Football. The beautiful game. To the layman, its all about the Messis and the Ronaldos twirling about with the ball seemingly glued to their feet. About the Bergkamps and the Rooneys who make the surging runs and exquisitely tap the ball into the back of the net. But the more involved spectator would recognize that the most important players on the pitch are the defenders. The ones who work their feet off to make sure that the scoreline does not read 5-0 against their teams. Defenders who try their best to and often succeed in stopping the Messis and Ronaldos in their stride.
I may not be the right person to write something that eulogizes defenders. Having played as a center back for my college for 2 years and for my class and department teams, my view is hardly unbiased. But ask any knowledgeable football fan and I assure you that in all probability he would prefer having a rock solid back four and an average strike force to a star studded forward line and defenders like Titus Bramble to hold the fort.
Of course just a good defence does not a team make. You do need creativity in the midfield and strikers who can coolly slot the ball home in the face of 3 opponents rushing towards them. But to really guarantee that you would win the game you need great defenders.
A patent example is Manchester United. Yes they have had brilliant midfielders like Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Christiano Ronldo and the likes but through all those titles that they have won over the past few years, the one thing that has ensured their success has been the brilliant defending of players like Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Jaap Stam and Gary Neville. These players were always present when the situation looked grim and all the team had to do was nick in a goal and let these players do their job. Without this solid back line, I doubt that United would have enjoyed as much success as they have over the last 2 decades.
Another case in point is the Arsenal team from a few years before. The famous partnership of “Mr. Arsenal” Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon ensured that Arsenal enjoyed considerable success in the league. More recently, players like Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and Kolo Toure all helped Arsenal win honours in the league and beyond. I maintain that Arsenal’s lack of success in the past few years has been due to a less than wonderful defence rather than a lack of striking prowess.
Defenders also make great captains. Paolo Maldini, Gary Neville, Tony Adams, Fabio Cannavaro, Carles Puyol….. the list goes on. It must have something to do with the fact that defenders can see the entire playing field and can issue orders to the players as they observe patterns and trends in the opposition’s play. Some may argue that the goalkeeper also has a view of the entire field, but the keeper is never really in the thick of things. Captaincy is best left to defenders in my opinion.
To watch Lionel Messi shake off 2 defenders and weave his way past 5 opposing players and score a goal is a wonderful experience, but to see Paolo Maldini make a perfectly placed sliding tackle in the box which just takes the ball away without touching the player at all, that epitomizes the beautiful game for me.