John Terry vs Virgil van Dijk vs Rio Ferdinand: Who is the best centre-back in Premier League history?

  • Terry, Van Dijk and Ferdinand among best defenders in Premier League history
  • All three rank in 90min's Top 50 Premier League players of all time list
  • The legendary centre-backs all have arguments to claim who was best

Image by Briony Painter
Image by Briony Painter /

Do you want to know just how good Premier League-level defenders are?

Imagine you're down at Goals or Power League with your mates. Imagine the most technical, flair player there. Oh, how you'd love to dribble and dance like they could. How you'd want to be able to score from anywhere on those astro-turf pitches. How you're praying this is the week where those little black plastic bits haven't made their way into your socks and boots.

A professional defender is better than all of you, pal. One million times over. Prime John O'Shea would be pulling out step-overs. Washed Michael Dawson would be sending you for a hot dog. They'd sit you on your backside whether you're on the ball or off it.

Just imagine, then, how good John Terry, Rio Ferdinand would be at five-a-side. Fortunately for them, they made it as pro players and have among the greatest legacies in Premier League history, so you don't need to worry about them making a fool out of you.

Who was better, though? 90min has put together a very effective formula to decide...


John Terry, Ousmane Dabo
Terry was a machine / Jamie McDonald/GettyImages

Right, let's get the big one out of the way, then.

Few people in the history of mankind have loved the lost art of defending more than Terry. Few people would blindly run into a brick wall without even being asked to more than Terry. Few people would choose to dive head-first into a block more than Terry.

Between 2004 and 2009, the ex-Chelsea captain made his way into five successive FIFPro World XIs, the UEFA Team of the Year four times and won three UEFA Club Defender of the Year awards. His dominance was down to his defending.


Rio Ferdinand
Ferdinand was a prototypical ball-playing defender / Etsuo Hara/GettyImages

This was probably the category to choose between. Terry's passing range was an underrated feature of his game and it's a massive facet of Van Dijk's.

In splitting hairs, Ferdinand seals the win, if largely in-part because he was a Premier League pioneer, bringing the ball out from the back and neglecting just to hoof it anywhere up the pitch. In hindsight, it's a minor miracle he wasn't pushed higher up as has long been the case with any defender with a semblance of technical ability in the English game.


Virgil van Dijk
'Aura', as the kids say / MB Media/GettyImages

Terry was a unit and Ferdinand was no slouch, but Van Dijk is just straight up a freak.

No man - no defender - has any business combining such a combination of pace and strength, of being able to go stride-for-stride and toe-to-toe with some of the world's most fleet-footed athletes.

When Van Dijk is into his groove (which probably isn't enough these days), he's the most dominant defender in football by far. His attitude and presence helped completely redefine what people thought of Liverpool's once leaky defence, giving them enough solidity alone to conquer England and Europe.

Aerial threat

Eyes on the prize / JUSTIN TALLIS/GettyImages

How about this for a stat - Terry managed to score in 17 consecutive Premier League seasons once he became a regular in Chelsea's first-team.


In 45 games across the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons, Terry found the net 10 times in 45 games.

He was a centre-back. You can't teach that level of shadow target man-ism.


Soccer : The FA Cup Fourth Round - Chelsea v Stoke City
Terry's banners remain at Stamford Bridge / Matthew Ashton/GettyImages

Frank Lampard may have been the Chelsea poster boy to outsiders, Jose Mourinho may have been the mastermind and comedic relief, but those within the club know that Terry was the heart and soul.

To rub shoulders with those names and still emerge as the leader of the gang is a tough ask. He provided constant accountability even when the names in the dugout and on the teamsheet were continually changing. You could depend on Terry to stand up and deliver even when the chips were down.


Chelsea's captain John Terry celebrates
Another triumph for Terry / CARL DE SOUZA/GettyImages

To neatly surmise this, we're going to give Ferdinand and Van Dijk the praise they deserve, before taking it away again.

They're two of the best defenders to ever play in the Premier League. Almost by default, that makes them two of the grandest centre-backs of all time. Bravo, boys.

Terry is one of the very best players in Premier League history. The skillset, the trophies, the accomplishments, the ability, the legacy. He had it all. It's why he's ranked so much higher than any other defender in 90min's top 50.