called up to Italy’s national team in 1931 and helped Italy win the 1934 World Cup, after which Monti was named in the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team. Monti later managed Juventus for a while and won a Coppa Italia with them in 1942. He passed away in 1983 at the age of 82.
Marco Tardelli (Juventus, Inter Milan)
Marco Tardelli is one of the few players who have won every major European trophy as well as winning all that there is in Italy with Juventus. In addition to that he has won the 1982 World Cup with Italy as well. One of the most decorated players in football history, Tardelli started his career in the Serie C side Pisa and later went on to play for Como in Serie B, before joining Juventus in 1975. He spent the majority of his career with the Turin club, winning many trophies, before he joined their Rivals Internazionale in 1985.
Tardelli is widely considered to be one of the most complete midfielders of all time. A hard tackling midfielder who was very quick and also technically gifted, Tardelli was capable of playing several positions. In fact he was used in all outfield positions throughout his career except as a forward. In the 80s, an era defined by Italy’s
football, Tardelli was the perfect player as he was defensively solid as well as being quick enough to initiate counter attacks.
Both Juventus and Italy found huge success by utilizing Tardelli in that manner and he was able to help Juventus win 5 Serie A titles, 2 Coppa Italia trophies, 1 UEFA Cup, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, 1 UEFA Supercup and a European Cup (now known as Champions League).
Marco Tardelli was also a key figure in Italy reaching the 1982 World Cup final and ended up scoring Italy’s 2nd goal in the final. To this day his celebration for that goal remains as one of the most memorable moments in World Cup history. As far as the best Serie A defensive midfielders of all time goes, you can’t find many who are better than Tardelli.
Frank Rijkaard (AC Milan)
Rijkaard is known as the manager that revitalized Barcelona in the 21st century but in his playing days, the Dutch midfield maestro was one of Serie A best defensive midfielders during the 5 seasons he spent at AC Milan between 1988 and 1993. Rijkaard was already one of the best players in the world when he joined Milan, having won everything with Ajax in the Dutch league multiple times as well as a Champions League and a Cup Winners’ Cup.
But then after an unsuccessful season at Sporting and Zaragoza, Rijkaard transferred to AC Milan in 1988, joining his childhood friend Ruud Gullit as well as another Dutch compatriot Marco van Bastin. As a defensive midfielder, Rijkaard was known to be a physical player who worked tirelessly throughout the game, breaking opposition’s attack and distributing the ball.
However, his technique, dribbling ability, vision and passing ability allowed him to be much more than just a defensive midfielder and as a result he was quite often used in more forward roles, like the attacking midfielder or even a second striker role. Together with his friend Ruud Gullit, Rijkaard made one of the best midfield partnership of all time, leading AC Milan to many trophies.
Rijkaard was able to win 2 consecutive European Cups upon his arrival at Milan in 1988. He was also nominated for Ballon d’Or in each of those seasons but ended up third, behind Ruud Gullit and the winner Marco van Bastin, each time. He also won 2 Serie A titles and 2 Intercontinental Cups with Milan as well as the 1988 Euros with Netherlands. But numbers and trophies couldn’t do Frank Rijkaard’s time as a player justice. He is truly one of the best midfielders in the history of football.
Lothar Matthaus (Inter Milan)
The term “complete player” gets thrown around quite generously these days, even by us, but there is no player in the history of football more deserving of the term than Lothar Matthaus. Although much of his time in the Serie A was spent as a box-to-box midfielder, Matthaus’ defensive abilities could even shame the best defensive midfielders playing today. However, he would later go on to play mostly as a defensive midfielder during his final years as a player atBayern Munich
Matthaus joined Giovanni Trapattoni’s Inter in 1988. Neraazzurri had gone on for 7 seasons without any trophy and needed a big name to lift the whole squad up to their rivals’ levels. And Matthaus proved to be the perfect signing as he galvanized the squad and with the help of his incredible performances, both defensively and going forward, Internazionale was able to finally win their 13th Scudetto title. Matthaus acted as the beating heart of the team that allowed seamless transition from defence to attack.
The remaining 3 seasons of Matthaus’ career at Inter were not so successful as he managed to only win a UEFA Cup in 1991. He did however captain West Germany in the 1990 World Cup as Germany went on to win the competition, for which he was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1991. Although most of Matthaus’ trophies came during his two spells at Bayern Munich, his best years as a player were in Serie A and at Inter. He was an unstoppable force in midfield, scoring and assisting goals for fun as well as defending with tooth and nail.
Apart from being one of the
best Serie A defensive midfielders of all time
, Matthaus is widely considered to be the best defensive midfielder of all time as well as one of the best players ever, who despite his short time at Serie A changed the competition’s standards of how a midfielder should play!
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