For over 50 years I have attempted to bring attention on the lack of playing qualities of Central Defensive players. From the days of poor playing surfaces to the pristine pitches of today the playing standards displayed by central defensive players has been little more than abysmal.
It seems that these positions only relate to defensive requirements and anything beyond this is of limited importance. The main ‘weapons in the armoury’ of central back players seems to be headed and kicked clearances —– usually straight back to the opposition. I am not suggesting that domination in the air or clearing dangerous situations isn’t important, but there are so many times when more playing qualities are possible and not produced.
In today’s game there has been a progression towards possession football in which gk’s, full-backs and central defenders in particular are finding they are having a huge amount of time on the ball. This extra time usually occurs in their own defensive third and often against a limited number of opposing players. Even with the space and time available to them there is a woeful lack of individual skill and creativity from back players in this area and the paucity in their playing quality is magnified for all to see as opportunities to develop play forward more effectively are not utilized. Large spaces between opposing attacking players are left un-penetrated by either positive forward runs with the ball or forward passes into their mid-field or front players; lack of playing quality produces only simplistic decisions usually resulting in passes going sideways and backwards or with the ball hit hopefully forward into a ‘fight’ upfield.
Many will say that central back players must be defensive-minded above all else; and of course this must be their priority. However, the game should be played by players with all-round skills that produces rotational movement into attacking and defensive roles thus allowing more attacking opportunities to be taken whilst defensive cover is provided at the same time.
For most central defenders the ‘venture’ into the opposition’s half of the field requires ‘a road map’ — it’s undiscovered territory! Chances for central back players to (a) add overload opportunities to the mid-field ‘battleground’ or (b) shorten the passing distances between themselves and their front players, go unused in the main. It is a lack of all-round playing quality and game understanding that is the reason for non-utilizing such obvious playing advantages.
Formalized coaching dogma has produced players for the game who are replicas of the past. This mediocre ‘sameness’ in playing ability must end. We must improve individual skill and game perception for all parts of the team. Movement, both forward into an attacking phase or backwards to cover defensive gaps should they occur, must be part and parcel of our game in the future. Our central defenders must no longer be ‘fixed oaks’ at the back but become all-round football artisans of the game who are able to deploy their skills with great effect in back areas, mid-field or up front.
Let’s develop our own ‘Beautiful Game’ that is played by football artisans and not the ‘lumps of wood’ we see so much of today.