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Defending in Decline?


Attacking football is thrilling to watch, but in the modern era of the game you may be forgiven for thinking that pulling off a last-ditch tackle or a headed clearance off the line, is no longer the priority for centre or full backs nowadays. Managers appear to put a lot of pressure on their back line, but is seems that is to compel a lot more than to preform good old-fashioned defending.
Score goals, accurate passing out from the back, free-kicks, taking corners, the list is endless as to what is expected of a defender in the present day of forward thinking football. The crunching tackle that excites the crowd, or the brave header, at the risk of getting a boot in the face that might prevent a goal, appears to be a dying art. So, is good defending really in decline, and do we still have ‘warrior’ types of centre-backs in the game or are they more inclined to be happier with scoring a goal than preventing one? Cheering a great goal is special, but as we all know, stopping strikes as well as putting them in the back of the net can be just as important in winning a match, therefore, proper ‘old-school’ defending surely can’t be allowed to dwindle.
The tough no nonsense centre-backs who were happy to sit in front of the goalkeeper and do the job in hand seem to be dying out. Where have the John Terrys of this footballing world gone? Or a reliable Gary Pallister type of player as well as a warrior like Tony Adams? There are still a few scattered around but it appears that a lot more is being asked of centre and full-backs nowadays, and perhaps heading in a goal is more attractive to a defender than heading a potential one away.
Defenders who take to the pitch in recent times seem to want to be involved in more of the action than to be satisfied with taking up their less glamorous role, yet it is still an extremely important one, of battling away in their own half and putting their body on the line in preventing goals. Defenders seem to want, or are requested by coaches, to apply ‘more strings to their bow’ rather than be the reliable consistent man at the back.
Currently in matches, we are increasingly seeing our back-line players adding more stylish skills to their game, making them a centre/full-back plus corner-taker/free-kick specialist or perhaps even mini play-maker, they are expected to do much more than hoof the ball up the field. Bringing the ball out of defence and delivering a pin-point pass to start an attack is gradually becoming a ‘must’ on a defender’s ‘can do’ list.
We watch centre-backs like David Luiz racing up the pitch to take direct free-kicks, or a full-back taking corners or preparing a shot at goal from a dead ball situation, Leighton Baines is a prime example. Whilst on the subject of the full-back position, it has always been a difficult one to judge – hug the touchline and concentrate solely on defending or charge forward on an over lapping run for a possible assist from a cross? It would appear the latter is being expected more and more in the modern game; Luke Shaw was being criticised by a commentator against Wigan for not making enough attacking runs and insisting he had to get forward. However, if he’d lost the man he was marking at the back for being too far up the pitch, I am sure even more criticism would have followed. Whilst it is appreciated full-backs are asked to perform the extra job of combining attacking play from the flanks, surely their main priority should be to simply concentrate on what they do best, defending. The same can be said for centre-back players, the glamour and excitement of racking up a goal scoring tally is appealing, but saving the team at the back must be celebrated by a defender like a striker would rejoice at the ball hitting the back of the net.
Whilst it is great to see the enthusiasm of a player to add versatility and extra skills to their play, as the modern game becomes more and more attack minded, it still has to be a must that every team has strong, touch tackling, dependable combatant back line players, that, most importantly, want to enjoy and put their defensive duties first. We all love the ‘attack, attack, attack’ play, but it is still great to see a good old-fashioned warrior performance at the back that wins a team the game. Full and centre-backs should be proud to pursue the skilful art of textbook defending, and not allow it to fall into decline.

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