As the planet’s favourite sport, football has produced countless legendary players spanning more than a century who have earned acclaim worldwide. However, when it comes to selecting the greatest ever footballers, polls and awards significantly lean towards forwards and attacking midfielders.
Defenders are rarely talked about in the same terms of grandeur, as attested by the fact that the Ballon d’Or has been attributed to defenders only two times since the award championing the best individual footballer in the world was inaugurated in 1956. Fabio Cannavaro and Franz Beckenbauer were the recipients.
In this article PortuGOAL redresses the balance somewhat, at least in terms of Portuguese footballers, by listing the 10 greatest Portugal defenders of all time in no particular order – each and every one a legend in his own right.
Pepe (Kepler Laveran de Lima Ferreira)
Brazilian born but swearing undying love and loyalty to Portugal, his fully committed performances leave no doubt about his dedication to the Seleção. Got much of his strength from when he was a child back in Brazil and his father made him practise his jumping and heading in the sea. Key member of Portugal’s Euro 2016 and Nations League 2019 triumphs.
Eurico Gomes (Eurico Monteiro Gomes)
Commanding, classy centre-back who achieved the unique feat of winning the Portuguese title twice at each of Portugal’s Três Grandes – Benfica, Sporting and FC Porto. Unlucky in that most of his career coincided with the Seleção failing to qualify for tournaments, he did nevertheless play every minute of Portugal’s thrilling Euro 1984 campaign.
Ricardo Carvalho (Ricardo Alberto Silveira de Carvalho)
Intelligent and metronomically reliable defender whose slight build for a centre-back belied a fierce competitive spirit. Despite a 3-year interruption to his international career after a training ground spat with Paulo Bento, Carvalho played in 2 World Cups and 3 European Championships. Became Portugal’s oldest ever outfield player when he contributed to the Euro 2016 conquest. Enjoyed tremendous success at club level, winning the Champions League at Porto and multiple trophies at Chelsea and Real Madrid.
Humberto Coelho (Humberto Manuel de Jesus Coelho)
One of Europe’s top central defenders in a career spanning two decades, the stylish Coelho had the misfortune of playing at a time when chronic disorganisation at administrative level undermined the Seleção and he never appeared at a major tournament. Subsequently coached Portugal during Euro 2000 with notable success.
Fábio Coentrão (Fábio Alexandre da Silva Coentrão)
A converted winger, Coentrão’s sparkling performances at left-back, especially at the 2010 World Cup earned him a move to Real Madrid. Injuries prevented him from hitting the heights in the Spanish capital but has been consistently excellent for Portugal, his telepathic understanding with Cristiano Ronaldo a feature of his play.
António Veloso (António Augusto da Silva Veloso)
The whole-hearted, determined, tireless Benfica legend accumulated 535 matches for the Lisbon giants, captaining the side for seven seasons. Veloso played mainly as a right-back but he was highly versatile, playing as a central midfielder against Germany at Euro 1984. His son, Miguel, is also a Portugal international.
Hilário (Hilário Rosário da Conceição)
Sporting’s record appearance holder, Hilário was a speedy, aggressive, committed left-back – despite being right-footed – and an integral part of Portugal’s stunning 1966 World Cup campaign. Got noticed after forming a team with friends as a 13-year-old in his native Lourenço Marques (today Maputo).
Fernando Couto (Fernando Manuel Silva Couto)
Uncompromising centre-back who enjoyed a glittering 21-year career, winning major trophies in three different countries for FC Porto, Barcelona, Parma and Lazio. For many years Portugal’s most capped defender (until being overtaken by Pepe), he played in four tournament finals from Euro 96 through to Euro 2004.
Germano (Germano Luís de Figueiredo)
A European Cup double winner for Benfica (man-of-the-match in the 1961 final against Barcelona), he was described by club and country teammate António Simões as “the first Beckenbauer in football history” because of his refined technique and vision that enabled him to advance up the pitch and spread play from centre-back.
Vicente (Vicente da Fonseca Lucas)
Belenenses centre-back who gained fame at the 1966 World Cup for his implacable marking of Pele, prompting the Brazilian genius to later comment that Vicente was the best defender he had ever faced (both players pictured above). Career cut short at 30 years of age when he lost an eye in a car accident.
Though there are many great Portuguese defenders, these ten men stand out as the best of the best. They were all exceptional players in their day, and their contributions to Portuguese football will never be forgotten.
by Tom Kundert