Continuing our countdown towards picking the AK90s team of the 90s, this week’s podcast focused on the best defenders of the decade. Links can be found at the bottom of the page, so have a listen before we talk goalkeepers on Monday’s final show before the final XI is picked.
After some lengthy discussions on this weeks pod, we’ve shortlisted these ten defenders who we will pick from in 2015’s final pod. So as they say, in no particular order;
It’s quite hard to fathom just how much Tony Adams crammed into the 1990s, as he went from the blood and thunder hardman (or animal references elsewhere) to an articulate and accomplished captain for club and country. We like to concentrate on the good, and for Adams there was lots of it during the 90s. As Arsenal skipper he led them tot title glory under both George Graham in 1991, and Arsene Wenger seven years later. While as captain of his country he showed the world what a brilliant defender and leader he was at both Euro 96 and at the World Cup two years later. And his goal at Everton on the last day of the 1997-98 season was one of the decades most alluring images, and a classic bit of Martin Tyler commentary.
Roberto Carlos and Cafu
We’ve put these two together, because so much of what they did (certainly at international level) was as a tandem pair of marauding full-backs unlike we’d seen before. They changed the way full-backs approached the game, as more like wingers-turned-defenders than the out-and-out stoppers we’d be used too. Their gun-hoe approach saw them as permanent fixtures in the Brazil team, firstly Cafu was who part of the 1994 World Cup winning squad and then as a pair in the run to the final four years later. At club level thunder thighs (in every good sense of the term) Carlos began the Galactico trend at the Bernabeu, while the slightly more defensive Cafu spent time with Real Zaragoza and later in Serie A with Roma. Add in Carlos’ wordly free-kick at La Tournoi, the 90s would not have been the same without these guys.
Has there ever been a more calmer defender in the history of the game than Paolo Maldini. As discussed on this week’s show, the man never looked like he broke a sweat, let alone looked like he was in trouble on a football pitch. A one-club man, who played for AC Milan from 1985-2009 and rarely ever put a foot wrong. Equally dependable at both full-back and centre-back, he won five Champions League’s and seven Serie A titles during his time at Milan, while also winning 126 caps for his country – playing at Italia 90 and captaining The Azzuri at Euro 96. If defenders were carved from stone, then they would look and play like Paolo Maldini.
If you could choose one man to run through a brick wall for you and come out unscathed, that man would be Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce. The man everybody wanted in their team during the 90s, not only because for his blood, sweat and tears, but because he was a mighty fine defender who could take a mean free-kick too. He was the everyday man, an electrician by trade but who made it as a footballer and went on to represent Nottingham Forest and Newcastle in the 90s, where you can count the bad games he had on one hand. But easily the undying moment of Pearce’s career was the spot-kick celebration at Euro 96. Burying the ghosts of Turin six years earlier, his rallying cry once he’d buried the ball past Andoni Zubizarreta became one of football’s most iconic images.
Dependable, consistent, reliable pick any one of those words and each of them would be associated with Gary Neville. Part of the ‘Class of 92’ who took-up the less glamorous right-back spot, it’s a testament to Gary that few can instantly recall who played in that position for Man Utd before him, and in-turn how long it’s taken to replace him. A combination of a traditional defender, with an attacking streak used to often deadly effect, his partnership with David Beckham on United’s right flank was almost telepathic. An England regular ever since his debut for the Three Lions in 1995, he played at Euro 96 and at the World Cup in France, and hard to ever remember him putting a foot wrong in an international shirt (Paul Robinson may differ a decade on..ahem). It’s no surprise how well he’s done as a pundit, because he’s someone who has always had a amazing understanding of the game.
As England fans we can’t help to grimace and irrational shout ‘Do I Not Like That!’ whenever Ronald Koeman the player is mentioned. Putting his misdemeanour on David Platt aside, Koeman really was one of THE best defenders of the decade. Could play at centre-back or full-back, he was perhaps the unsung hero of a Dutch squad that boasted the likes of Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard but was equally as important. A expert a long-range passing and set pieces, it was his free-kick that won Barcelona their first ever European Cup at Wembley in 1992, as well as the goal that ended England’s USA 94 dream. Yes Brian he’s going to flick one, he did just that. We can forgive him though, just.
There many world-class talents in the France squad that won the World Cup in 1998, and Marcel Desailly was one of the very best. A colossal of a defender who could also play equally as effectively in midfield, Marcel was the blueprint of the African powerhouses you see today. A Champions League winner at both Marseille and Milan, as well as double title winner in Serie A, Desailly finished the decade in England with Chelsea, and flourished in the infancy of the Stamford Bridge we know now. A role model for the likes of John Terry, who often cites the Frenchman as one of his biggest inspirations in his early days with the Blues.
Someone we failed to really talk about on this week’s show, (Tim Breaker disturbingly got more air time) but few can begrudge McGrath’s place on this list. He may have been robbed by his ability to train by the time the 90s rolled around, but it didn’t matter when he performed so well on it for Aston Villa. The only defender to be named PFA Player of the Year during the decade, it speaks volumes how respected Paul was by this fellow pros. Always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, he was part of the last truly great Villa team’s that went a within a whisker of winning the title in 1993 and won the League Cup a year later. At international level he’s seen as one of Ireland’s all-time greats and played at both Italia 90 and at USA 94 where he famously blocked a Roberto Baggio shot with his face. That was Paul McGrath.
All you need to know about Des Walker is summed up in one chant ‘You’ll never beat Des Walker’ and that was certainly the case in the 90s. A somewhat forgotten name of the era, maybe only because it’s rare you see Walker these days, but for a portion of the early 90s there wasn’t many better than Des. An excellent reader of the game, Walker always knew where danger was and few ever got the better of him. He excelled for England at Italia 90 and was a key part of Brian Clough’s last era of success at Nottingham Forest. The spell at Sampdoria never really worked out – a shame as European notoriety was something Walker deserved – but came back to England to enjoy eight impressive seasons at Sheffield Wednesday.
To listen to Ash Rose and guests Ralph Welch, Martin Gritton and Matt Wing talk through the decades best* defenders you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or listen here. Don’t forget to have your say on Twitter too, and tells us who’d make your back four in a 90s dream XI.bak