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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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5. Daniele De Rossi
Daniele De Rossi won’t appear on most lists of the greatest defensive midfielders of all-time. It is a shame – and the former Roma man is definitely overlooked by modern fans.
De Rossi may get overlooked as one of the greatest defensive midfielders due to playing nearly his entire career in Rome. He appeared in five games with Boca Juniors in 2019-20 before retiring.
De Rossi only won three trophies with Roma (two Coppa Italia and one Supercoppa Italiana), but he was a major part of Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph.
De Rossi was a substitute in the final and scored the third of Italy’s five penalties to win the World Cup.
4. N’Golo Kante
Most football clubs would turn players away for being only 5ft 7in tall. Yet, N’Golo Kante’s lack of height didn’t stop him from becoming one of the greatest defensive midfielders to play the game.
Kante emerged out of nowhere in 2015, as Leicester City won the Premier League. He was the perfect example of what good scouting and an open mind offer football clubs.
Still, in his day, Kante was an unstoppable force in midfield. He buzzed around players like a gnat waiting to strike.
3. Sergio Busquets
Fans loved him for the quality he brought to the side, but opposing supporters couldn’t stand him for his ability to continually come out on top of challenges.
Busquets wasn’t afraid of the dark arts either. He could put in a nasty challenge or take a yellow card for the team just as easily as he could make a defence-cutting pass to Lionel Messi.
One area that separates Busquets from other defensive midfielders is his technical ability. He was brilliant at picking out passes and starting counter-attacks.
Busquets’ footwork is impeccable, making it possible for him to get the ball out of danger, rather than banging it up the field or out of play.
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