John Terry
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Who is the best Premier League defender ever?

| 08.04.2020

We’ve got a shortlist of four – who comes out on top?

After running the rule over the goalkeepers, next we turn our attention to deciding the best defender in Premier League history.

There were plenty of contenders here, but we chose to go with a four-man shortlist who were all consistently at the top of the domestic game. 

Virgil van Dijk may be the best defender in the league right now, but he needs to do it for a little longer to feature here.

A lack of longevity also counts against Jaap Stam, while Sol Campbell and Tony Adams were unfortunate to miss out from an Arsenal perspective. Jamie Carragher and Ledley King’s lack of title success counted against them.

Now it’s time to move on to those who did make the cut, as you help us decide who reigns supreme…

John Terry


5 Premier League titles

A banner at Stamford Bridge used to say ‘Captain, Leader, Legend” and it couldn’t be more appropriate for John Terry. Few players are as closely associated with a single club as he is with Chelsea.

He was the homegrown lynchpin of the side as Roman Abramovich’s wealth took the Blues to a different dimension. As the club’s ambitions grew, Terry’s performances rose to meet them. 

The former England captain had some controversial moments, but on the pitch he was a fearless battler, inspiring presence and better with the ball than often given credit for.

With Terry marshaling the backline, Chelsea conceded a barely-believable 15 goals on their way to ending their 50-year wait for the title in 2005. He’d chip in with vital goals as well, scoring 67 for the club in total.

His fellow professionals also thought he was one of the best in the business. Terry is one of only two defenders to be named PFA Player of the Year in the Premier League era. He was voted into the FIFPro World XI for five years running from 2005 to 2009 too – Sergio Ramos is the only defender with more appearances.

Rio Ferdinand

Rio Ferdinand

West Ham United, Leeds United, Manchester United, Queens Park Rangers

6 Premier League titles

Rio Ferdinand didn’t play like a typical ‘90s English defender when he emerged at West Ham.

His composure and ability on the ball instantly made him stand out – his strengths would still be very well-suited to the modern game – but he knew how to keep attackers at bay too.

He became the world’s most expensive defender after an £18m move to Leeds in 2000. He helped the Yorkshire club to reach the Champions League semi-finals and was named club captain in his second year at Elland Road.

However, Leeds’ financial issues meant they had little choice but to sell their prized asset to Manchester United in 2002.

The £30m fee was again the most ever paid for a defender at the time. With a return of six Premier League titles and the Champions League, it proved to be a bargain.

His partnership with Nemanja Vidic may well have been the best on the continent for a few years during the noughties. They complemented each other perfectly, with Vidic’s aggression the yin to Ferdinand’s yang.

Vincent Kompany

Manchester City

4 Premier League titles

There aren’t many better value signings during the Premier League era than City’s £6m deal to sign Vincent Kompany from Anderlecht back in 2008.

The Belgian went on to become an icon at the Etihad, leading the club to four titles under three different managers.

He was a powerhouse at his best, dominating strikers with his aerial presence and proactive play. He always wanted to be on the front foot and get to the ball before his opponent had a chance to gain control.

He adapted his game to Pep Guardiola’s passing style very well, scoring one of the iconic goals against Leicester to put one hand on the title in 2018/19.

Injuries meant he didn’t play as much towards the end of his time in England, but he truly ‘got’ the club in every sense and his influence is still sorely missed. Look at how City’s title defence has gone this season without him.

Ashley Cole

Ashley Cole

Arsenal, Chelsea

3 Premier League titles

It’s not only centre-backs who can make a case for being the best defender of the Premier League era. For the better part of a decade, Ashley Cole was arguably the best left-back in the world.

He was a crucial part of two title-winning sides too – Arsenal’s Invincibles and Chelsea under Carlo Ancelotti. The Stepney-born full-back also has seven FA Cup winner medals, more than any other player.

Cole was always a real threat going forward, but he matured into an exceptional one-on-one defender. He also had a welcome knack of being in the right place at the right time to make crucial goal-line clearances.

As well as shining at club level, he was also England’s most reliable performer during the Golden Generation era. Who can forget his incredible display against Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2004?

So, there it is. We’ve made the case for all four, but what do you think? Who stands alone as the best defender in Premier League history?

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Daniel Anwar

Daniel has written about sport for Coral, Squawka, FourFourTwo and the Premier League, among others.