Defining roles and positions in football has never been more complicated than it is right now. Central midfielders in the present scenario are tasked with a myriad of roles and duties within a given game. Some are required to recycle possession, some are known for their attacking threat, some are identified as defensive shields in front of the backline, and some possess all three of these qualities.
Moreover, as history often reminds us, it’s these central midfielders who are the cornerstones in the elite-level sides. In this article, I present to you my top 20 central midfielders in men’s football right now.
20. Fabián Ruiz
A technician of the highest order, Fabián Ruiz has been considered among some of the best central midfielders in world football for some time now.
The 27-year-old Spain international might not be the most athletic or eye-pleasing on the pitch, but he certainly has his wits when controlling games from the centre of the pitch.
Last season, Ruiz joined Paris Saint-Germain after four seasons with Napoli. Although he didn’t set things on fire in his first year in France, he was still a vital cog in the PSG side that retained the Ligue 1 title.
19. Enzo Fernández
Enzo Fernández has seen his stock skyrocket since impressing for both Benfica (in the Portuguese Primeira Liga) and Argentina (at the 2022 FIFA World Cup) last season. Admittedly, his first half-season at Chelsea did not quite go to plan, though he was hardly alone in that regard.
The 22-year-old is already one of the most expensive midfielders ever, having cost Chelsea a reported £106 million. Under new manager Mauricio Pochettino, Chelsea will expect to see some tangible returns from the Argentinian in the 2023/24 campaign.
18. Stanislav Lobotka
Fabián Ruiz’s departure meant someone had to step up their game in Napoli’s midfield, and it was the Slovakian who emerged as one of the key ingredients to Napoli winning their first Serie A title in 33 years.
A product of the Ajax academy, Lobotka’s strength lies in his quick passing. A metronomic presence in the middle who just sprays the ball around the pitch with complete ease, Lobotka’s composure, close control and positional brilliance have drawn him comparisons with a certain Luka Modrić.
17. Mateo Kovačić
Many people forget he was once part of the best midfield in the world, albeit as a backup to both Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić. Mateo Kovačić has always been a wonderful player to watch. The Croatian came into his own at Chelsea following an indifferent start under Maurizio Sarri.
Kovačić is one of the most proficient ball-progressing midfielders in the world. Not only does he evade challenges and carry the ball, but he can also pick apart defensive structures with the most accurate vertical balls.
Now that he’s under the guidance of Pep Guardiola, barring any injuries to derail him, expect the 29-year-old to be a major force in a new-look Manchester City side.
16. Adrien Rabiot
The 28-year-old France international has divided opinions over the years. For a player who was dubbed “finished” after a below-average 2021/22 season, Rabiot’s story looks like a redemption arc straight from the box office.
After endless rumours linking him with a move to Manchester United last season, Rabiot ended up staying with Juventus in what was a very difficult campaign for the whole club. However, Rabiot grew and matured amid all the chaos to emerge as a real leader both on and off the pitch. He scored 11 goals and provided six assists, showing his attacking prowess.
15. Ismaël Bennacer
The 25-year-old Algeria international has become one of the best multi-faceted midfielders in European football over recent seasons. Usually regarded as a defensive midfielder, Bennacer’s role has become more progressive at AC Milan in the last couple of seasons.
In what was a very tough season for the Rossoneri, Bennacer stepped up his game and was willing to play in a number of different positions.
Although he can chip in with goals and assists from time to time, it is Bennacer’s tackling and endless running that’ll be key to Milan’s success this season.
Many people questioned Jorginho’s move to Arsenal from Chelsea in the January transfer window of 2023, as there was a belief that the Brazilian may be past his best after he had struggled to impress at Chelsea that season.
However, as it turned out, it was just another case of a player finding it difficult to produce at a club with a toxic environment and an unstable hierarchy.
Jorginho played a big part in Arsenal maintaining their momentum in the Premier League title race. Although they fell away towards the end, the Brazilian’s composure in the middle of the pitch helped in gaining control of games when things seemed to be going away for Arteta’s men.
13. Paul Pogba
Very few footballers divide opinions like Paul Pogba. On his day, some claim he’s the best midfielder in the world. However, we haven’t seen those days—especially at the club level—for quite some time now, with much of his good work coming for France.
Pogba’s return to Juventus is yet to take off, with injuries hampering his availability. Had it not been for these injuries, who knows what he could have been?
12. Christian Eriksen
When Manchester United signed Christian Eriksen from Brentford in 2022, considering his health issues, there were legitimate concerns about whether the Denmark international would be able to cut it at the top end of the Premier League, but the 31-year-old proved those doubters wrong.
Playing in a much deeper role alongside Casemiro, Eriksen dictates games with his incredible passing range and tactical awareness on the pitch. He played a key role in United securing a top-four finish and winning the Carabao Cup, finishing the season with two goals and ten assists.
11. Marco Verratti
There are very few midfielders in world football who exhibit the kind of composure and build-up-phase mastery like the 30-year-old diminutive Italian. Verratti is a complete midfielder who impacts both ends of the pitch with his progressive play and resilient defending.
Although injuries have played a big role in stifling him from reaching the absolute peak of his powers, there’s no doubt Verratti has been one of the world’s best central midfielders for a very long time.
10. Sergej Milinković-Savić
Sergej Milinković-Savić kept producing unreal underlying stats playing for Lazio year after year during his time in Italy. Although a move away to one of the big European giants never materialised, the Serbia international spent eight years with the Biancocelesti before making the big-money move to the Saudi Pro League this summer.
A physically dominant presence in the middle of the pitch, Milinković-Savić’s incredible ball control and ability to make marauding runs will definitely make him a fan-favourite in the Saudi League.
9. Leon Goretzka
A destroyer in the middle of the pitch, Leon Goretzka’s combativeness has gone massively under the radar over recent seasons. Although not quite technically gifted like some of his other teammates, the lanky German is incredibly effective at what he does.
An intelligent player who understands the tactical nuance associated with the game, Goretzka is known for making timely runs into the box, while his reading of the game allows him to make crucial tackles and interceptions with ease.
8. Nicolò Barella
The 26-year-old Italian rose to prominence during Antonio Conte’s reign at Inter as the Nerazzurri lifted the Scudetto in 2021, ending Juventus’ decade-long reign as Italian champions.
Someone who grabs games by the scruff of the neck, Barella carried on his good work under new manager Simone Inzaghi as Inter made it to the Champions League final last season.
Now that he’s entering the prime years of his career, the Inter faithful would want to see one of their own rise up and lead the club for many more years to come.
7. Frenkie de Jong
Now in his fifth season at Barça, Frenkie de Jong has made it past the typical peaks and troughs of being a Barcelona player.
The former Ajax player is as press-resistant as they come and has a knack for making forward runs with the ball at his feet, dragging defenders out of position, and bringing the Camp Nou faithful on their feet all at once.
De Jong is proactive in possession, while his defensive acumen means he’s always filling in spaces in Xavi’s team.
There’s no doubt people have been comparing Pedri to the great Andrés Iniesta ever since he broke through at Barça, though the similarities are too apparent to ignore anymore.
Pedri’s rise to the upper echelons of European football has been nothing short of sensational. A truly gifted talent, the Spaniard ghosts into pockets of space, glides on the pitch in possession, and is always present in close proximity to move the game forward.
There’s no doubt, this kid is truly a generational talent.
5. Jude Bellingham
There aren’t many talents in world football that can match the skill set of this 20-year-old Englishman. No wonder his boyhood club Birmingham City retired his #22 shirt when he moved to Germany in the summer of 2020.
Bellingham has everything required to reach the very top; an ever-expanding skill set, the physicality to excel in his role, and an indestructible mentality that is only destined for the top.
Already one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the world, Bellingham carried the Dortmund midfield for quite some time before securing his dream move to Real Madrid this summer. And he has already hit the ground running, scoring four goals and providing one assist in his first three games in LaLiga.
4. Federico Valverde
Often shuffled around from one position to the next, Federico Valverde has had to do the hard yards in order to establish himself as a regular starter at Real Madrid.
Valverde exhibits an insatiable work rate on the pitch while gluing everything together from the base of the midfield, freeing up Real Madrid’s attacking assets to do the damage in the final third.
Valverde assisted Vinicius Junior’s winner in the 2022 Champions League final, going on to produce consistent performances throughout the 2022/23 season as well.
3. Toni Kroos
The name Toni Kroos is widely synonymous with one of Real Madrid’s most successful decades in their entire history. The Germany international joined Los Blancos in 2014 and formed what is arguably the greatest midfield trio the world has ever seen alongside Casemiro and Luka Modrić, as they won three domestic league titles and five Champions League trophies.
Despite reaching the twilight of his career, Kroos is still one of the world’s most enjoyable midfielders to watch. As Real Madrid make another bid to challenge for top European honours, he’ll be a driving force once again, guiding his team forward.
2. İlkay Gündoğan
İlkay Gündoğan is the ultimate Pep Guardiola player, and it was only fitting that it was he who lifted the Man City’s first Champions League title as club captain, finally delivering on the dream before taking up a new challenge at FC Barcelona this summer.
Guardiola had once labelled the German as “one of the most intelligent, wisest players” he had ever seen.
Very few players in world football can perform multiple roles to an elite standard, and Gündoğan is one of them. His ability to come clutch and score decisive goals in crucial matches over recent years makes him stand out as one of the very best in his position.
1. Luka Modrić
There is no doubt Luka Modrić will go down in history as one of the greatest midfielders of all time. The 2018 Ballon d’Or winner is a complete midfielder, often dictating play with his intelligent positioning and outrageous passing range.
Modrić’s low centre of gravity, coupled with his magic feet, means defenders rarely succeed in getting the better of him, while he also finds the back of the net with some of his long-range worldies.
Despite being 38 years old, Modrić still possesses that moment of magic in him, grabbing games by the scruff of the neck and delivering more often than not.
|Rank||Player Name||Current Club|
|20||Fabián Ruiz||Paris Saint-Germain FC|
|19||Enzo Fernández||Chelsea FC|
|18||Stanislav Lobotka||SSC Napoli|
|17||Mateo Kovačić||Manchester City FC|
|16||Adrien Rabiot||Juventus FC|
|15||Ismaël Bennacer||AC Milan|
|13||Paul Pogba||Juventus FC|
|12||Christian Eriksen||Manchester United FC|
|11||Marco Verratti||Al-Arabi SC|
|10||Sergej Milinković-Savić||Al Hilal SFC|
|9||Leon Goretzka||FC Bayern Munich|
|8||Nicolò Barella||Inter Milan|
|7||Frenkie de Jong||FC Barcelona|
|5||Jude Bellingham||Real Madrid CF|
|4||Federico Valverde||Real Madrid CF|
|3||Toni Kroos||Real Madrid CF|
|2||İlkay Gündoğan||FC Barcelona|
|1||Luka Modrić||Real Madrid CF|