Thinking that the best footballers of a nation are always from among forwards is a big mistake. Some times there are defenders who are worth a thousand forwards! And Scotland is no exception in this case. In this post, we are to see who the best Scottish defenders of all time are.
Before anything else, we should tell you that you shouldn’t expect that the
best Scottish footballers in 2022
, like Andy Robertson or Nathan Patterson, are among best Scottish footballers of all time let alone being among best Scottish defenders of all time, because apart from being good, these footballers are young and should have still time to prove themselves in the future. So, no best Scottish footballers in 2022 on our list!
However, some footballers on the list of best Scottish defenders of all time, like Alan Hansen, can surely be on the list of best Scottish footballers of all time or even the best Scottish team of all time. Depends, of course, how you make up the best Scottish team of all time, but at least there are three defenders Alan Hanses, for instance, could be among them.
And yet there is the question who the best player in Scotland is. Of course, that also depends on the fact that you mean the current
best player in Scotland
or one of the former ones. Among the current Scottish footballers, there is no one who is far better than the others, but among the former ones, you may name legendary footballers like Dennis Law or Kenny Dalglish as the best player in Scotland.
The list of best Scottish defenders of all time starts with Alex McLeish, but let’s see which other footballers are on the list - the list is in ascending order.
The only footballer on the list of best Scottish defenders of all time to have managed the Scottish national team after his career as a player, Alex McLeish is a 63-year-old retired Scottish defender who served the top Scottish club,Aberdeen
, for almost all his career. In fact, if he hadn’t served another Scottish club, namely Motherwell, in the final season of his career, we could have said he had actually been a one-club man during his footballing time. McLeish actually made a total of 695 appearances for Aberdeen across all competitions which makes him the second footballer with most appearances for the Scottish club behind another Scottish defender, namely Willie Miller, with around 100 more appearances for the club; actually 797.
Anyway, although McLeish was quite economical considering the number of clubs he served as a player, he was quite on the opposite side when it came to serving clubs as a manager. He actually served 8 clubs during his managerial career including the top English club, Aston Villa, and the top Scottish club, Rangers. He’s also, as mentioned above, the only footballer on the list to have managed the Scottish national team and for two periods of time: Once in 2007 and another time between 2018 and 2019.
McLeish is also one of the highly-decorated footballers on the list with more than 20 club trophies to his name both as a player and manager including five Scottish Cups, and the Scottish footballer with most appearances in the Scottish Cup with an overall of 68 appearances. He actually served the Scottish national team sometime between 1980 and 1993 making 77 appearances for them in the process and becoming the third most capped Scottish footballer of all time - of course, as of this date. Maybe that’s interesting for you to know that in managerial style Alex McLeish always tried to mimic sir Alex Ferguson.
The first passed footballer on the list of
best Scottish defenders of all time
, George Young was a Scottish defender who, as far as we know, served only one Scottish club, namely Rangers, and for 16 years between 1951 and 1967. Of course, they say he also served another club, namely the Scottish club, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy, sometime during his career, but we don’t know for how long. Anyway, what is Young is best remembered for is his 16-year service to Rangers and also the fact that he is the first Scottish footballer with more than 50 caps. He actually served the Scottish national team sometime between 1946 and 1957 making 54 appearances for them in the process and captaining the team in 48 of those appearances. He is also a member of Scotland Football Hall of Fame - actually the first one - because of the number of his caps. And it might be interesting for you to know that Young is the first Scottish footballer to have appeared for the Scottish national team as a substitute and from his 54 caps 34 were consecutive; actually the ones he made between 1948 and 1953. Young died in January 1997 at the age of 74.
Another passed footballer on the list of best Scottish defenders of all time, William Pullar Jardine, simply known as Sandy Jardine in the world of football, served only two Scottish clubs, namely Rangers and Heart of Midlothian, during his 22-year career which lasted from 1966 to 1988. Of course, he’s more known as a Rangers player since he served them for almost three fourth of his career’s length making 674 appearances and scoring 77 goals for them in the process. He’s one of the footballers in the history of football to have played in more than 1000 matches. He won all his club trophies with Rangers including two trebles - Scottish Premiership, Scottish Cup, and Scottish League Cup - in 1975-76 and 1977-78 seasons. He’s also an inductee of both Scotland and Rangers Halls of Fame.
Jardine played for the Scottish national team sometime between 1970 and 1979 making 38 appearances for them in the process. He was part of the Scotland squad in 1974 and 1978 World Cups, and was named as the best fullback of the competition in the former alongside his fellowman, Danny McGrain. Although the passed Scottish footballer never won an international trophy with theScottish national team
, he was part of the same team who won the 1974 British Home Championship. It might be interesting for you to know that two years after Jardine’s death in 2012 - actually in July 2014 - Rangers changed the name of Govan Stand in Ibrox Stadium - Ranger’s home ground - to Sandy Jardine Stand in his honor.
Described as the best penalty box defender in the world by Sir Alex Ferguson during his play time, Willie Miller is a 65-year-old retired Scottish footballer who played as a central defender for the Scottish club, Aberdeen, for all his career except for the first season of it where he was loaned to another Scottish club, namely Peterhead. Miller is actually the holder of four records at Aberdeen: The most number of appearances across all competitions (797), the most number of league appearances (561), the most number of League Cup appearances (109), and the most number of European appearances (61). He was also voted Aberdeen’s greatest player of all time in a poll to mark the club’s 100th anniversary in 2003 and was named on the Aberdeen’s best team ever by the club’s fans in 2015. With all these achievements, we think, he’s a good candidate for the
best Scottish team of all time
Miller also served Aberdeen as a manager two years after his retirement in 1990; actually for two years from 1992 to 1994 during which he won the Aberdeenshire Cup in 1992-93 season and finished as runner-up with his team in the Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup in the same season. He actually won more club trophies with Aberdeen as a player, as you might have guessed, since he served them as one for a much longer time; actually for 19 years between 1971 and 1990 during which he managed to win 12 club trophies with them including four Scottish Cups. Miller took part in 1986 World Cup with the Scottish national team where he made his 50th international appearance (out of 65), and he could have probably played in the next edition of the global competition - 1990 edition - if an injury in the last match of the competition’s qualification round against Norway had not prevented him from doing so.
It might be interesting for you to know that as a youngster Miller had no interest in football and when he played the game, he was often used as a goalkeeper. However, later he played as a forward for his youth clubs, Glasgow Schools and Eastercraigs Boys Club, and continued to do so after signing with Aberdeen and going on loan to the lower-tier club,Peterhead
, in his first season with the Dons. But, on his return he was deployed as a central defender and sweeper, the position in which he developed to his full potentiality and remained up until the end of his career.
The only footballer on the list of
best Scottish defenders of all time
to have served the top Premier League club, Manchester United, during his career, Martin Buchan is a 72-year-old retired Scottish footballer who actually played as a center back for the Red Devils for the majority of his career; actually for 11 years between 1972 and 1983 during which he made a total of 456 appearances for them - the highest in his career. What is quite notable about Buchan’s move to Manchester United is his transfer fee - £120,000 - which was a club record at its own time.
Although he actually couldn’t prevent United’s relegation to the Second Division in 1973-74 season, they actually managed to get back to the First Division in the next season when Buchan became the team’s captain, too, leading them to a victory against Liverpool in 1977 FA Cup final. Buchan also served the Scottish national team sometime between 1971 and 1978 making 34 appearances for them in the process. He actually took part in two editions of World Cup, namely the 1974 and 1978 editions, with the Scottish national team and captained them twice: Once in a Euro qualification round match against Romania in 1975 and another time against Argentina in a friendly in 1977.
Yet another passed footballer on the list of best Scottish defenders of all time, Billy Mcneill was one of those celebrated Scottish footballers during his play time who served the top Scottish club, Celtic, for almost all his career; actually for 18 years between 1957 and 1975 during which he made a total of 822 appearances for them across all competitions becoming the player with most appearances in the club history; a record which is not broken yet. He also captained Celtic in 1960s and 70s where the club managed to win nine consecutive Scottish Premiership titles and five consecutive Scottish Cups. They also became the first British club ever to win a UEFA Champions League - actually in 1967 - during Mcneill’s captaincy.
The passed Scottish defender also managed Celtic after his career as a player and in two time periods: Once from 1978 to 1983 and another time from 1987 to 1991 which sums up to 9 years in total during which he managed to win 9 club trophies with the club including 4Scottish Premiership
titles. So, there is no wonder if Mcneill is one of Celtic’s iconic figures, as he really is, and the proof to that is the statue of him installed outside Celtic Park - Celtic’s stadium - holding up the European Cup. Can we call him one of the best Scottish footballers of all time, too? You say, but probably yes.
It might be interesting for you to know that Mcneill also managed Manchester City sometime during his managerial career and even helped them to promote back to the First Division in 1984-85 season, though the club were relegated again two seasons later in 1986-87 season when Mcneill actually quit his job at Man City in mid-1986 to join Aston Villa. Mcneill also served the Scottish national team, of course as a player, sometime between 1961 and 1972 making 29 appearances and scoring 3 goals for them in the process. He died in April 2019 at the age of 75.
The only truly one-club man on the list of best Scottish defenders of all time, John Greig is a 79-year-old retired Scottish footballer who only served the Scottish club, Rangers, during his 17-year career which lasted from 1961 to 1978. We say “truly” because unlike some other footballers already mentioned in this post, who went on loan at least for a season when serving their career’s only club or served another club but for an unknown number of seasons, Greig served Rangers straight ahead from the start to the end of his career with nothing in between. He is also a product of Rangers and played for their youth academy from 1959 to 1961 plus that he also managed the club for five years between 1978 and 1983 winning four club trophies with them in addition to the 16 club trophies he had won with them as a player. A true Rangers man! What was also agreed upon by the club’s fans in 1999 as they voted Greig as the “Greatest Ever Ranger”. He has also been inducted into Rangers and Scottish Football Halls of Fame.
Greig also holds the record for most appearances made for Rangers with a total of 755 appearances for the club across all competitions. What is quite notable about this defender is that not only he has scored the most number of club goals among the
best Scottish defenders of all time
but also his club goals surpass 100 which is quite surprising for a defender, however, if you know that Greig actually played first as a forward and then as a midfielder for Rangers - he’s also the only one on the list with that condition - and he scored most of his goals for the club during that time, which we don’t know exactly for how long it lasted, it won’t be much surprising to you that he scored that number of goals. Greig also served the Scottish national team sometime between 1964 and 1975 making 44 appearances and scoring 3 goals for them in the process. He also captained the team in 15 of those 44 appearances. Maybe among the 3 goals Greig scored for Scotland the most important one is the goal he scored against Italy in a 1966 World Cup qualification match which ended in his side’s 1-0 win. The goal was actually a late winner coming at 88th minute of the game.
Regarded as one of the best Scottish footballers of all time and also one of the best defenders in the world of football in 1970s and 80s, Danny Mcgrain is a 71-year-old retired Scottish defender who played for the top Scottish club, Celtic, for a major part of his career; actually for 17 years between 1970 and 1987 during which he made a total of 681 appearances for them becoming the 5th footballer with most appearances for the club. A sports writer once commented about Mcgrain’s playstyle: “Anybody who saw him at his best had the unmistakable impression of watching a great player, probably one who had no superior anywhere in the world.”
Mcgrain actually won 14 club trophies with Celtic including seven Scottish Premiership titles and was inducted into Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2004. He also served the Scottish national team sometime between 1973 and 1982 making 62 appearances for them in the process and taking part in two editions of FIFA World Cup, namely the 1974 and 1982 editions, with them captaining his side in the latter. It might be interesting for you to know that Mcgrain is actually one of the pioneers of what is known today as attacking full back - a full back who takes part in his team’s offensives. With his incredible speed and ball control, Mcgrain was actually capable of contributing to his team’s offensives while having an eye for his own role to fill it when possession was lost. He was also a robust but fair tackler whom was described once as a "superb player and professional” and "the best tackler on the field" by the manager, Davie Hay.
Considered as one of the best playersTottenham Hotspur
has ever had, Dave Mackay is a passed Scottish defender who served the English club more than any other club during his career; actually for 9 years between 1959 and 1968 during which he made a total of 268 appearances and scored 42 goals for them only at league level. He’s also the only footballer on the list of
best Scottish footballers of all time
to have served Tottenham for a club. He was actually part of the Tottenham squad who won a double in 1960-1961 season - both Premier League title and FA Cup - and an integral part of it who managed to score against Manchester United once. But he was even more for Tottenham! That you can obviously recognize in the obituary Tottenham issued after Mackay’s death at the age of 80 in 2015: “Dave Mackay will certainly always be remembered here as one of our greatest ever players and a man who never failed to inspire those around him. In short, a Spurs legend.”
Mackay also served the Scottish national team sometime between 1957 and 1965 making 22 appearances and scoring 4 goals for them in the process, and of course, Scottish U23 team, but for a shorter period; actually for four years between 1954 and 1958 during which he made 4 appearances and scored one goals for them. It might be interesting for you to know that the passed Scottish footballer served more clubs as a manager than a player: Actually 10 clubs which is more than twice as much as the clubs he served as a player (4). He also won 6 club trophies with these clubs including two Egyptian Premier League titles with the Egyptian club,Zamalek SC
, and a First Division title with Derby County in 1968-69 season. Mackay also managed a national team, namely Qatari national team, for a year between 1994 and 1995, but didn’t achieve any success with them.
Number one on the list of best Scottish defenders of all time, Alan Hansen is a 66-year-old retired Scottish defender who served the top Premier League club, Liverpool, for the majority of his career; actually for 14 years between 1977 and 1991 during which he managed to make 620 appearances and score 14 goals for the club. Except for one, Hansen won all his club trophies with Liverpool which counts for 25 trophies including a UEFA Super Cup in 1977. He also served the Scottish national team sometime between 1979 and 1987 making 26 appearances for them in the process and taking part in 1982 World Cup with them where Scotland needed a win against the former USSR to advance to the competition’s round-of-16 stage , but to your surprise, a mistake, actually a collision between Hansen and his defensive partner, Willie Miller, created an opportunity for the USSR forward, Ramaz Shengelia, to go through and score USSR’s second goal which made the teams even preventing Scotland from advancing to the next stage. Hansen became a pundit after his career, but not an ordinary one! He often expressed his views about the teams’ defensive lines so explicitly that he called them shocking or even diabolical!
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