Ranked! The 10 best centre-backs in the world
5. Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City)
A classy yet understated operator in the Premier League's finest ever team, Laporte is the atypical Guardiola centre-back: stylish, comfortable in possession and not afraid to put his head where it hurts when things matter.
Manchester City run a tight ship in large part thanks to Laporte, who joined them from Athletic Bilbao for £57m in January 2018. An ongoing international dispute – he could be eligible for Spain and France – means he hasn't actually played for either yet, having previously represented Les Bleus at youth level. That will surely change in the near future.
4. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
Ramos won't win too many popularity awards outside of the Bernabeu, and he's slipping down this list now, but it’s tough to dispute his position as one of the best defenders in world football. The Real Madrid captain is still his team’s heartbeat and always rises to the big occasion, as he demonstrated during Los Blancos’ recent monopolisation of the Champions League trophy.
His antics may be a turn-off – or hilarious, with that purposeful yellow card against Ajax in mind – but his aerial prowess in both boxes and all-round fighting spirit can only be admired.
3. Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)
Napoli may have lost Jorginho to Chelsea in the summer, but they'll have been delighted to keep the rest of their squad intact. Koulibaly is the man they'd have least liked to lose, after the Senegal international proved in 2017/18 that he deserves to be considered among the very best in his position.
A commanding figure who’s difficult to get the better of either in the air or in a foot race, Koulibaly is rarely outmanoeuvred by opposition strikers. Most impressive, though, is his ability with the ball at his feet; Koulibaly is a magnificent passer who always manages to keep his cool in possession. He'll be the most in-demand stopper this summer.
2. Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)
Varane was outstanding at the 2018 World Cup, turning in superb performance after superb performance as France won the tournament for the second time in their history. That followed on from the four Champions League and two La Liga titles he’d previously won – not a bad haul for a player who only turned 25 in April.
This season has been less gold-tinged, but Varane is the complete central defender. He reads the game expertly and possesses the recovery speed to cover for team-mates’ mistakes, and he’s adept at stepping into midfield with the ball and setting his side on the attack if needs be too.
1. Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
Football is a team game and even the most talented individual will struggle to shine if the collective balance of the team isn’t right. Even so, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Van Dijk has transformed Liverpool’s defensive fortunes since his move from Southampton in January 2018; where once was a leaky backline that undermined a thrilling strike force now lies the bedrock of a title-challenging team.
The Dutchman has never played at an international tournament or won a major trophy outside Scotland, but that doesn't matter right now: he's taken giant strides since his move to Anfield, and is a growing force for his country too. The 27-year-old has everything you’d want in a modern-day centre-back: strength, speed, aerial prowess, leadership qualities and ability on the ball. Five good reasons why he's the most expensive defender of all time.