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Best German Defenders of All Time

Tue 29 March 2022 | 4:30

We take a look at Bundesliga’s industrious and often innovational defenders to see who are the best German defenders of all time?

German football is known for its discipline and organized way of approaching the game especially when it comes to defending. Often times German teams, both on a club level as well as an international level, are notoriously hard to break down, with every player on the pitch having a set of specific responsibilities. While much of this comes down to the defensive unit as a whole and all the efforts that the entire team put in, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t exceptional individuals who excel at defending.

Individuals like the great Franz Beckenbauer, the incredible Berti Vogts and more recently a player like Philip Lahm are all counted amongst football’s greatest defenders. So, let’s take a closer look at all the great German defenders over the years and choose 10 who are the

best German defenders of all time

.

Best German Defenders Ever

While our list best German defenders ever could’ve just as easily been filled with mostly Bayern Munich players, with the Bavarian giants absolutely dominating the Bundesliga since the start of the tournament back in the 1960s, we’ve tried our best to represent all of German football and pick players from as different teams as we could. Without further ado, here they are:

Rainer Bonhof

Let’s go to the 70s where Borussia Monchengladbach was one of the most powerful clubs in Europe and Germany was among the world’s best of the best, as is always the case. A player that played a major role in both teams and was in fact one of the finest German defenders all time was Rainer Bonhof who started his professional career in 1970 at Gladbach and played for them for the majority of the 1970s before moving to La Liga in 1978.

Bonhof’s inclusion might be puzzling to some as he often played in the

midfield

role and is considered to be a midfielder by some but the Gladbach legend was as good a wing-back as he was a defensive midfielder. Bonhof who was barely 22 years old took part in the 1974 World Cup and became one of the most important players of Die Mannschaft in that tournament, assisting the winning goal against Netherlands in the final. Bonhof was also known for his powerful shots as well as his overall tactical awareness and technique.

Bonhof is the most decorated player in the history of the Euros after winning the Euro 1972 (at the age of 20) and 1980 and coming in second in 1976. He has also helped

Gladbach

win 4 Bundesliga titles,a DFB Pokal and a UEFA Cup as well as winning another German Cup with Koln and a Copa del Rey and Cup Winners’ Cup with Valencia. A true legend of German football both as a midfielder and a defender, Bonhof represented his country 53 times, scoring 9 goals and establishing himself as one of the best German defenders of all time. 

Klaus Augenthaler

There are seldom lists of

best German defenders ever

without a mention of the great Klaus Augenthaler who spent the entirety of his career at Bayern, starting in 1976 and going all the way to 1991 where he retired from football only a year after he helped Germany win the 1990 World Cup. A native of Bavaria, Augenthaler has been hailed as one of the best Bayern Munich players of all time which puts him amongst the elite players not only in German football but the game of football as a whole.

As a defender, Klaus Augenthaler was mainly deployed as a center back but later in his career he switched to be a sweeper as well, a role that the Germans perfected. He was a powerful stopper that despite not being considered really tall and physical, was a nightmare for opposition attackers which is one of the reasons he achieved so much success throughout his career both with Bayern Munich and the German national team.

With Bayern Munich, Klaus Augenthaler won 7 Bundesliga titles which considering his 15 year career means that he won a league title every other year on average. He won 3 DFB Pokals but failed to win the European Cup with Bayern, losing out in the final two times in 1982 and 1987. With the German national team, Augenthaler reached two World Cup finals in 1986 and 1990, helping Die Mannschaft win the latter which immortalized him as one of the more German defenders of all time.

Stefan Reuter

The first Borussia Dortmund player on our list of greatest German defenders all time happens to be the great Stefan Reuter who is also one of the most decorated players in the club’s history. Reuter’s career though started in Nurnberg and saw him play for Bayern Munich and

Juventus

as well but he is perhaps more remembered for his long career with Dortmund. A quick and agile defender, Reuter was a versatile player who could also be deployed as either a defensive midfielder or a center back but his main position was the right back role in which he excelled at, for both club and country.

Reuter started his career at Nurnberg in 1984 and played 100 matches for them before joining Bayern Munich in 1988. There he won 2 Bundesliga titles in the span of three seasons before joining Juventus in the 1991-92 season.

Following Germany’s triumph at the 1990 World Cup many German players opted to join Italian side but Reuter decided that the league wasn’t meant for him and returned to Germany. But his return to Bundesliga saw him not join his old team Bayern, but rather their rivals

Dortmund

, where he remained for 12 seasons before retiring from playing football in 2004.

Reuter was an integral part of BvB’s golden generation and helped them win 3 Bundesliga titles as well as a Champions League title. he also helped Dortmund reach 2 UEFA Cup finals, both of which they lost. Reuter was also really successful at international level, having made 69 appearances for Germany and helping them win the 1990 World Cup and Euro 1996. Nicknamed Turbo for his exceptional pace, Reuter ended his Dortmund career in 2004 after 410 appearances for them. He is now the general manager at

FC Augsburg

.

Jürgen Kohler

Another Dortmund legend to appear on our list is one of the most

famous German footballers

, Jurgen Kohler who was undoubtedly among the finest center backs of the 90s. Kohler had a similar career path to Stephen Reuter as they both were teammates at Bayern Munich, Juventus and Dortmund. He started his career in 1983 at Waldhof Mannheim and then joined

Koln

, where he caught the eye of Bayern Munich and eventually joined the Bavarian side in 1989.

After a Bundesliga title and spending two seasons at Bayern, Kohler alongside Reuter both joined Juventus but unlike Reuter, Kohler enjoyed a fairly long career at Juve where he won a double of Serie A and Coppa Italia in 1994-95 as well as a UEFA Cup, two years prior in 1992 and against his future team Dortmund no less. Kohler then joined Dortmund in 1995 and became a staple of Dortmund’s golden era and the club’s finest ever center back.

In his 7 seasons and 243 appearances for Dortmund, Kohler won 2 Bundesliga titles and a Champions League trophy, in a final against his former club Juventus, as well as an Intercontinental Cup. he also helped Dortmund reach a UEFA Cup final in his last season as a player where he was famously sent off and Dortmund lost the match.

Kohler was perhaps one of the first modern ball playing center backs but he was also a great stopper and was also great in the air. Kohler was also an accomplished international who made 105 appearances for Germany, having played in 3 World Cups and 3 Euros. He won the 1990 World Cup and Euro 1996 and will always be one of Mannschaft’s greatest players and totally deserving of a spot amongst the best German defenders of all time.

Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck

Another Bayern Munich legend to appear on our list of the greatest

German defenders all time

is Die Katsche, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck. A regular for both Germany and

Bayern Munich

during arguably the best era of German football, the 1970s, Schwarzenbeck made one of the most powerful defensive partnerships with Franz Beckenbauer and together they helped Germany win the World Cup and the Euros as well as winning several trophies with Bayern Munich.

Known as die Katsche or the Cat, Schwarzenbeck is perhaps one of the more underrated German players of the 1970s. while his partner,

Beckenbauer

got all the attention for being a technical defender and a sweeper, Schwarzenbeck was the one that was left to do all the dirty work since he was an exceptional stopper. His pairing of pure defending beside someone like Beckenbauer who initiated the build-up play, suited Bayern Munich and Germany perfectly and the two played almost their entire career beside each other.

With Germany, Schwarzenbeck won the World Cup in 1974, alongside 3 other defenders who are all on this list and are in fact considered to be some of the best defenders of all time. He also won the Euros in 1972. With Bayern Schwarzenbeck won 6 Bundesliga titles, 3 DFB Pokals and a cup Winner’s Cup but his most impressive achievement was winning the European Cup (Champions League) 3 consecutive times with Bayern from 1973 to 1976. Schwarzenbeck is without a doubt one of the best German defenders of all time.

Paul Breitner

If there ever was a Mount Rushmore of German football icons, Paul Breitner’s face would definitely be on it. A controversial figure in his playing days mainly because of the stuff he did off the pitch which attracted quite a lot of attention to him, Breitner was something else when he set foot on the pitch. He was mainly used as a left back and throughout his career became one of the finest left backs In football history who used his versatility, technique and defensive capabilities to form one of the best German back-lines ever and went on to achieve many trophies, both with the clubs he represented and his country.

Breitner started his career with Bayern and he soon became a regular where he managed to get a call up from the West Germany National team for the 1972 Euros. They won the competition and 2 years later they reached the World Cup final too. There,

Breitner

alongside Beckenbauer, Berti Vogts and Schwarzenbeck were able to successfully defend the Netherlands’ unrelenting attacks in the final. Breitner even managed to score against them as Germany won the match 2-1 and became Champions of the World.

Breitner didn’t feature for Germany until 1982 World Cup where he again helped the Germans reach the final and again scored, but this time they lost the match to Italy. Breitner is one of only four players to have scored twice in 2 different World Cup finals, the other 3 being Vava, Zidane and Pele. The fact that he was only a left back, makes this achievement even more impressive.

Breitner won 7 league titles (5 with Bayern and 2 with

Real Madrid

), he also won 3 domestic cups (2 with Bayern and 1 with Real Madrid) and his only European Cup came in Bayern’s shirt in 1973-74 season. Breitner was runner-up to the

Ballon d’Or

in 1981 and was included in Ballon d’Or Dream Team (Bronze) in 2020 which is just another reason to consider him as one of the

best German defenders of all time

.

Andreas Brehme 

One of the best attack-minded fullbacks of all time, Andreas Brehme’s inclusion as here comes as a shock to one. A player that spent his career at 6 different clubs, Andreas Brehme is mainly known for his time at Kaiserslautern as well as

Inter Milan

and he is considered a legend at both clubs. Although he did play for Bayern as well.

As a left back, Brehme, who was ambidextrous, was mainly used on the left flank as either a winger, midfielder or left-back. He excelled at the left back position becoming one of the best left backs in football history mainly due to his strength and positional awareness. He was also a great crosser of the ball and had superb skill while striking the ball, whether from long range or from free-kicks.

Brehme’s Bundesliga career started at

Kaiserslautern

in 1981, he then joined Bayern Munich in 1986, where he won the Bundesliga straight away and reached the final of European Cup, losing in the final. Two years later he joined Inter and won the Serie A and UEFA Cup with them. He eventually came back to Kaiserslautern and won the Cup with them but saw them get relegated. Brehme opted to stay with the team and led them back to Bundesliga a year later and they went on to win the league straight away, a near impossible feat that made him a legend at the club.

Brehme was famous for taking penalties with his right foot and free-kicks with his left, although it was not always so, which made him extremely unpredictable and it’s the reason he scored so often from set-pieces. He scored a penalty in the 1990 World Cup final against Argentina in the dying minutes of the game to make Germany World Cup champions, a feat that cemented his place among the best German defenders of all time. 

Philipp Lahm

The youngest player on our list is none other than the great Philip Lahm. Nicknamed the “Magic Dwarf” because of his height and stature, Philipp Lahm is without a doubt one of the 

best defenders of all time

. Starting as a 

left back

, Lahm’s career saw him play a number of roles in defense and midfield but he is more prominently known to be a right-back, where he enjoyed insurmountable success, winning it all with club and country, achieving success on both individual and team level.

At Bayern he won 8 Bundesliga titles and 6 DFB-Pokal as well as winning the 2012-2013 Champions League and with Germany, he and his team became 3rd both in 2006 and 2010 World Cups until they won it in 2014. He played in three World Cups and was part of the Team of Tournament every time as well as being in UEFA Team of the Year for 5 times. It would take an entire article to list every achievement of Philipp Lahm’s long career so we better move on to talking about his qualities as a right back.

As a full back, Lahm was extremely quick, made precise tackles, had an incredible stamina and at times was as graceful as a midfielder with the ball but perhaps his most important attribute was his intelligence. Being tactically intelligent, Lahm knew how to read the game and when to make his runs and challenges., which made him an incredible defensive midfielder later in his career, one that the likes of Joshua Kimmich try to emulate. Despite his small stature, his intelligence gave him the edge to man mark even the best attackers, knowing when to shadow them and when to make tackles.

Lahm was ambidextrous, capable of playing on both sides of the pitch as a full back. In attack he was capable of great overlapping runs and good crosses but he had a tendency to cut inside the middle of the pitch to take a shot or create a chance for his teammates. Because of his qualities on the pitch and his incredible sportsmanship and hardworking attitude Philip Lahm has influenced the full backs that are playing today greatly and for that he will be remembered as one of the best German defenders of all time.

Berti Vogts

Berti Vogts almost needs no introduction since he is certainly one of the best defenders of all time. A one-club man who played for

Borussia Mönchengladbach

for the entirety of his career, Vogts was a part of the aforementioned West Germany backline in the Euro 1972 and the 1974 World Cup, where Germany won all the honors. Vogts was also part of the Golden Years of Borussia Mönchengladbach in the 1970 and helped them several trophies while achieving incredible success on an individual level.

Nicknamed “Der Terrier” for being relentless in defense, he is famous for man marking Johan Cruyff in the final of 1974 World Cup and helping Germany in a big way in their World Cup victory. He was Cruyff’s shadow the entire game and practically nullified the Dutch side’s most important player, who is considered to be one of the

best European players of all time

.

Apart from his achievements with both Germany and Gladbach, Vogts’ individual achievements are quite spectacular as well. He has been named Germany’s Player of the Year twice and appeared in both 1974 and 1978 World Cup teams of the tournament, as well as being in the

Bundesliga Team of the Year

9 times.

With Gladbach, Vogts won 5 Bundesliga titles, 1 DFB-Pokal and 2 UEFA Cups, appearing in 526 games in all competitions for Gladbach and scoring 42 goals, which is an incredible amount for a right back. There are simply a few footballers who could match what Vogts did throughout his career which is why is one of the most famous German footballers ever.

Franz Beckenbauer

Who else but the great Franz Beckenbauer could be on top of our list of best German defenders of all time?! In fact, Der Kaiser is usually on top of the list when there is talk of the best defenders of all time. aptly nicknamed Der Kaiser or the Emperor because of his commanding presence and elegance on the pitch, Beckenbauer simply excelled at everything a defender should do and his influence on German football extended beyond his playing days as he later became a manager as well.

But his playing days started in Bayern Munich’s youth system, where he slowly found his way to the first team and spent most of his best days as a player there. he started his career as a midfielder but later would transition to a role that is now known as the Sweeper or a libero. He is largely credited to having invented the role of a sweeper in football. His calm demeanor and command of the ball made him a great shield in front of the defense.

As a player he won 4 Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich as well as 4 DFB Pokals. He was also the captain of the greatest generation of Bayern Munich players, which also included players like Maier, 

Gerd Muller

 and Schwarzenbeck, and they managed to win an unprecedented 3 consecutive European Cups (Champions League) from 1974 to 1976. He also captained Germany first to European Glory in 1972 Euro and then 2 years later to World Cup success in 1974, writing his name forever amongst the greatest footballer ever.

After becoming one of the 

best German defenders of all time

, Beckenbauer then went into management where he became one of only 3 people who have won the World Cup as both a player and a manager. He also led Bayern to a Bundesliga and a UEFA Cup title a few years later. Beckenbauer won 2 Ballon d’Or trophies during his career as a player by leading Bayern and Germany to every trophy that there was and also managed to impact the game of football immensely. A true icon of the game, there will simply be no player like him ever again, for Bayern Munich or Germany.

 

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