FEATURE: The New Breed of Centre-Backs

Throughout the history of football, fans have gotten used to centre-backs being sluggish and seemingly un-athletic, while being strong, rugged, intimidating and tough tackling, but is that era of center backs coming to an end? In recent years, we’ve seen somewhat of an evolution of the overall center back’s game.

First, the movement to become an aerial threat from set pieces, to becoming competent at long passes and now we’re seeing a change that calls for center backs to be complete players. They are now needed to be faster while maintaining strength, good in the air, good at reading the game, exceptional on the ball with close attention being paid to their overall passing game, and to be an attacking threat from the back.

Players like, Pique from Barcelona, Vermaelen from Arsenal and Luiz from Chelsea are excellent examples of the new era of ball-playing center backs that the football world is moving towards. With other notable players such as Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur), Thiago Silva (PSG), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), there is a clear indication that many top clubs are looking to capitalize on these types of defensive players as they see them as the future of defending and attacking football.

One key aspect of the overall game of these players apart from their necessary defensive play is versatility. Most of the players mentioned above are capable of playing in the full back position and even in midfield. Showing an evolution in overall defensive play and the overall game of center backs because the positioning and tactical know how needed to play full back or midfield is not the same needed for a center back. What must be mentioned as well is the obvious improvement in attacking play of these defenders in these positions, as full backs and defensive midfielders are need to supplement the attacking play of a team, they are seen as vital for most teams in the world.

These players are also the types that look to lead the attack from the back, marauding forward from the center back position to add numbers to the attack, aid in the link up play (shows improved passing) and even create (an assist or key pass) or score a goal. This not only involves a lot of risk, but this needs complete athleticism to recover in the case of a counter attack by the opposition and also improved defensive play to be able to position themselves to effectively stop the counter. Not to say that they are capable of recovering 100% of the time but it displays their capabilities as overall athletes.

We can see that not only clubs but also national teams are beginning to embrace these central defenders, as they’re often the 1st name on the team sheet for their nation. Brazil and Belgium seem to be the nations leading the line with these types of player, such as David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Felipe Santana and a young prodigy playing at Roma now called Marquinhos for Brazil, Belgium have Vermaelen, Vertonghen and Alderweireld. Spain originally had Pique and Sergio Ramos, now also have a hybrid player in Javi Martinez, France now have the likes of Sakho and Koscielny, Germany with Mats Hummels and Boateng, and England with Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. All of these players have shown the ability to play a number of defensive positions and often add immense levels of athleticism and attacking threat to their teams.

Overall we can see the amount of top class international teams who have begun to embrace the new breed of center backs with there being a complete evolution in the style of play and exceptions of a central defender in modern football.

Sean Drummond

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