Strength is one of few abilities that are so important in modern football and yet can’t be taught. The strongest players on the pitch can exert a telling influence on a match, whether by disrupting the space creative players need to pull the strings or ushering a striker away out of possession as they bear down on the penalty area.
With this in mind, every player in each position must at least be capable of holding their own in physical combat; only special players with particular skill sets are exempt from this expectation, like Andrea Pirlo, Xavi and similar craftsmen.
Physique is an inherent characteristic that often makes or breaks the career of a budding professional footballer. While some players are born with muscles stacked on their bones, others have to work extremely hard in order to get up to speed. However, only so much can be done to ensure the human body measures up to the requirements of elite sport.
Consider the transformation of Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo between the time he signed for Manchester United and the present. Over the course of nearly 13 years, the Portuguese has gone from scrawny winger to chiseled supermodel, and his career has reaped massive benefits because of it.
On the other hand, Didier Drogba has been lucky enough to boast incredible strength from the day he made his senior debut for French club Le Mans to when he bid farewell to Chelsea fans for a second time in May 2015.
Football is certainly not a game based around strength, but the ever-increasing physical demands require players to do more than just stay in shape. All elite footballers must befriend the weights machine, only nature determines who has to put it more effort than others.
Here are the Top 20 Strongest Players In World Football.
20 Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba may be quite lean in comparison to many of the other players featured in this article, but one should never judge a book by its cover. Although he has won admirers the world over with dazzling tricks, cute touches and rifling long shots, physical strength goes widely unrecognised as a crucial piece of the Paul Pogba jigsaw. The 6’2” Frenchman is at his best when gliding through the middle of the park, creating space by riding challenges and shielding the ball from would be tacklers. If there was ever a player Sir Alex Ferguson wishes he had kept at Old Trafford, it’s hard to overlook this freakishly talented midfield destroyer.
19 Lacina Traoré
Imagine playing against a striker the size of Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon. For some unfortunate defenders paying their trade in the French Ligue 1, this nightmare becomes a reality in the form of AS Monaco giant Lacina Traoré. Standing at a colossal 6’8”, the Ivorian would seem better suited to a career in the NBA rather than professional football. He might look slightly built, but the 25-year-old can hold off just about any marker with ease thanks to the clever use of his huge, powerful frame. If Traoré can find some form in France, don’t be surprised to see his up in lights for reasons other than his colossal stature.
18 Nemanja Matić
Any defensive midfielder worth his salt needs one of two attributes: sheer strength or an uncanny ability to read and cut out passes. Unlike Claude Makélélé, the last truly great holding midfielder on the books at Chelsea, Nemanja Matić, is blessed with both traits in abundance. The Premier League champions look a different side without him bossing the middle of the park with his elite physical qualities and tactical genius. A vital cog in the Blues machine, the Serbian destroyer is proving to be worth every penny of the £21m the club paid to finance his return to west London.
17 Niklas Süle
There can’t be too many 19-year-olds who could even come close to featuring in the Top 20 Strongest Players in World Football, but Niklas Süle is an exception. The 6’4” Hoffenheim centre back is blessed with a solid physique well beyond his years – a handy asset for any young player trying to hold his own in top-flight competition. Having the made his debut in May 2013, he has already racked up nearly 50 senior appearances for the German outfit well ahead of his 20th birthday. It takes a swashbuckling teenager years of experience to master the art of defending, but Süle certainly has time on his side.
One could be forgiven for assuming Hulk acquired such a nickname due to his muscular physique, but its true origin derives from his resemblance to American bodybuilder and actor Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk on the Incredible Hulk television series during the 1970s. Nonetheless, the Brazilian is an exceptionally strong footballer, particularly for one who naturally operates on the flanks. A quick, skilful winger with a rocket of a left foot, Hulk certainly offers something different to the average wide man. With coverage of the Russian Premier League limited to just a few countries outside Europe, it’s a shame his talents go unobserved by such a large segment of football fans.
The English top-flight hasn’t seen a player as devastating from long-range free kicks as Alex since he left Chelsea for Paris Saint-Germain in January 2012. His exploits from dead-ball situations outshone his competent defensive work throughout five seasons at Stamford Bridge, but his strength was evident whether he was smashing a ball into the net from 35-yards or tussling with a striker to steal possession. Although his ageing legs aren’t doing any good for his sprinting capacity at Milan, few would fancy their chances in arm wrestle with the Brazilian.
14 Christian Benteke
In terms of all the attributes a top striker needs, Christian Benteke just about ticks all the boxes. The Belgian is a fearsome aerial presence, quick for man of his height and good with the ball at his feet, but one quality stands out above the rest: his extraordinary strength. He can hold his own against the burliest defenders the Premier League has to offer, namely Vincent Kompany, Robert Huth and the like. Having such formidable power is one thing; using it to best effect is another. As his consistent goalscoring record has proven, Benteke is well-versed in utilizing his physical gifts.
13 Romelu Lukaku
Although Romelu Lukaku spent most of his career in Belgium living with the expectation of becoming the next Didier Drogba, four years of learning the ropes of the Premier League has revealed the pair are in fact quite different players. If there’s one trait the two strikers do share, it’s a Herculean build most of their peers envy. Similar to Drogba, Lukaku is a brutally strong player with the ability to crash and bash his way past defenders at will. Life at Chelsea didn’t work out for the Belgian as well as it did for his Ivorian counterpart, but his fortunes have taken a turn for the better since permanently moving to Everton in July 2014.
12 Victor Wanyama
The prospect of going into a 50-50 challenge for the ball with Victor Wanyama is a daunting prospect to say the least. At face value, the Kenyan is best described as a 6’2” brick wall. However, he’s more than just a battering ram, capable of nothing more than knocking opponents about; Wanyama has a knack of finding the net from outside the area, often in spectacular fashion. His excellent technique was exemplified by his stunning 40-yard lob against Hull City at the KC Stadium in November 2014 – how many ball-winning midfielders can pull that off?
11 Mamadou Sakho
There are strong footballers and then there are strong footballers who break weights machines during a fitness test with their new club. That’s exactly what Mamadou Sakho allegedly did shortly after joining Liverpool from Paris Saint-Germain in September 2013. The athletic Frenchman has carried his reputation onto the pitch and showcased his physical talents by shackling some of the most powerful strikers in the Premier League. He might be one the strongest players at Anfield, but the centre back is struggling to oust Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel for the time being.
10 Jérôme Boateng
Even though another world-class defender is a blank cheque away for Manchester City, the club will be ruing the day they allowed Jérôme Boateng to walk through the exit door at Etihad Stadium. The German centre back has developed into one of the finest players in his position since leaving for Bayern Munich in June 2011 while collecting a host of accolades including three Bundesliga titles, a Champions League medal and the 2014 World Cup. Boateng is a key figure in the back line for both club and country, not least because of his remarkable ability to match even the most powerful of strikers for brute strength.
9 Branislav Ivanović
It’s common knowledge that Branislav Ivanović had spent most of his career operating in the center of defense prior to joining Chelsea in January 2008. Standing at 6’1” and teeming with physical strength, it’s no wonder his transition to his now customary right fullback slot caught many by surprise. He’s now regarded by many as one of the best in his position because of his ability to keep a watchful eye on tricky wide players whilst rampaging into opposition territory himself. The Serbian has been made to look second-rate in the opening two weekends of the 2015-16 Premier League campaign, but with his class and experience, there’s every chance he’ll come good eventually.
8 Wilfried Bony
Although Wilfried Bony has been offered few opportunities to make his mark in a Manchester City shirt, the Ivorian powerhouse is no less capable of bullying Premier League defenders. His immense strength is a force to be reckoned with; there’s very little one can do once the 26-year-old uses his body to shield the ball. With Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic set to spend the 2015-16 campaign at Inter Milan and AS Roma respectively, Bony could earn himself a lot more time on the pitch in their absence.
7 Micah Richards
The last few years haven’t been particularly kind to Micah Richards, but his career has the potential to regain momentum with Aston Villa. Signed on a free transfer following a loan spell at Fiorentina, the former Manchester City defender brings with him a commanding presence at right fullback or in the center of defense. Richards is built like a tank, but also possesses an incredible turn of pace considering his size. With so much natural ability to call upon, it surely won’t take long for the 27-year-old to stamp his authority at Villa Park.
6 Yaya Touré
Yaya Touré at his devastating best must come close to the most unstoppable force the game of football has ever seen. In hindsight, it’s absurd to think the 32-year-old spent part of his career at Barcelona operating as a makeshift center back. Pulling on a Manchester City shirt seemingly transformed the Ivorian into an all-conquering, goalscoring midfielder. Opposition managers must spend hours devising plans to shut down one of the most dangerous players on the planet, but how can someone who excels in so many areas of the sport be completely nullified?
5 Diego Costa
As many of his opponents have already learnt during his first season in the Premier League, Diego Costa isn’t the type of striker one wants to make angry. The Spaniard is an aggressive customer who refuses to shy away from, and perhaps even relishes, physical confrontations. If Costa isn’t getting under his marker’s skin with a few cheeky shoves here and there, he’s tormenting them within the rules of the game with ox-like strength, blistering pace and intelligent movement. His hamstring are the only part of his body that don’t seem to be made from steel.
4 Zlatan Ibrahimović
There’s no denying Zlatan Ibrahimović isn’t just one of the most unique characters in world football, but also one of the most distinctive players to ever grace the world game. It defies logic that a 6’5” man mountain could possess such deft ball control, silky skills and flawless technique. Defenders face a near-impossible task attempting to jostle him out of possession and even harder one trying to nick the ball off his toes. There really is just about nothing the giant Swede can’t do with a football on the pitch or a microphone at a press conference.
3 George Elokobi
Perhaps not quite as frightening as seeing Lionel Messi pick up the ball on the edge of the box, running at a man the size of George Elokobi surely must be among the most intimidating sights in football – and probably life in general. He might be less defensively astute than say, Philipp Lahm, but the Cameroonian boasts a stunning physique that could stand a chance in a professional bodybuilding competition. Currently plying his trade at Colchester United, 29-year-old Elokobi claims his strength is simply genetic and he has never done extra weights in the gym to achieve his chiseled physique.
2 Christopher Samba
If Christopher Samba ever winds up struggling for work during life after football, casual bodyguard work will always be an avenue he can explore. The Congolese defender is 6’4” and looks capable of pushing a London bus with his bare hands. Always an intriguing player to watch, Samba was occasionally deployed as an emergency striker during his stint at Blackburn Rovers between 2007 and 2012. He currently plays for Dynamo Moscow in the Russian Premier League, but a return to England is on the cards as his family remains based in the United Kingdom.
1 Adebayo Akinfenwa
As if there was any other candidate to top this list, Adebayo Akinfenwa deserves to be recognized as the strongest footballer in the world. Despite having never played in a division higher than League One in England, the striker is widely known all over the world thanks to his beast-like physique and enormous power. The 33-year-old can reportedly bench press 180kg – that’s nearly twice his own bodyweight. Such strength is virtually impossible to match in professional football, which is perhaps why he has previously been mistaken for an NFL star.