Similar to their male counterparts, centre-backs in women’s football come with a wide array of skill-set, each unique to the other, exhibiting incredible technicality, grit, determination and physicality. However, the striking difference is that many of the world’s best female centre-backs have previously operated in other attacking positions, leading to a wide range of ball-playing and goal-scoring central defenders. Thus, in order to come to a conclusive decision, I had to take into consideration every single metric as well as going over hours of footage.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into it and take a look at the 10 best female centre-backs in world football.
Top 10 Female Centre Backs In The World
#10 Kathrin Hendrich
30 years old • VfL Wolfsburg Frauen • Germany
Germany’s Kathrin Hendrich had a memorable 2022. She played a key role in Wolfsburg winning their fourth Frauen-Bundesliga title, while being one of the architects of Wolfsburg’s recent rise as one of Europe’s footballing giants. Besides her usual defensive duties, she was a creative force with her progressive play, which led to two goals and an assist from her last season. Moreover, with almost half the 2022/23 season already completed, Hendrich and Wolfsburg are sitting atop the Frauen-Bundesliga table as well as the UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL) group standings.
Apart from domestic success, it has been a successful year for the 30-year-old internationally as well. Germany made it to the final of the 2022 Women’s Euro Championship, with Hendrich sitting at the heart of their defence. She helped his national side keep four clean sheets, the joint-highest in the tournament, as she started all matches barring one.
#9 Alex Greenwood
29 years old • Manchester City Women • England
Under head coach Gareth Taylor at Man, Alex Greenwood has moved back into the more favoured left-sided centre-back role, producing some of her best football and effecting games in the final third of the pitch. Greenwood’s passing range is one of her biggest assets, with her making more passes into the final third than any other player in the FA Women’s Super League (WSL) last season.
Last season, Greenwood was the lynchpin holding everything together for a Man City side severed with multiple injuries, marshalling the team to that all-important final Champions League qualification spot as well as winning the FA Women’s League Cup. Besides, following the departure of Keira Walsh this summer, Greenwood’s role as their ball-progressor from the back has become even more essential.
#8 Griedge Mbock Bathy
27 years old • Olympique Lyonnais Féminin • France
Similar to Wendie Renard and Kadeisha Buchanan, Griedge Mbock Bathy has been one of the cornerstones with the help of whom Lyon have been dominating their domestic competitions and Europe for nearly six years now. Mbock Bathy was a regular for Lyon as they won both the Division 1 Féminine title and the UWCL last season. Besides, her partnership with the veteran Renard led to France reaching the semi-finals of an international tournament for the very first time.
As a result, it’s not a surprise that Mbock Bathy’s absence with injury at the start of the season has played a big role in Lyon’s wobbly start to the 2022/23 campaign, most notably their 5-1 thrashing at home against Arsenal in the UWCL earlier this season.
#7 Kadeisha Buchanan
27 years old • Chelsea Women • Canada
After dominating Europe with Lyon for six seasons, the next destination for the out-of-contract Kadeisha Buchanan was the talk of the town ahead of last summer’s transfer window. The 27-year-old was coming into the new season on the back of winning her fifth league title and fifth Champions League trophy in six years with Lyon, while she also won gold with Canada at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Thus, with such an impressive CV, it had to be one of the big dogs prizing away this world-class centre-back, and it was ultimately Chelsea who beat everyone for her signature come the start of the 2022/23 season.
Despite the presence of two established centre-backs in Magdalena Eriksson and Millie Bright, Kadeisha Buchanan’s ability to step out of defence and progress the ball forward is a skill-set neither of them excels in more than the Canada international. Thus, despite a tough start to life in west London, Buchanan is already making a bid to nail down a starting spot in Emma Hayes’ Chelsea side.
#6 Magdalena Erikkson
29 years old • Chelsea Women • Sweden
The Sweden international’s time at Chelsea has also coincided with the most successful period in the club’s history. Besides, under Erikkson’s leadership, the Blues have won three WSL titles, two FA Cups and two League Cups while also having reached their first-ever Champions League final. In the field of play, it is Erikkson’s progressive ball-playing ability as well as her composure while defending her own half that stand out apart from her leadership skills.
The 29-year-old is a versatile player who can play both as a left-sided centre-back and a left-back and can easily switch between systems consisting of a back-three or a back-four without any difficulty. Besides, on the international stage, under Eriksson’s leadership, Sweden also made it to the semi-finals of the women’s Euros earlier this year.
#5 Irene Paredes
31 years old • Barcelona Femení • Spain
Irene Paredes was a vital cog in the Paris Saint-Germain wheel that broke the Lyon monopoly over French football as they won their first-ever league title. Hence, when Barcelona came calling for the former Spanish national team captain, it was a no-brainer for the 31-year-old. Barcelona were already shocking most of the footballing fraternity with their expansive and free-flowing vertical tiki-taka, and the addition of an elite ball-playing central defender in Paredes meant the Catalan giants were willing to take more risks going forward. Paredes possesses great aerial ability while being an excellent reader of the game, which allows her to break up play when opposition teams counter.
However, Paredes’ disagreements with the coaching of Jorge Vilda have resulted in her getting ostracised from the Spanish national team, along with a few of her Barcelona teammates. Thus, it remains to be seen whether Paredes will return to the Spanish squad ahead of the 2023 World Cup, which could prove to be her last hurrah at the biggest stage.
#4 Millie Bright
29 years old • Chelsea Women • England
For a long time, Millie Bright was the Gabriel Magalhães of women’s football: a player you’d want in your team any day of the week, but also someone who always had a mistake in them. Wayward passes, mistimed tackles, mis-kicked clearances, and that momentary lapse of concentration. However, since the beginning of the 2020/21 season, Bright has slowly ironed out these individual errors from her game to emerge as one of the most reliable players for both club and country.
A quiet leader on the pitch (she’s the vice-captain for both England and Chelsea), who isn’t afraid to turn up when needed, Bright’s leadership and commanding aura are best described by her no-nonsense approach to defending. Unlike her contemporaries, Bright isn’t a technician by any means and never shies away from booting the ball out of the ground if need be. Besides, she also has a cannon of a right foot and can put those occasional rockets into the top corner from time to time.
#3 Mapi León
27 years old • Barcelona Femení • Spain
If Irene Paredes is the wall in Barcelona’s defence, Mapi León is their creator-in-chief, pulling all the strings from the halfway line. León acts as the metronome in the heart of Barça’s build-up play, recycling possession for her midfielders while also allowing the fullbacks to bob up and down the pitch. Besides, the 27-year-old is a dead-ball specialist, having already scored twice and set up another in the Primera Iberdrola this season.
Liga F is essentially a one-horse race at the moment, with Barça reigning supreme over everyone else. In the UWCL, however, they recently missed out on winning consecutive titles after losing to Lyon 3-1 in the final last season. They are, though, well on course for success this season too, and with León entering her prime, she will play an integral role in this season.
#2 Leah Williamson
25 years old • Arsenal Women • England
2022 was arguably Leah Williamson’s year. The 25-year-old versatile defender had an outstanding year for club and country. Although Arsenal lost out on the 2021/22 WSL title by a solitary point, and there were questions directed at her by the media after England manager Sarina Weigman gave her the captain’s armband ahead of the 2022 women’s Euros, all criticism was firmly put to bed by Williamson as she led her nation to their first European Championship triumph.
While Williamson’s ability on the ball is well known around Europe, it is her versatility that is one of her standalone characteristics, which not only allows her to take up different positions within the field of play but also keep the opposition coach and players guessing with her outfield play. And what’s more encouraging for Arsenal and England is that she hasn’t even hit her peak yet.
#1 Wendie Renard
32 years old • Olympique Lyonnais Féminin • France
Wendie Renard is a giant of the women’s game. No other footballer has won more Champions League titles (8) than the 32-year-old France international, who lifted her eighth title last season alongside the Division 1 Féminine title.
Despite having lost a few yards of pace with age catching up, Renard is still the complete package when it comes to central defenders. She leads almost every metric and has been a leader of leaders for both Lyon and France over the years, reaching the women’s Euro semi-finals with France for the first time earlier this year.
A technically gifted player who affects the game equally in both boxes, Renard’s excellent passing range and switch of plays have played a big role in Lyon orchestrating attacks, while her outstanding reading of the game and aerial prowess allows her to both stop opposition threats as well as score goals from dead-ball situations.