Central midfielders (CM) are simply midfielders who are not totally attacking midfielders or defensive midfielders. Their roles are divided in equal measure between defense and attack.
When CM possess the ball, they need to find a way of passing it to the team’s attacking players.
Central midfielders are often all-action players who can do it all. They are mostly versatile and can play anywhere across midfield. In this article, you will find out who the best central midfielders in the world are. But first, what is the role of a central midfielder?
What is the role of central midfielders?
They serve as the vital connection between the defensive and offensive aspects of the team.
Positioned to consistently receive and distribute the ball, they not only fortify the team’s core but also spearhead the offensive strategy after obtaining the ball from the center backs.
Their pivotal role involves controlling the tempo of the game, orchestrating the shift from defense to attack, retaining possession, delivering accurate passes, demonstrating astute off-the-ball movement, and offering support for both defensive and offensive maneuvers.
TOP SOCCER BLOG brings you the top 10 best central midfielders in the world in 2024.
1. İlkay Gündoğan (Barcelona)
İlkay Gündoğan left Man City to join Barcelona last summer, and his impact is currently being felt at both clubs.
At City, he won 5 Premier League titles, 4 EFL Cups, 2 FA Cups, and the Champions League. This included an historic continental treble in his final season.
Gündoğan is a very productive central midfielder who effectively circulates possession and creates space for other players.
He took his game to a higher level in the last few seasons by adding goals to his armor, especially important ones.
Apart from being a terrific midfielder, Gundogan has shown traits that suggests that he might become a great manager in the future.
2. Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid)
Jude Bellingham won the Bundesliga Player of the Season award last season, which earned him a transfer to Real Madrid for a reported fee of €103 million.
He has taken the soccer world by surprise with his goalscoring performances at Madrid, such that one might be forgiven for easily forgetting that he is actually a central midfielder.
In fact, he is undoubtedly and outrightly one of the best midfielders in the world.
In 2023, Bellingham won both major awards for U-21 footballers: the Golden Boy (for nominees playing in Europe over the last calendar year) and the Kopa Trophy (for the world’s best over the previous season).
3. Bruno Guimarães (Newcastle)
When wealthy Saudi Arabian owners purchased Newcastle United, many expected them to start splashing cash excessively on top players.
But the Magpies have taken a different and much more effective approach by signing upcoming superstars at relatively reasonable fees.
One of such is Brazilian Bruno Guimaraes, who joined Newcastle from Lyon in a reported £40m deal.
The 24-year-old has since established himself as one of the best central midfielders in European soccer.
Guimaraes is a deep-lying playmaker who is very pivotal to how Newcastle play. Apart from shouldering the team’s creative burden, he is also competent in his defensive work.
4. Federico Valverde (Real Madrid)
While the likes of Bellingham regularly receive the plaudits at Real Madrid, others like Federico Valverde do the dirty work.
Valverde is one of the most complete midfielders in the world; he is known for his pace, stamina, work rate, and shooting ability.
Due to his versatility, the Uruguayan can also be deployed as a defensive midfielder, a right winger, and even a right-back.
Valverde has won two La Liga titles, two FIFA Club World Cups, a UEFA Champions League title, a UEFA Super Cup, and the Copa del Rey at Real.
5. Pedri (Barcelona)
Pedri is one of the best central midfielders in the world and is known for his dribbling and playmaking skills.
Moreso, he possesses stamina, calm composure under pressure, and ability to play with either foot. His role is what is known as a mezzala in the Italian sports media.
Pedri’s slight frame, qualities, position, and playing style have led him to be compared to Barcelona legend, Andres Iniesta.
He is also one of the players with the highest market value in football today
6. Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona)
Until last season, Frenkie de Jong struggled to establish himself at Barcelona after a big move from Ajax in 2019.
But he seemed to have found the perfect manager in Xavi, himself a former midfielder who appreciates De Jong’s attributes.
Frenkie is known for his vision, passing, dribbling, and technique, along with strong defensive abilities, and attacking prowess.
De Jong’s vision has been especially praised alongside his ability to dribble in narrow spaces, control over possession, and decisive passing.
An extraordinary game-reader, the Dutchman often makes offensive runs through the middle.
7. Douglas Luiz (Aston Villa)
At Aston Villa, Douglas Luiz is continuing to show that he is virtually a complete midfielder.
Since joining the club in 2019, Luiz has seen his stock rise with each passing year.
The Brazilian international has been at the core of Unai Emery’s team, which have been impressive this season.
With Luiz in the control room, Villa have had a more direct style of play than ever, as he gives the team a sense of real impetus with his eye for a forward pass.
The 25-year-old has also shown that he can more than adequately offer defensive support when called to do so.
8. Luka Modrić (Real Madrid)
Age is finally catching up with Luka Modric, which is why younger players have forced him to play fewer games for Real Madrid.
But whenever the veteran midfield maestro is called upon, he delivers.
The Croatian is widely regarded as one of the greatest midfielders of all time due to his tactical intelligence, versatility in both attack and defense, as well as his vision, interpretation of space, and work rate.
A former attacking midfielder, Modric is considered a veteran of the “pre-assist” or build-up play, often creating space and time for his teammates to shoot or deliver goal-bound passes to other players.
He is also effective at taking set pieces, particularly corners or wide free kicks.
9. Enzo Fernández (Chelsea)
After just six months at Benfica, Enzo Fernandez convinced Chelsea to sign him in January 2023 for a British-record transfer fee.
A versatile midfielder, Fernández usually plays as a deep-lying playmaker, responsible for breaking up play, dictating the tempo, and recycling possession.
He plays quick short passes, accurate long passes, and lobbed balls. He is combative in his midfield duels, protects spaces and his backline efficiently, and possesses good passing range and vision.
Moreover, Enzo is adept at breaking defensive lines with his passes, playing through balls, as well as recycling possession in the midfield.
Pablo Martín Páez Gavira is indeed one of the best central midfielders in world
The youngster possesses so many amazing attributes as a footballer, such as his dribbling, anticipation, intelligence, vision, passing, first touch, close control, change of pace, and capability to swiftly change direction to escape tight situations and start counter-attacks.
Gavi also stands out with his passing skills, which are outstanding, as he can deliver accurate short passes and long, visionary balls that can break down defenses.
His technical ability is enhanced by his agility, speed, and quick change of direction, making him a challenging opponent for rival defenders.
11. Nicolò Barella (Inter Milan)
Known for his technical ability, work rate, and creativity, Nicolo Barella is one of the best central midfielders in the world.
The Italian is a dynamic player with good technique, vision, stamina, and physical strength, despite his relatively short stature, as well as an ability to win balls.
This enables him to break down possession and subsequently start quick attacking plays.
A versatile player, Barella is capable of playing anywhere in midfield, and has even been used as an attacking midfielder or as a defensive midfielder, but his favoured role is as a right-sided, offensive-minded central midfielder, known as a “mezzala” in Italy.
- Marquinhos (Arsenal)
- Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid)
- Carney Chukwuemeka (Chelsea)
- Vitinha (PSG)
- Pape Matar Sarr (Tottenham Hotspur)
- Emile Smith-Rowe (Arsenal)
- Warren Zaïre-Emery (PSG)
- Harvey Elliott (Liverpool)
- Yunus Musah (AC Milan)
- Azzedine Ounahi (Marseille).