What happened to the art of defending?
Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Bobby Moore, Ronald Koeman, Carles Puyol, Fabio Cannavaro, John Terry. The roll call of great defenders isn’t likely to inspire young minds. The FIFA generation can’t relate to the impact these players had on the beautiful sport. Many up and coming players don’t look view defending as a rewarding venture. Many coaches, fans, and administrators tend to place more premium on attacking players who can alter the course of a game.
However, the players who will do anything to stop the ball from nestling in the back of their net deserve commendation. On Wednesday in the Champions League, many were left astounded when Juventus and Azzurri duo Gigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini celebrated turning a dangerous cross from Tottenham for a corner. It was refreshing to see veterans celebrating in a very passionate manner. For the older generation, it was a relief to see players still concerned about the prospect of conceding goals.
While football's evolution has made attacking the new order, defence must not be neglected. It is the bedrock of every good thing a team does. Barcelona, Manchester City and PSG are dominating their domestic leagues not just with prolific attacks but defences that rank at or very near the top in their respective competitions. Despite outplaying their opponents, it remains important for the best not to concede.
Managers are under more pressure to win matches while playing attractive and eye-pleasing football. It doesn’t always transcend to success. Arsenal is the prime example.
Young players coming through don't see the rewards for playing defence that are readily available for scorers and playmakers.
While defending demands more dedication and less skill, it is not easy, else no team would concede. Additionally, central defenders are now required to play the ball out from the back to help their teams keep possession and launch a controlled style of play instead of just booting the ball up route one. It adds an intriguing tactical layer to the game. But this added pressure on defenders can lead to mistakes.
In the recent game between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge, young Blues defender Andreas Christensen handed the ball to Barcelona in a dangerous position after trying to be too clever in possession. There are no written rules that state categorically how a football match must be won. There are myriad variables.
Today’s pundits have decided that playing defence is a crime but when teams win against more attacking opponents, they call it tactical genius. Jose Mourinho's victory over Jurgen Klopp is perhaps the most recent example. That, by the way, was achieved largely through Manchester United deliberately playing long balls over Liverpool's high press. Few defenders look old-fashioned these days but those who do are the disciples of a fading art.
Chiellini and Buffon are the last of a dying breed. Still, the saying what's old is new again holds true in football. It will take time but we will once again see players who cherish goal-line clearances, last-ditch tackles, and putting their body on the line when it matters most as positive footballers.
You don't believe me? Just wait.