Some of the finest defenders in the history of our game have taken their place in the England team over the last century and more, but who deserves to be recognised as the best?
To kick-start Yahoo Sports new collection of features looking at ‘The Greatest’ players to have worn the England shirt, we reflect on some of the warriors who have stood proud in the national team’s defence and we will leave you to pass judgement on deserves to be hailed as the best.
THE WORLD CUP WINNER – Bobby Moore
Those who had the privilege to play alongside England’s 1966 World Cup winning captain will argue that there can only be one name to consider in the debate over who should be crowed as this nation’s greatest defender.
The iconic images of Moore West Ham hero receiving the Jules Rimet trophy from Her Majesty The Queen after he let his side to victory in the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley is one of the most cherished snapshots in our sporting folklore.
That iconic image ensure that even after his passing at the tragically youthful age of 51 in 1993, Moore would retain a special place in all hearts, with the statute erected in his honour when Wembley was re-opened back in 2007 a fitting tribute to the esteem he will forever be held in.
— English Heritage (@EnglishHeritage) August 31, 2017
Moore’s elegance on the field was matched by his status as a gentleman off it and in the opinion of his former England and Fulham team-mate Alan Mullery, Moore’s legacy will live forever.
“His reading of the game was a few seconds quicker than anyone and you look at the final seconds of the World Cup final in 1966 and see what should be his defining moment,” says Mullery.
“In the final minute of the game, the ball comes to Bobby and Jack Charlton was shouting at him to put it into row Z, get rid of it, but that wasn’t his way. He pinged a perfect ball upfield to Geoff Hurst and England scored the clinching goal. A wonderful moment from a wonderful man.”
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC – Billy Wright
In many ways, Wolves legend Billy Wright was England’s first celebrity captain.
Handed the leadership role of the national team in 1948, he held on to the role for the next 90 internationals he played in until his retirement in 1959, with his achievement of becoming the first player to win 100 caps at international level in world football a record that will forever be etched into the game’s record books.
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Arguably one of Wright’s most memorable England appearances came in the famous clash against a wonderful Hungary team in 1953, as the visitors – dubbed the Magical Magyars – recorded a famous 6-3 win that was only England’s second defeat on home soil in their history.
Led by the brilliant Ferenc Puskas, Hungary’s mesmeric brand of football was too much for England, as Wright recalled in an interview published in Wembley, The Greatest Stage.
“I remember moving in to tackle firmly, quickly with my eyes on the ball,” said Wright. “Nine times out of ten that tackle would have won possession, but this was the tenth time and my opponent was the incomparable Puskas. He dragged the ball back with his studs and pivoted, then his left foot flashed and there was a ball nestling in the back of the net. We had never seen anything like it.”
THE FULL-BACKS – Kenny Sansom, Stuart Pearce, Ashley Cole and Gary Neville
As Kenny Sansom reflects, the role of the full-back has changed since his days as one of the first name on an England team-sheet.
“A full-back’s first duty used to be to defend, but so much more is expected now,” says Sansom, who starred for England between 1979 and 1988. “I played 86 times for England and scored one goal, but I look at the modern players now and they are part of the attacking plan. Creating chances is now as important as keeping the ball out at the other end.”
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Nottingham Forest lion heart Stuart Pearce came into the England side just as Sansom’s international career was coming to an end, with his rampaging runs down the flank offering a glimpse to the future of the role in a career that contained two stand-out moments.
Pearce’s penalty miss and the tears of Turin after his penalty shoot-out miss in the 1990 World Cup final and then the redemption as he fired home a penalty against Spain in the Euro 96 quarter-final at Wembley, which preceded one of the great images of an England career as his emotions spilled out in his extravagant celebration.
Ashley Cole stands alone as England’s most capped full-back, with his journey from an international debut as an Arsenal player in March 2001 and his 100th cap against Brazil at Wembley in March 2013 containing highs and lows aplenty.
Voted England’s Player of the Year for 2010 by supporters of the national team, Cole’s regular full-back partner for a bulk of his career was Manchester United’s Gary Neville, who was selected as a first choice right back by five different England managers in a 12-year international career.
CONTRASTING LEADERSHIP – Terry Butcher, Tony Adams and Rio Ferdinand
Leadership has comes in several forms in the England set-up over the last three decades, with the firebrand passion of Terry Butcher and Tony Adams contrasted by the more elegant presence of Rio Ferdinand (below) and Sol Campbell.
“There have always been a different ways to lead – the guys who shouts and screams and the one who leads by example,” explains former West Ham, Leeds and Manchester United defender Ferdinand, who captained his country seven times in a long England career.
“You look at someone like Tony Adams and he was loud in a dressing room, but we all hear that Bobby Moore was the opposite. What those two show is that there is no perfect way to do it as both were successful for club and country.
“I guess I was somewhere in between those two. I was never afraid to dig someone out when they needed it, but there is a time and a place for that. It’s all about finding the right balance.”
MOST CAPPED ENGLAND DEFENDERS
Bobby Moore (108)
Ashley Cole (107)
Kenny Sansom (86)
Gary Neville (85)
Rio Ferdinand (81)
Stuart Pearce (78)
John Terry (78)
Terry Butcher (77)
Sol Campbell (73)
Tony Adams (66)
DID YOU KNOW: Billy Wright and Bobby Moore hold the record for captaining England on the most occasions (90).
FACT: Rio Ferdinand (below) has the longest career of any England defender, spanning 15 years from 1997 to 2011.
- Extracts from Wembley: The Greatest Stage were used in this feature.