World Class Defenders: Are they extinct?

Arguably the best central defensive partnership in the world.
Arguably the best central defensive partnership ever.

Who are the World Class Defenders?

This question, though asked almost too often, still raises endless debate amongst fans and pundits alike in today’s football world. The question mainly addresses centre-backs because given the evolution of the full-back, it’ll not be fair to label them as lacklustre. Their changed roles, honestly, has unofficially made them the most disrespected position in football!

The demands imposed on full-backs shift based on team needs and this makes it harder to compare their stats. Barça sold full-back Dani Alves in order to play a midfielder, Sergi Roberto, in his position. Chelsea plays Azpilicueta (a right-back) as a left-back in order to make room for Ivanovic (a centre-back) for whatever reasons. Mourinho continues to select wingers Young and Valencia rather than invest in a proper right-back (which, if we’re being honest again, there aren’t many available to invest in).

Arsenal full-back, Hector Bellerin.

Yes, really, there aren’t a great many full-backs that can be called ‘world class’ today. Hector Bellerin (a 21-year-old) was voted, on his first full season after his breakthrough, as the best right-back in England. He was great but he also didn’t really have any challengers. A lot of managers have shown that full-backs aren’t really important by throwing players they don’t know where to play in that position. In the famous words of Jamie Carragher on “Monday Night Football”, ‘Nobody grows up wanting to be a Gary Neville’. The football world has never seen full-backs as of great import, neither will this article.

fabio cannavaro
Fabio Cannavaro: Defender & captain of Italy and World Best Player 2006.

In the early 2000’s, the football world was full of top class centre-backs from all corners of the globe. Legendary Italians such as Cannavaro, Nesta, Maldini; Iconic Englishmen like Campbell, Ferdinand, Adams; French greats Thuram, Blanc, Desailly, etc. all made this line-up. An agreement on who a ‘world class’ centre-back should be is not as easy today. A player like Gerard Pique, a World Cup, Euros and Champions League winner, is still seen by many as poor defender. Why? He is not very good at actual defending. What are his strengths then? Simple, ball playing skills!

Today’s defender
The modern-day centre-back.

Much like the full-back, the centre-back today has gone through an amazing evolution over the last decade. The sheer strength, guts and character that defined the great defenders of old are no longer enough. Defenders today must have technical skills (heading ability, ball control), mental skills (reflexes, vision) and, yes, ball playing skills. This is mostly due to the overly technical/tactical formations employed by the lot of coaches. Coaches rarely play compact formations. This leaves defenders exposed to one-on-one situations too often (thus the faults of a Pique are shown more than that of Atleti’s Miranda). These defenders are also expected to, along with their basic defensive duties, retain the ball and create attacks with either a neat series of passes or a single defence-splitting pass.

Aymeric Laporte
Aymeric Laporte: The future of the defender?

Many ‘top class’ defenders today are only so because they play for the big teams. With most of these teams playing highly technical footy, it is so much harder to identify & compare the truly world class defenders with the previous generation that played a different system. But are they really extinct?

Article By: Yahya, @Mahyze.