“You must stop either the ball or the man. Both must never get past you.”
A center back is one of the most important players in a team, and no formation is complete without one. In the modern game, with increasing speed of play and more physicality, the work of a center half is harder than ever before. So, what exactly are the ingredients that go into making the ideal central defender? Here’s a look at them.
Possibly the most important characteristic that a central defender should have is positioning sense. If you have a good sense of where to be to cut off the danger or make the interception, you can win the ball without having to tackle the opposing player head on, which more than makes up for a possible lack of pace or physicality. Importance of positioning cannot be overstated, and if you have this quality, you’re already about halfway to becoming a good defender. I’d say Jerome Boateng and Thiago Silva are possibly the best at being at the right place at the right time in the modern game.
Everyone likes a good, old school, no nonsense tackle, and really, for a defender, knowing how and when to tackle is the very basic requirement. It is essential to know when to stand your ground, when to jockey to allow your team mates to track back, and when to actually make the tackle, standing or sliding in. I’d put marking under tackling as well, and sticking to your allotted man or manning your zone as per directions received, form the backbone of a proper center half. On their day, it is hard to find better tacklers than Nicolas Otamendi, Pepe and Laurent Koscielny.
- Chemistry With Fellow Defenders
Every formation fields a minimum of 2 center backs, and therefore it is crucial to have a good understanding with your partner(s). This can come into play when one of you goes out to challenge the attacker, and the other covers up in his place, when one has to man-mark and the other has to sweep up everything else that is thrown at the defense, and finally when you have to push up together to trigger an offside trap. Having excellent chemistry and co-ordination can make a defense extremely solid, even without any “Galacticos” present. Proof of this statement is in Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen’s partnership, and the pairing of Robert Huth and Wes Morgan that was the rock in Leicester’s title success last season.
- Aerial Ability
Knowing how to head the ball is important for any player, it’s more than doubly important for a center half. Crossing is one of the most basic, yet effective tactics for an attacker, and having good aerial ability can go a long way in ensuring that crosses do not work against your team. At the other end of the pitch, one well-placed or one powerful header can put the ball in the back of the net and give your side the advantage. In this way, heading is absolutely essential, and of use at both ends. In my opinion, no one can head the ball better than Diego Godin and Sergio Ramos in today’s time.
- Upper Body Strength
Upper body strength is a huge advantage to any central defender, and it allows him to physically out strength his competition and get to the ball first, shield it or hold on to it. A center back must not get pushed around, and having a good build will ensure that that does not happen. Your physique can be a huge ally, as people like Giorgio Chiellini, Diego Godin, Nemanja Vidic and Vincent Kompany have shown over the years.
Pace isn’t a pre-requisite for being a defender, but it’s a must for the perfect defender. Having the legs to make up ground and subsequently make the tackle, or simply tracking back to defend the counter attack can go a long way in helping your team to keep a clean sheet. Eric Bailly and Kurt Zouma are probably the fastest of the central defenders I’ve seen, and they use it to great effect.
- On-The-Ball Ability
With the demands of the modern game ever increasing, defending nowadays isn’t simply about stopping any danger to your goal, but also about retaining possession and staying calm instead of punting the ball to kingdom come at the sight of an onrushing attacker. Consequently, ball retention and passing have become necessities for defenders in most top level clubs. Having defenders who are comfortable with the ball at their feet can allow the team to suck in the opposition and exploit the hole left in behind by the invited high press. It would be hard to look past the likes of John Stones, Jerome Boateng, Shkodran Mustafi and Gerard Pique when you talk about ball playing center backs.
Keeping these factors in mind, it is hard to find a more complete and more fearsome central defense combination than that of Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli. If I had to choose the 3 most complete defenders in world football at the moment, I’d go for Jerome Boateng, Leonardo Bonucci and Laurent Koscienly. Like Sir Alex said, “Attack wins you games, defense wins you titles.”
-AyushV11 (Follow me on Twitter!)