The football world is going through a lot of changes. Faster tempo, new technologies implemented and the football gear became more and more important than the game itself! Furthermore, everyone, nowadays, is pushing for more “entertaining” football. Football is not a team game, anymore. It is “ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK!”, which makes the art of defending almost non-existing.
At the center of the event
Not long way back, football world have had the toughest, most intelligent center-backs playing their trades in every major league. Maldini, Nesta, Cannavaro, Hierro etc. are just fresh names that left us recently. All of which, were known to be intelligent defenders.
They combine the ruthless defending with elegant reading of the play. Their awareness of the game allows him to intercept the play and cut it before it gets to the danger zone. Even after those legends reached mid-thirties, they were still among the best. They lost the speed but the made up for that with positioning their selves where they SHOULD be to smother the danger. Something we lack in our football, right now. However, Thiago Silva and the promising pair of Varane and Marquinhos, nowadays, fit this category.
Most of our center-backs, at least for the big clubs, are physical defenders. They rely, mostly, in his physical attribute to defend. Usually, they wait for the situation where they have to clear the ball out of the goal line to announce themselves as “Heroes”. Puyol, Kompany, Terry, Vidic, Bonucci, Ranocchia, David Luiz, Pepe, you name it, are just defenders, as good as they look, relying on their strength to bully the ball out of attackers, which is just another approach of defending that I appreciate. However, they lack the awareness, the positioning and the mental power a true central defender should have. Also, when this kind of defenders loses their power, due to any reason, they easily get humiliated. They just become not good enough.
In some other cases, we have a defensive midfielder who had a make-shift to be a center-back. Like Hummels and Mascherano. I know! Barca has not been clogged by the fact that they haven’t had a center-back for the last two seasons, other than aging Puyol and the out-of-form Pique. Also, Hummels has been a success since he joined BVB, although, with all due respect, he is not a great defender. I know all of that! But I guess you know that being a successful team does NOT mean you were the best in every area. Interestingly, today’s football wants a defender who knows how to pass, rather than a defender who knows how to defend! Furthermore, the midfielders and the attackers can take A LOT of the burden out of defense, just like Barca, BVB and Bayern Munich, for example.
So, just to be clear here, am not against physical defenders. Every team needs one. In fact, in order to success, you need one of each. As they say “you need the muscles, just like you need the brain”. However, am concerned about the lack of the other half.
Full-backs situation is not as bad as center-backs, nowadays. However, it is worth mentioning.
Full-backs SHOULD know how to defend and position himself in the back line, first, then, know how to help the attack, whenever it is possible. A concept seems hard to our dear modern football. A lot of today’s full-back seem like they become full-backs just because they didn’t make in any other position! If you take the likes of Roberto Carlos, Cafu, Lilian Thuram and the living-legend of Zanetti as a reference point, you almost can’t see someone as balanced as these legends, nowadays. They were fast, good defenders and a threat going forward.
Our full-backs, again, due to football philosophy change, are vice versa. They think how to attack, first, and if it is possible, defend from time to time. Which miss the whole point of a being a full-back!
If you have a closer look, you can see that we have wing-backs or full-back-wanna-bes, not that much of full-backs. What I mean by full-back-wanna-be is a full-back who wants to be a natural full-back but, sadly, he is not. He opted to play there due to team’s needs, only. Some of them adapted to it, some of them lack the positional inelegance of a full-back, like the Constant of Milan. Of course we have some exceptions, in the likes of Lahm, A. Cole, Abidal and Maicon.
Some would argue if you put the likes of Cristiano and Messi against the like of Scirea and Baresi, they wouldn’t do the magic that they are doing right now. The same argument can be countered by the idea of putting the likes of Maradona and Pele against today’s defenders. They are fascinating ideas; however, no one can answer them. Maybe, the most reasonable answer would be: football has changed, and we need to accept that. It favors the attacking third over the rest of the team. Teams are built around attackers [strikers and midfielders] who are faster, more protected and always in demand. In another words, it doesn’t matter if you have a crappy team, as long as you have a “flashy” attacking force.
Last but not least, for the sake of Italy, ESPECIALLY, after producing the most feared defenders in the past, do we have to settle for “defenseless defenders” like Bonera, Astori, Bonucci and Ranocchia?
That just leaves me wonders, is the art of defense dead?