The Never Changing Role of Centre-Back

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    Updated: June 11, 2014
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    Over the years, positions, formations and football as a whole has changed. With new tactics, new styles and numerous different ways of playing the beautiful game, football has had to adapt. This has happened in many ways and we are still seeing continuous change throughout The Beautiful Game. 

    In terms of players, full-backs became predominantly attacking players, bursting forward to back-up wingers. Many wingers have switched from being the suppliers to becoming the goal-scorers; just look at Cristiano Ronaldo and Arjen Robben. 

    Arguably the only outfield position that hasn’t changed is the centre-back. The role has largely stayed the same - stop the forwards, stay back and rely solely on defensive abilities. Centre-backs are, 99% of the time the tough, well-built controlling players on the pitch. 

    The central defender has always had to lead the line, providing instructions for the other players on the pitch, keeping everything in order. Often, a mistake from the central defenders leads to an opposition goal. No matter the style of the defender - if he is a ball-playing defender like Gerard Piqué of Barcelona, the traditional style of defender such as former Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic or the skillful, unsure of his own position defender like newly acquired PSG defender David Luiz, he has to control the game. 

    The importance of the centre-half simply cannot be understated, yet is often ignored in terms of reward, with most people preferring to honour attacking players such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. This favouritism towards this style of player leads to defenders being unappreciated. 

    For example, take Paolo Maldini who was perhaps the greatest defender of his generation and the leader of numerous outstanding Milan sides - he never won the World Player of the Year/Ballon d’Or awards. This is a man who retired in his 40s after more than two decades playing for the Rossonerri. Playing as either a full-back or centre-back, the Italian won five Champions Leagues and seven Serie A titles and a heap of other trophies. Overlooked in favour of goalscorers. 

    In fact, in 2006, the Ballon d’Or was awarded to Italian centre-back Fabio Cannavaro and is still the only time that this honour has been given to a defender, although leading his country to a victory in the World Cup meant that the pressure was on FIFA to award the prestigious trophy to him. Even in the most complex of systems, whatever the formation a centre-back is always there.

    At the heart of every successful team, at least one great centre-back features. Yet, in a time when football changes so quickly and so often, this position has stayed so similar to how it first began and, even in the time when forwards are revered as gods, the traditional defender has remained as perhaps the most important outfield position.


    Jonny McConnell is one of our amazing UK guest guest writers and he’s an expert in all things football and is one of the best Atletico Madrid insiders in Europe. He has some of the best insight there is on World Futbol and his twitter account is a must follow: Follow @jonnysfootyblog on Twitter

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