Although defenders do not get as much recognition as players in other positions, who are the best African defenders?
We all know that their importance in football teams cannot be understated.
Like a security guard at home, defenders repel opposition attacks and sometimes launch one themselves.
The continent of Africa has given us some of the most talented defenders in the history of football. Defenders who proved themselves domestically and internationally.
Throughout history, African defenders have provided teams with unmatched cover and laid a good foundation for teams to launch attacks.
Together, we will highlight the top 10 best African defenders ever.
Top 10 Best African Defenders Ever
Naybet is a retired Moroccan defender who spent most of his playing career at Spanish club Deportivo La Coruna.
He is considered one of the best defenders of his generation in the Spanish league.
Naybet also represented the likes of Sporting CP in Portugal and Tottenham Hotspur in England.
The defender began his football career with local club Wydad in 1989, where he won multiple domestic titles and the CAF Champions League.
He left Wydad for Nantes in 1993 where he spent just one season.
After successful stints at Wydad, Nantes, and Sporting CP, Naybet’s career took a great leap at Deportivo La Coruna.
He spent 17 amazing seasons at the club where he made history with the team.
The Moroccan was a mainstay in the centre defence position as the club shocked the world with their first Spanish La Liga title in the year 2000.
He also played a key role in Deportivo La Coruna’s fairytale performance in the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League campaign before they were knocked out in the semi-final by eventual Champions FC Porto.
With the National team, Naybet won 115 caps and represented the team in 2 Fifa World Cups and 6 African Cup of Nations.
He was a runner up with Morocco at the 2004 African Cup of Nations.
Geremi Njitap was one of Africa’s most versatile players ever.
He was often deployed as either a right-back, defensive midfielder or as a right-sided midfielder.
Njitap was a combative and energetic player who was capable of scoring free-kicks.
The defender started his career in the club situated in the city where he was born.
His time with Bafousssam was a successful one as he won both the Cameroonian Premier league and Cup in his only season at the club.
However, it was in Europe that he enjoyed the most success.
At his best, Njitap was nominated for the Ballon D’or of the year 2000, won two UEFA Champions league, and the Spanish league with Real Madrid.
Geremi’s qualities were highlighted by Jose Mourinho when both were at Chelsea.
The manager said: “If I need him(Geremi) to play right-back, he can play right-back. If I need him to play right-winger, he can play right-winger. If I need him to pick up a man and mark him out, he does it.”
Njitap was part of the Chelsea team that won consecutive English Premier League titles during Jose Mourinho’s first stint at the club.
He made 118 caps for Cameroon and won two African cups of nations and an Olympic gold medal.
Lauren’s efforts in Arsenal’s invisible team are often overlooked.
Perhaps he is a victim of playing a team filled with so many attacking talents.
Although Lauren was raised in Spain and once said he feels Spanish, he represented Cameroon with whom he won two African cups of nations and an Olympic gold medal.
Unfortunately, he retired at the early age of 25. The most successful period of his career came at Arsenal.
The defender was part of the Arsenal team that won the double (Premier league and Fa cup) in 2002. The Cameroonian Legend overcame his initial struggle to stake a claim to Arsenal’s right-back starting XI position to play an integral role in the club’s unbeaten league season in 2003/04.
Lauren is often mentioned as a legend at Arsenal and always features in exhibition matches involving the club’s legends.
He is also an Arsenal ambassador in Africa, a recognition for his successful playing career.
Taribo West is not just known for his high tackling ability, his colourful hairstyle often caught the attention of fans all over the world.
The Super Eagles defender’s “no-nonsense” approach drew fear into attackers.
One of the Most Decorated African footballers, Samuel Eto’o said: “Taribo West was the defender who I feared the most.”
Like others mentioned above, West started his career in his home country before a move to Europe.
The legendary Nigerian defender had a very successful time with Auxerre in France where he won domestic titles.
His performance at the Auxerre earned him a transfer to Italian giants Inter Milan.
At inter, Taribo West won the UEFA Cup in 1998 and scored an extra-time winner in the quarter-final against Schalke 04.
After a few years at Inter Milan, the great Nigerian defender made an unpopular switch to city rivals Ac Milan. He also had stints at Derby county and Partizan where he won the league.
Taribo West was at the centre of Nigeria’s defence on their way to the 1996 Olympic gold medal when they defeated Brazil and Argentina in the semi-final and final respectively.
After retirement from football, Taribo West became the leader of a Christian congregation in his country.
The elder brother of Manchester City legend Yaya Toure, Kolo proved himself to be a great defender in his days.
Kolo Toure started his career at Asec Mimosas in his country before a switch to Arsenal.
The older Toure, Kolo, was a versatile player often deployed as a right-back, centre back or defensive midfielder.
Like Lauren, he was part of Arsenal’s invisible team that went an entire league season undefeated in 2003/04.
Perhaps, his most impressive performances came in the 2005/06 UEFA Champions League campaign when his team made it to the final.
Toure formed an amazing partnership with Senderos as they helped Arsenal keep 10 consecutive clean sheets in the tournament until the final.
Before the final, he scored the final goal at Arsenal’s former stadium Highbury.
That goal ensured that Arsenal made it to their first-ever Champions League final.
Toure also captained towards the end of his stay at the club before his move to Manchester City.
At Manchester City, he was also made captain for about a season and helped the club win their first Premier League title.
With the Ivory Coast national team, Toure suffered two defeats at the African Cup of Nations (2006 and 2012).
Eventually, he won the trophy in 2015 and was named in the team of the tournament.
5. Lucas Radebe (South Africa)
When you think of a defender with great leadership qualities, Radebe comes to mind.
It is not often that a defender gets the kind of recognition that Radebe got.
Late South African President Nelson Mandela said of him: “This is my hero” and fans called him “The Chief.”
Radebe captained Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa before he moved to Leeds United in England where he wore the captain armband.
He was comfortable playing as either a midfielder, defender or a goalkeeper; positions he played in at both Kaizer Chiefs and Leeds United.
Radebe’s reputation grew so much that the great Sir Alex Ferguson said: “Everyone should be interested in Lucas.”
During his time at Leeds United, he reportedly turned down the chance to join some European heavy-weights including Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.
Although he initially struggled during his early days at Leeds, he later played an important role as the club enjoyed success.
As captain of the team, he helped the club to a top-four finish in the 1998/99 season which helped them qualify for the Uefa Cup.
The 1999/2000 season was even better as the team finished third and qualified for the UEFA Champions League where they got to the semi-final.
Radebe is a recipient of the Fifa Fair Play award (2000). Radebe was part of the South African team that won the country’s first African Cup of Nations trophy in 1996 and captained the team to both the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups.
He was known for his often flamboyant yet effective style of play.
Nigeria’s joint record appearance holder Joseph Yobo began his professional football career at Standard Liege.
However, it was at Everton that he arguably had his best period as a defender.
Yobo made an initial loan move to Everton from Marseille in 2002 which was made permanent the following season.
Yobo was ever-present in the Everton team and joined a prestigious list of footballers who played every single minute of a league campaign, a feat he achieved in the 2006/2007 season.
In 2007, Yobo had created a record as the overseas player with the most appearances for the club.
Furthermore, he remains the first African to captain Everton.
Yobo was part of the Everton team that finished in the top four of the 2004/05 Premier league campaign and 5th in the 2007/08 and 2008/09 season under David Moyes.
Team success arrived after his move to Fenerbahce in Turkey where he won the league and Turkish cups.
Also, his time with the Nigerian national team proved successful as he was named in the CAF XI in 2007/08 and captained his country to their 2013 African Nations Cup triumph.
He played his last tournament with the National team as captain of the side that lost 2-0 to France in the second round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
3. Wael Gomaa (Egypt)
Wael Gomaa is one of Egypt’s and Africa’s greatest ever defender.
Gomaa is the only player on this list who spent his entire career in Africa.
If there is any defender who deserves to be mentioned amongst Africa’s greatest ever, it is Gomaa.
The defender could score from both corners and free-kicks.
Gomaa joined Africa’s most successful club Al Ahly in 2001 and helped them enhanced their reputation as Africa’s finest.
His 13-year spell at the club was filled with so many beautiful moments as a defender.
The Egyptian defender was a mainstay in Al Ahly’s centre-back position as the club established dominance in the Egyptian league and the CAF Champions league.
He helped the club to eight league titles, seven of which were won consecutively.
Gomaa was also rock-solid as the club won six CAF Champions League trophies.
The Legendary African Defender helped Egypt win the African Cup of Nations on three consecutive occasions (2006, 2008, and 2010).
He was included in the team of the tournament on all three occasions.
Song is one of the greatest defenders to have ever graced the African continent.
He is known for his defensive skill and works tirelessly for his teams.
The legendary defender represented Cameroon in 8 African Cup of Nations, a record he holds till this time.
In 5 of those tournaments, Song was captain of the team and led them to the 2000 and 2002 titles.
The Cameroonian Legend holds the record as Cameroon’s most capped player with 137 caps.
Also, he is the player with the most consecutive games played in the African Cup of Nations with 35 first-team games.
Ironically, his tough tackling displays make him a joint record holder with Zinedine Zidane as the only player to have been sent off in two different world cups.
He also holds the record as the youngest player to have been sent off in a FIFA World Cup, aged 17.
Song represented the likes of Metz, Lens in France, Liverpool, West Ham in England, and Trabzonspor, Galatasaray in Turkey.
He is a fan favourite in the latter 2 (Trabzonspor and Galatasaray) where he won league titles and domestic cups.
Kuffour sits top of the list of the top 10 best African defenders ever for his consistency at one of the biggest clubs in the world.
The former Ghana international defender spent 12 successful years at Bayern Munich in Germany, where he won six league titles and four German Cups.
He was reduced to tears when Manchester United came from a goal down to defeat his team 2-1 in the 1999 UEFA Champions League match.
However, he had a better story as his Bayern Munich team lifted the 2000/01 UEFA Champions League trophy.
Arguably, he is Africa’s greatest defender and won the BBC African footballer of the year award in 2001.
Kuffor is known for his great physical power and as the youngest Olympic football medalist.
A feat he achieved when he won the Bronze medal with Ghana at the 1992 Olympics just before his 16th birthday.
In Football, defenders are given little appreciation but this post begs to differ. Moreso, I went in-depth to cover the African continent.
These top 10 best African defenders ever are great players. So, they should be respected.
It’ll be nice one day to see any African defender be amongst the best 3 Football defenders ever.
SEE ALSO | Best All-Time Super Eagles of Nigeria XI
But in the meantime, we can only appreciate our African Defenders.