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Sweeper Soccer: Who are the 10 Best Sweepers in History?

What is Sweeper Soccer in Football ?

Sweeper Soccer is a tactical defensive way of playing Soccer, and originated in Italy several decades ago, was associated with the famous Italian Catenaccio.

The sweepers in Soccer are always the last person in the defensive line, and they are responsible for the interception of the opposing attackers who have surpassed the other members of the defense. The beginning of the use of the term ‘sweeper’ was at the end of the 19th century, and was an informal way to call the goal of these kinds of defenders, which was metaphorically speaking ‘Sweeping up’ the opponent players who were approaching after go beyond the other defenders.

The sweeper’s function in Soccer is not static like in the American football’s free safety and normally their position is a couple of yards behind the fullbacks.

Sweeper Soccer has strong opponents, and also passionate fans. Nowadays coaches like Pep Guardiola have replace the sweepers or liberos, by a more aggressive function of the goalkeepers, whom in the Guardiola schemes occupy an almost traditional defender position.

Beyond that, sweeper Soccer allows these defenders enough freedom to, in determined situations, like set pieces join the attackers in an offensive position.

Best Sweepers in History

The history of Soccer is full of outstanding liberos, and if you want to choose the 10 best of them you always will be some kind of biased, because the variety of styles and ability that these players display are so exquisite that at the end of the day, with the exception of nearly 5 players, the following  in the list can be chosen from a much bigger list of players. To make it short lets start with the undisputed Kayser:

Franz Beckenbauer

The colossal retired German player is without a doubt the maximum exponent of sweeper Soccer. His nickname was originated because his leadership, ability and strong presence in the pitch. His versatility was highlighted by the fact that in his early career he started playing as a midfielder, even though Beckenbauer is mostly recognized by many as the best example of the libero or sweeper function in Soccer.

He was awarded like the best European player of the year in an unusual situation for a Soccer defender. He also played 3 World cups and played the awesome amount of 103 games for Germany, and beyond that he is member of the exclusive group of 3 persons that have won the World Cup as a manager and as a player.

Also Beckenbauer was included in the World Team of the 20th Century in 1998, the FIFA 100 best living players in the world, and in the 2002 World Cup Dream Team.

Elías Figueroa

Born in 1946 the Chilean defender is considered one of the best sweepers in history. His best years as a player were when he played in the important Brazilian Soccer team Internacional, where he managed to be awarded as the best players of the year in the Brazilian league in 1972 and 1976.He was also chosen as the best player of South America by the prestigious El Mundo newspaper by 3 consecutive years from 1974 to 1976. Also “Don Elias” was named the best player of the year in several years in Chile and Uruguay. Beyond that Figueroa played 3 World Cups and wore the National Chilean shirt in 47 occasions.

His prestige comes from his elegant style of play, his calm as the last man in the defensive line and his ability to intercept opponent attacks and generate instant counterattacks plays.

Elias Ricardo Figueroa Brander is also recognized for being a gentleman inside and outside of the playing ground and in 2004 was included by Pele in the list of the best living 125 players in the world. He was also considered the 8th best South American player of the 20th  century.

Franco Baresi

Baresi is also a retired player who is considered one of the nest sweepers in Soccer. Born in Travagliato, a commune in Brescia, Lombardy, the extraordinary defender of the Italian Soccer team, and AC Milan, was the captain of his national team an innumerable amount of times.

His whole career was developed at AC Milan in which was its captain in 15 seasons of his 20 years of soccer playing.

Considered one of the best liberos of all time, he was recognized by his effortless looking style, and by his ability to make easy the difficult. He was ranked 19th in the ranking of the best defenders of the 20th century made by World Soccer magazine, and in 1999, he was voted the Player of the Century of AC Milan. He was also ranked by Pele between the 125 best living Soccer players.

At club level, He won 6 Serie A titles, 3 UEFA Champions League, 2 European, 4 Supercoppa Italiana, 2 intercontinental cups and two European Super Cups, and as a national team player he played 3 World Cups, being champion in 1982, finalist in 1994,when he was also captain of the Italian team, and third in 1990.

Daniel Passarella

Passarella was the only player to participate in the 2 World Cup won by Argentina, and particularly was the captain of the team that was world champion in Argentina in 1978.

Considered one of the best players of all time in his position, he was especially recognized by his offensive ability which made him score in 134 occasions in 451 games, figure that in his time was a record that later on was surpassed  by Ronald Koeman.

Despite of his regular height his aerial game was an effective weapon which he used both defensively and offensively, making Passarella an exceptional exponent of what sweeper Soccer should be. Daniel was also praised by his free kick and penalties shooting successfulness.

Passarella together with Elías Figueroa, the Chilean sweeper are regarded as the best South American defenders of all times.

His career was highlighted by its captaincy in the 1978 World Cup played in Argentina, in which he was one of the most important players of the Champion team.

Later own, his career was disturbed by his absence in the 1986 World Cup, due a spell of colitis and also by his toxic relationship with the Argentinean coach Carlos Bilardo and the superstar Diego Maradona.

As a coach he achieved remarkable success with River Plate, and in 1997 was named the best coach of the year in South America.

Bobby Moore

Robert Frederick Chelsea Moore is one of the top icons in British Soccer. He was the England national team captain for 10 years beginning at the age of 23, and he is recognized as one of the best representative of sweeper Soccer in history.

Born at Barking, Essex, England, he lived from 1941 to 1993, and the highlight of his career was made playing for West Ham United and the English national Soccer team that won the World Cup in 1966 in which he was its captain.

Beyond to be considered the best player of West Ham united in all time, he is respected up to the level that for example Pele have point him out like the top defender that he had ever played against.

His background shows the amazing figure of 600 games played for WHU in his 16 years playing for the club, being able to win the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in two occasions.

His record of achievements includes; 1961, 1963, 1968 and 1970 West Ham Player of the Year, and in 1964 the FWA Footballer of the Year. After his death in August 2008, West Ham United decided to withdraw his number 6 shirt form the squad.

He owned the record of caps for England until 1973, when his record was broken by the legendary English goalkeeper Peter Shilton.

Ronald Koeman

Ronald, born in 21 March 1963, and is the son of the former Dutch international Footballer Martin Koeman. His great technical skills and his extraordinary game vision bring him to become one of the most admired sweepers in history.

The serenity that Koeman displayed when managing the ball on the pitch, made him able to play efficiently as a midfielder, and also as a defender, but the function in which he really excelled, was the sweeper position.

Also his powerful shooting accuracy from long range and set pieces transform him in the top scoring defender of all time.

Koeman was also a member of one of the best Dutch teams in history next to Ruud Gullit , Denis Bergkamp, Marco van Basten, and Frank Rijkaard.

Besides to be the captain of the Netherlands in the World Cup of 1994 he played the World Cup of 1990, the UEFA Cup of 1992 and won the UEFA Cup of 1988.

Locally he won the national title in 1984–85 with Ajax, and won 3 Eredivisie titles in a row (from 1986 to 1989) playing for PSV Eindhoven. Koeman is part of the exclusive group of five European players whom ever won a cup with their national team and also a Treble with their own club.

Marcel Desailly

Even though, Desailly played as a defensive midfielder, he mostly performed as a sweeper. At international club level his palmares shows two UEFA Champions League wins in his 20 years career, playing for AC Milan and Marseille, but his greatest achievement was to win the 1998 World Cup, and The Euro Cup of 2000.

Internationally he played in 116 occasions, and he was appointed a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, in France for the extraordinary success in the World Cup of 1988.

Although being expelled in the final of the 1988 aforementioned competition, he was highly praised for his great contribution to the team that won the Cup.

After the victory in the Euro Cup of 2000, Didier Deschamps decided to retire, and as a result Marcel Desailly took the relay of the captaincy of the French national team leading his team to win the Confederation Cup of 2001.

Later on in 2003, finished his career with his 116 record caps with France intact, nevertheless, his accomplishment was surpassed by Lilian Thuram in the World Cup of 2006.

His powerful and consistent style of play, make him to be nicknamed as “the Rock”, and his effective aerial and hardworking game was admired by most of his fans.

He was also named by Pele in his list of the best living players.

Alessandro Nesta

Alessandro born in 1976 and is regarded for most of the Soccer experts like one of the best sweepers that ever have been seen. His intelligent pace, elegant and controlled tackles, technical skills, and ability in the distribution of the ball gained him the admiration of the Soccer fans all over the world.

Also his more than 400 Serie A caps in his awesome 20 year of playing career, resulted in the achievement of 4 Serie A defender of the year award, and the inclusion in the annual UEFA Team of the Year for 4 times. Finally regarding to the honors that he received, he was also named in the FIFA’S century celebration list of the 100 best living Soccer players.

Talking of his past in the Italian national team, Nesta played 78 times in 10 years, and he was in the Italian team that won the final of the World Cup of 2006, and also in the team that lost in the final of the Euro 2000. Beyond that, he represented his country in the Olympic Games of 1996, and was present in 3 UEFA cups. He was undoubtedly one of the most gifted sweepers of all time.

Fernando Hierro

The career of Fernando Hierro was outstanding, and its highlight was playing in Real Madrid for 14 years. He managed to win with the club 3 Champion leagues and 5 La Liga championships. Besides his 500 caps he also played in England and Qatar.

He played in his National team 89 times including 2 Euro Cups, and 4 world Cups. Hierro represented Spain on nearly 90 occasions, appearing in four World Cups and two European Championships in which could score 29 goals in total.

His achievements in his national team include his goal against Denmark in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers, which assured Spain its participation in the US world Cup, in which his country was eliminated by Italy in the 8 countries stage.

Fernando was recognized by his serenity and composure inside and outside the pitch, which make him respected by not only his fans, but also by his adversaries.

As a Soccer sweeper he also played offensively when he had the opportunity, and his game was especially efficient when playing aerial plays. Also his long distance shooting abilities were remarkable, being one of the weapons that helped him to convert a great amount of goals for a defender.

Fabio Cannavaro

Winner of 2 Coppa Italia, 1 Super Coppa Italiana and the UEFA Cup of 1999, Fabio Cannavaro started playing Soccer at  the Napoli club, and the he moved to Parma where he stayed 7 years before continuing his career  at Internationale,  Juventus, and Real Madrid where he won La Liga titles of 2007 and 2008.

Playing for Italy, he was finalist in the UEFA Euro 2000 and became the Italian captain in 2002, but his highest achievement was to win the 2006 World Cup in Germany in which helped his national team to receive only 2 goals conceded by 1 own goal and 1 penalty.

Due to his outstanding performance, he was nicknamed “Il Muro di Berlino” by the Italian tifosis, and was awarded the Silver Ball of the tournament after being chosen the 2nd top player of the competition.

Slightly before retiring in 2010 due the inability of Italy to qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup in 2009, he surpassed the Maldini record of appearances in the senior Italian Soccer team with 136 caps.

Later on he returned to play Soccer for Juventus for one year, and then he moved to Dubai where after a problematic season he retired definitely.

Sweeper Soccer Keepers

Sweeper Soccer: Who are the 10 Best Players? Wrap Up

As we can see sweeper Soccer have changed completely in the last years, and today the function of sweeper is performed in many cases by the Goalkeeper. The good old days of back defenders that were the main leaders of  their teams has evolved in a way that has change the way in which Soccer is played completely. We have to welcome the great revolution that coaches like Pep Guardiola have created. The conclusion is that no matter how effective a system is in a determined period of time, there will be always be a new one to replace it.