By Mark Young.
With goals flying in all over Europe’s top leagues over the last few weeks it goes to show that the art of defending is dying.
Results of 5-3, 8-2, 4-2 and 6-3 in Spain and England have recently been recorded. Although they are certainly entertaining when they happen once in a while, they seem to be happening all too often and are generally matches littered with mistakes.
The top guys that keep goals out seem to be few and far between when the best players in the world are talked about but why?
Firstly, it is not a surprise that arguably the best defenders on the planet were playing for the teams that won everything last season, in terms of Europe’s top five leagues.
Vincent Kompany is captain of the English champions, Thiago Silva with the French equivalent, Jerome Boateng is a world champion with Germany and multiple title winning defender at Bayern and Atletico Madrid have a base of Miranda and Godin. All top quality.
Basically, the most successful teams have built from the back and are now reaping the rewards. It is not a surprise that if you concede less, you are more likely to win.
Barcelona are an example of a team that realised they were lacking at the back since losing a genuinely world class defender in Carles Puyol and spent the summer strengthening.
Manchester United and Real Madrid spent bags of money this summer but no world class or even decent centre backs were signed. Is this because they couldn’t find any of value or because they simply don’t exist?
With David Luiz moving to PSG for £50 million at the beginning of the summer there is no surprise that the price of top defenders has inflated.
Mats Hummels attracted interest but Dortmund stood firm. Probably because their world champion would have to be worth more than Luiz but records show, centre backs rarely command fees that the main men in front of goal manage to amount too.
A stingy defence is just as likely to win a league title or a European crown than an all out attacking approach.
Could the lack of quality defenders simply be down to scouting? It is just natural to be impressed by a young player getting his team on the front foot as he scores goals galore. But what of the guys at the other end of the pitch that keep the goals out? How do they make the scouts stand up, report back saying to their club ‘this player needs to be signed’ or ‘this player has the raw talents to be brilliant’?
If a tricky winger sprints past three or four players and strikes into the top corner, eyebrows are raised at how good that player looks but a match saving tackle, although not as eye catching is just as important.
Could it also be easier to coach an attacker than defenders? They already know their role on the pitch and their way to goal and a bit of discipline can come later, but young defenders need to be coached to defend and to be oraganised quickly as their mistakes could lose a match. To blood a young attacker is easier than putting a young defender at centre back.
Louis Van Gaal is struggling with his new crop of players, despite spending the summer making Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan De Vrij and Ron Vlaar look a spectacular unit at an attacking World Cup in Brazil.
Raphael Varane, Elaquim Mangala, Mathias Ginter and Phil Jones could be the next top centre backs in the world if they get consistent runs and stay injury free.
The problem is that there are too few that stand out. Gone are the days where Fabio Cannavaro would win the Ballon D’or because records are now seemingly only set by the men that score, not by the ones that keep sheets clean.
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