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The dawn of the 21st century led to changes in tactics and it truly birthed the defensive midfielder as we know it.
Teams played with strong, defensively-minded midfielders before the Millennium. These were hard men capable of tackling and playing a few passes.
While hard men of the past left their marks on opponents, quite literally, modern defensive midfielders are far more graceful.
The following players are considered the greatest defensive midfielders in football.
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“He can’t do it on a cold, wet night in (insert northern English town)!” That was often the cry of English football fans about players from certain parts of the world.
There was no way those players could compete in the cold, wet conditions of the United Kingdom against homegrown British players.
The Brazilian brought his take-no-prisoners defensive attitude to Old Trafford and transformed the team.
Fans of Real Madrid knew all about Casemiro’s defensive acumen. The midfielder was the foundation of Madrid’s successes from 2013 to 2022.
Not only could Casemiro make game-saving tackles in big matches, but he also scored important goals. In 2017, he scored the winner in Madrid’s 4-1 Champions League victory over Juventus.
1. Claude Makelele
Claude Makelele invented the modern defensive midfielder position. Makelele started his professional career with France’s Nantes in 1991 before moving to Marseille and Celta Vigo.
Makelele provided a strong base at Stamford Bridge for the Roman Abramovich era, which started just months before the midfielder arrived in London.
He was phenomenal for Los Blancos, winning two La Liga titles, the Champions League, a UEFA Super Cup and an Intercontinental Cup.
However, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez didn’t see what was so special about Makelele. In Perez’s eyes, he wasn’t a Galactico.
Makelele simply made the rest of the players’ jobs easier. He covered a tremendous amount of ground, won the ball, and passed it off to teammates to create chances at the other end.
He is the model for all modern defensive midfielders. Makelele started it all.
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